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The Work of Mercy: Being the Hands and Heart of Christ Paperback – December 16, 2011
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The rich, distinctive spirituality of the Catholic tradition doesn't come through in Shea's writing. I give it two stars because there is some meaningful substance there, but it takes some work to get around the rest of it. That's why I find this title a disappointment.
The topic, you ask? The corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
My first thought, I'll admit, was that it can all be summed up in a poster. Who needs a whole book?
But then I realized something: I don't really know much about the works of mercy. Do I know the ways to apply them? Am I able to identify them in my life (not counting the ever-present "feeding the hungry" that goes on around here)? Can I share them with my children, my students, my friends, in a way that's engaging and real-life?
The answer before I read this book was a firm No, in some shape or another. The answer after, I hope, is closer to a Yes. The book has given me an interest and curiosity and desire for the works of mercy and an appreciation for how very integrated they should be in the Christian life.
If you see this book and think "boring" in any way, shape, or form, let me just set things straight: you are WRONG. Shea does what he does so well: he engages the reader, makes the topic into something you never thought about, and gives you ways to apply it to your faith in tangible ways.
It's not a long book, but it's deep in content and you'll find that it plants seeds of thought that you'll find flowering later. As you read it, you'll find it steeped in Church tradition and Scripture scholarship, in humorous anecdote and ongoing wisdom, in practical application and challenging calls to action.
Highly recommended and worth every minute you spend reading it.
The book covers the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The corporal works pertain to Matthew 25: 31-46 in which Jesus talks of God's separating goats from sheep on the basis of "Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me." Shea lists them as feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, harbor the harborless, visit the sick, ransom the captive, and bury the dead. The spiritual works reflect biblical teaching about the love of God for humans: instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, admonish sinners, bear wrongs patiently, forgive offenses willingly, comfort the afflicted, and pray for the living and the dead. In each case, Shea offers insight on what these admonitions meant in Jesus' day, challenges in carrying them out today, and practical ideas for getting a start. The point, Shea writes, is for us to ensure our calling and election in union with Christ and help renew the face of the earth
The last chapter, Pray for the Living and the Dead, focuses on the Church's longstanding tradition of praying for anything and everything. Everybody gets prayed for, Shea writes, listing the usual family, friends and so on along side guys who cut you off on the freeway, a drunk you saw when you were in elementary school and, yes, the likes of Hitler and Osama and, for good measure, all those with no one else to pray for them. Shea says he doesn't understand how praying for the dead works, but he believes it does and anyway praying for others helps him by building the discipline for prayer. We "remember" the dead in our prayers, he says, we also help them attain heaven.
The Work of Mercy is a down to earth resource whose chapters can stand alone, making it especially useful faith sharing groups and RCIA classes as well as individuals. As a bonus, Shea includes a list of organizations devoted to each of the works addressed in the text.