THE WORKS OF MERCY
Taken from THE CATECHISM EXPLAINED
Written by Fr. Francis Spirago; Edited by Fr. Richard Clarke, SJ
with Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, New York, 1927
4. IN WHAT SPIRIT SHOULD THE WORKS OF MERCY BE PERFORMED?
1. we ought not to do good to our neighbor in order to be seen and praised by men, for in that case we have our reward on earth (Matt. vi. 1).
Nor should we do good to our neighbor in the hope that he will requite our kindness (Luke xiv. 12).
Our Lord says: "When thou dost give alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right doth" (Matt. vi. 3). The Saints, as a rule, gave alms secretly. St. Nicholas threw money to the poor out of his window at night; others performed works of mercy under cover of the darkness. The less reward we get on earth for our good works, the greater will be our recompense after death. Hence, as Christ exhorts us, we should do good by preference to those who cannot repay us: the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind (Luke xiv. 13). Nor must we expect to be thanked. God is repaid with ingratitude and so are the charitable among men. Yet we ought not on this account to desist from doing good, for it is in showing kindness to the unthankful that true charity consists.
2. We must do good to our neighbor for Christ's sake.
Christ lives in His people. This we learn from His Own words at the Day of Judgment. Thus we must see God in our neighbor. St. Magdalene of Pazzi placed works of mercy before prayer: "When I engage in mental prayer," she said, "God assists me; but when I do good to my neighbor, I assist God, for He regards what I do to my neighbor as done to Him."
3. We should do good to our neighbor promptly and pleasantly.
We ought not to postpone giving alms until the morrow, if we can do it at once (Prov. iii. 28). What is given promptly has a double value. He that showeth mercy, let him do it with cheerfulness (Rom. xii. 8). God loveth a cheerful giver (2 Cor. ix. 7). We ought not to upbraid the poor (Ecclus. xviii. 18). Those who are harsh to the poor are like a surgeon who in healing one wound makes another. We ought not to question the poor at too great length; we should rather give of our own accord, without waiting to be asked. Nor ought we to hold ourselves aloof from the poor. If almighty God permits us to proffer our petitions to Him at all times, and is always ready to grant them, surely we who are but dust and ashes, ought not to do less for our brethren. The Emperor Rudolph of Hapsburg used to say: " Every one can have access to my presence. I was not chosen emperor that I might live in seclusion."
4. We are only required to give alms of our superfluity.
In no wise are we bound to deprive ourselves of what is necessary for our subsistence or to keep up our position. Our Lord says: "Yet of that which remaineth give alms" (Luke xi. 41). Theologians are of opinion that it is sufficient to give a small percentage of one's yearly savings.
5. We must only give alms out of what is our own, and only give to those who are really poor or who are unable to work.
Some people think they will give alms at anther's expense; they take from one what they give to another. Such almsgiving, which is an act of injustice, is abhorrent to God. [Emphasis in bold added.] Therefore let a man who is in debt pay his creditors, instead of giving alms to the poor. Justice comes before generosity. "How manifestly unjust it would be to take the coat off one man's back to give it to another; it is no less unjust to give in alms money which thou owest to another" (St. John Chrysostom). As well might a thief, when brought to trial, offer the judge a part of the stolen property; he would only insure his conviction. "And canst thou hope to gain the favor of God by giving alms of what is not thy own?" (St. Augustine.) To give to those who are known to be idle and addicted to drink, is to encourage them in sin; but it is better to err on the side of charity than of severity. [Ibid.] When the Master of the house is so liberal, it ill becomes His steward to be niggardly. As all shipwrecked sailors without distinction are received in a port, so we should not sit in judgment upon those who have fallen into poverty, but hasten to help them in their misfortune.
6. In giving alms, preference should be shown to our relatives, our fellow Catholics, and those who are in the greatest need.
St. Paul exhorts us: "Let us do good to all men, but especially to those who are of the household of the faith" (Gal. vi. 10). For what we give to the poor we give to God, as we know from Christ's own words. The money bestowed in alms is lent to the Lord and He will repay it with high interest.