Doing works of mercy doesn’t mean just giving coins to assuage our consciences. Rather, it means sharing in the suffering of others, even at personal cost to ourselves.
That message was at the heart of Pope Francis’ homily on Monday morning at his regular Santa Marta Mass.
Reflecting on the first reading from the book of Tobit, or Tobias, the Pope noted how Tobit was saddened and wept at the murder of a Jewish kinsman, whose body he brought inside to bury after sunset. Pope Francis went on to speak about the 14 corporal and spiritual works of mercy, saying that to do them properly means not just sharing what we possess, but also sharing in the sufferings of others.
We do not do works of mercy to assuage our consciences, to make us feel better, he said. Rather, the merciful person is the one who has pity on others and shares in their suffering. We must ask ourselves, am I generous? Do I know how to put myself in another person’s shoes? Do I suffer when I see another person in difficulty?
The Pope continued by noting how the Jews in the bible reading had been deported to Assyria and were not allowed a proper burial. Therefore Tobit risked being killed too – just as we must also take risks as we carry out works of mercy.
Recalling the Second World War years here in Rome, Pope Francis spoke of all those people, beginning with Pope Pius XII, who risked their own lives to save Jews from deportation and death.
Those who carry out works of mercy must take risks, but they may also be mocked by others, just as Tobit was mocked by his neighbours. Doing works of mercy also means being willing to be inconvenienced, the Pope went on, just as Our Lord was inconvenienced – all the way to the Cross – to show mercy to us.
We do works of mercy for others, Pope Francis said, because we know that we have been shown mercy by Our Lord first. We think about our mistakes, our sins, and how the Lord has forgiven us, so we do the same with our brothers and sisters. Works of mercy, the Pope concluded, keep us away from egoistic behavior and help us imitate Jesus more closely.