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
5. OF WHAT BENEFIT ARE THE WORKS OF MERCY TO US?
1. Almsgiving obtains for us the remission of our sins; that is to say the sinner obtains the grace of repentance, while the just man receives the pardon of venial sin, and the remission of the temporal penalty.
Our Lord therefore says: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy" (Matt. v. 7). "Water quencheth a flaming fire and alms resisteth sins" (Ecclus. iii. 33). St. Ambrose exhorts the sinner to employ his money to ransom his soul. Daniel gives similar counsel to King Nabuchodonosor (Dan. iv. 24). By almsgiving the sinner obtains actual graces, which gradually bring about his conversion, or sometimes he obtains extraordinary graces. Cornelius, a heathen centurion at Caesarea, was the recipient of great graces as the reward of his prayers and alms; an Angel was sent to him, and he was converted by the preaching of St. Peter. "A merciful man doeth good to his own soul" (Prov. xi. 17); almsgiving is a means whereby we may escape eternal perdition. The Archangel Raphael expressly told Tobias: "Alms deliver from all sin, and from death, and will not suffer the soul to go into darkness" (Tob. iv. 11). "He who has made the poor man happy," says St. John Chrysostom, "will not himself suffer misery." God will not allow a man who has shown mercy to be lost; He will grant him the graces necessary for his conversion. St. Jerome declares that he has never known one who in his lifetime was liberal to the poor, to make a bad end; for the charitable have many to intercede for them. The just man obtains the remission
of what is due to his sins by almsgiving; for St. Thomas Aquinas says the satisfaction made by alms is greater than that which is effected by prayer and fasting.
2. By almsgiving we obtain an eternal recompense, provided that at the time we are in a state of grace.
It is related of the German Emperor Louis II that he lost his way in a forest when hunting one day. Late at night he reached a village presbytery, and begged the priest to give him a night's lodging. The priest entertained the stranger most hospitably; the next day the latter took leave, after thanking his host. Some weeks later a messenger presented himself at the priest's humble dwelling, and handed him a letter stamped with the imperial seal; it announced his nomination to the see of Munster. In like manner your heavenly King will reward your alms hereafter in a manner which you little anticipate. Alms are like seed cast into the ground; they are not lost, but yield an abundant harvest. The ant lays up a store for the winter; by giving alms we lay up treasures for the life to come. Thus we exchange what is temporal for what is eternal; we purchase everlasting possessions with our earthly pelf. Success in trade consists in buying cheap and selling dear; we too are engaged in commerce, and for a mere trifle, a piece of bread, even a cup of cold water, we purchase for ourselves heaven. When the new continent was discovered, the aborigines exchanged silver and gold for things of no value to the Europeans who landed on their shores. So we obtain the good things of God in return for the worthless goods of earth. " Give, then, to the poor that which thou canst not keep, in order to obtain that which thou canst not lose" (St. Augustine). Even in this life almsgiving produces a feeling of happiness. A youth was one day walking through a wood with his tutor, when he saw a pair of boots which a woodcutter at work at a little distance had taken off. The boy wanted to hide them, but his tutor suggested that rather than do that, he should put a piece of money in each. When the poor man went back to get his boots, he found the coins, and falling on his knees, thanked God and invoked blessings on the unknown benefactor who had helped him in dire distress. The money was the exact sum he needed to pay his rent. The boy, who had watched what occurred, turned to his tutor and exclaimed: "I never felt so happy in all my life." Truly a blessing attends works of mercy.
3. Almsgiving brings down upon us temporal blessings: God increases our means and gives us bodily health.
"He that is inclined to mercy shall be blessed" (Prov. xxii. 9). "The blessing of the Lord maketh men rich" (Prov. x. 22). God declares that he that giveth to the poor shall not want (Prov. xxviii. 27). Our Lord says: "Give, and it shall be given to you" (Luke vi. 38). The widow of Sarephta gave generously to Elias. For this she got back far more than she gave to the prophet, for her little store of meal and of oil was not diminished until the time of scarcity was over (3 Kings xvii. 14). A nobleman of Granada, who had bestowed a large alms on St. John of God, went to him the same day disguised as a mendicant, and asked for money. The Saint gave him all that he had received from him a few hours before. Thereupon the nobleman restored ten times the amount, and was his greatest benefactor during the rest of his life. God acts in a similar way; if we give to the poor even a portion of what He has bestowed on us, we shall receive it again with interest. A tree grows all the better for being pruned; so the rich will increase in goods if they part with some of their wealth, in acts of charity. St. Paula gave a great deal to the poor, though she was the mother of five children; when her relatives remonstrated with her, she said: "The best inheritance I can bequeath to my children is the blessing of Heaven, which almsgiving draws down on us." God gives bodily health to those who are bountiful to the poor. The Archangel Raphael was sent to heal Tobias because he had performed so many works of mercy (Tob. xii. 14). Tabitha was raised from the dead by St. Peter because of the good works and almsdeeds which she did (Acts Lx. 36, seq.). David exclaims: "Blessed is he that understandeth concerning the needy and the poor; the Lord will deliver him in the evil day" (Ps. xl. 1). Throughout the Scriptures we constantly find instances of blessings bring the reward of almsgiving.
4. Almsgiving is a means of obtaining a speedy answer to prayer.
The Angel said to Cornelius: "Thy prayers and thy alms are ascended for a memorial in the sight of God" (Acts x. 4). Listen to the voice of the poor, if you would have God listen to your voice. By nothing do we gain access to God so readily as by showing mercy. Alms, like fasting, is one of the wings on which prayer soars to Heaven.
5. By almsgiving we make the poor our friends; they pray for us, and their prayers have great power with God.
The ancients of the Jews besought Our Lord on behalf of the centurion at Capharnaum who had built them a synagogue; and immediately He complied with their request (Luke vii. 3-5). The poor of Joppe prayed for Tabitha; she was restored to life (Acts ix. 39). God Himself declares that the prayer of the poor is always heard (Ps. xxi. 25; lxviii. 34). The petitions of those who are in Heaven are, however, more effectual. Thus Our Lord bids us: "Make unto you friends of the mammon of iniquity, that when you shall fail, they may receive you into everlasting dwellings" (Luke xvi. 9). Therefore never refuse an alms to the poor.