I always thought I would want to do something practical when I turned 40 –like shoot my forehead full of botulism, puff my lips up with collagen, or take some fat from my fanny and shoot it in the tiny crevices around my eyes. But as the big day approached, I wasn’t anywhere near considering that kind of work. With that said, entering into a new decade did allow me pause for reflection in something other than the mirror.
I never expected however, that this reflection would lead me to another kind of work – spiritual and corporal works of mercy.
Two months ago, I was not even familiar with the term “works of mercy.” Yet, my mother’s latest admonishments to me when I wouldn’t do things to her liking would be “Lara, you need to concentrate on your works of mercy, because you are not good at it.” I didn’t really know what the hell she was talking about. (Hell is one of those words that may be profane or may not; obviously I meant it to be profane.) Nor did I want to know what she was talking about. After all I would hear this at times such as when she wanted me to volunteer to take my brother’s cat because she had a feeling he and his wife would be getting rid of it. Um no, I wasn’t feeling that one.
In her defense it wasn’t all ridiculous. She called me out on some things that I was genuinely being selfish about — like not being more compassionate to my 42 year old sister who was weeks away from giving birth. “It’s not like she has cancer,” I said in justification of my lack of interest in offering her any assistance. It’s also not like she is the only person in the world to ever give birth, which is true. But that’s me being mean again. I told my mom half-joking that my work of mercy was listening to her constantly tell me the correct way to do everything. I know that’s not very nice, but it was kind of funny and it felt very true.
So it became a little joke between us when I wouldn’t respond with eagerness to her suggestions. She would remind me about needing to work on my acts of mercy. She even told me since I wasn’t good at such work, it would mean more to God. Therefore, I would get more points for works of mercy than someone that was more inclined to perform such sacrificial goodness. I never thought about God being on a grading scale. It would be just my luck to miss out on an eternity of bliss by one point.
Truthfully, I was not interested in doing any more for others. And before you gasp in judgment-filled horror, let’s be real. I’m a mother of 2 boys, a wife, a friend, — obviously a devout daughter. I have an impressive volunteer resume within my school and church. I am busy just like everyone else. Like everyone else, I’m also basically a good person, and didn’t feel like I had time to serve in any other capacity. Sorry mom, I just am all out of mercy.
So what happened? Why the change of heart?
Heaven only knows. After all, I NEVER did give my mother’s suggestions any consideration. They were annoyances that I blew off just like when I was a kid and she pestered me to pass algebra.
But there I was at Mass, 27 days before my transition into decade number four, when I had a really great idea. I would actually do works of mercy. For a year beginning on my birthday I would do these acts in both simple and more obvious ways, and share my experiences of them with others through the written word (my written word, not the Bible’s, which is obviously THE official word.)
I kept waiting for the idea to pass and to settle back into complacency with a People magazine, but the more I thought about it, the more excited I became. The challenge of someone like me, meaning someone very human, making a very real, conscientious effort to follow the teachings of the Catholic Church seems like the most meaningful way I could begin a new decade.
What a trial to perform these works of mercy despite the fact that I am inevitably pulled toward sin. Every day, over and over, I sin. But so does everyone else so there’s really nothing special about me there. However, what could make it special would be to defy sin by performing these acts of mercy despite their difficulty, despite how uncomfortable it may make me, and to offer it up to God. P90X has nothing on this challenge!
So after that day at mass, (okay it was a day later and after another which I spent at the beach) I came home and Googled works of mercy. Guess what? There are two different kinds; seven of each kind.
Who knew? Not this cradle Catholic who went to Catholic grade school and high school, who married a Catholic and is raising her children in the same faith. I mean it sounded familiar when I read about it, but I think it must have been buried in the segment of brain cells I killed in college (Sorry, mom.)
There are corporal works of mercy and spiritual works of mercy. This made me even more excited because I love structure (I didn’t have enough of it as a child – again, sorry mom.) With it all outlined by the Catholic Church itself I was more convinced than ever that I was going to set out and spend the year of my 40th doing works of mercy. By sharing these experiences which will certainly take me outside of my comfort zone, my hope is that I will learn more about humanity, the Catholic faith, and ultimately my place in this world.
I figure as painful as this experience may be, it’s got to beat going under the knife!