So often it can seem like the world’s problems are too big. What can we possibly do to help? How can the little bit we have to offer make a difference? In Stumbling Into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy, Mary Pezzulo offers some concrete ideas on ways we can practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy in our lives, regardless of our circumstances, and help provide healing and help to those who need it, one person at a time.
Pezzulo has not had an easy life. She suffers from fibromyalgia, has been a victim of abuse, and known severe poverty, but the mercy of other people helped her to experience the mercy of God. When all seemed lost, God walked in through the actions of those who helped her. She shares, “I wanted to see the living God, and I found God living in us, with us.” In turn, she discovered ways she could perform works of mercy for others, even in her difficult circumstances.
When we take the time to perform the works of mercy, we can bring the love of God to others. In some ways, the corporal works of mercy are easier. They are tangible. We can provide for others’ physical needs through feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, etc. Even those with little to offer can find ways to be generous with what they have.
The spiritual works of mercy can be more challenging. Pezzulo offers a cautionary tale that spiritual works of mercy performed in the wrong way can lead to spiritual abuse. She defines “spiritual abuse” as “abuse of any kind that damages a person’s experienced relationship with God.” For example, if someone distorts the image of God for a person or offers religious counsel in a harsh, unkind manner. Sometimes this can be done through ignorance. So, before we instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, or admonish the sinner, we need to be sure that our own spiritual house is in order and that we do these things with gentleness and respect for the free will and dignity of the person we are instructing. Comforting the afflicted and praying for the living and the dead are less likely to have the potential for spiritual abuse. We all have the ability to provide care to someone who is hurting and to offer prayers for those who need them. Done correctly, the spiritual works of mercy have a great ability to provide hope and healing to others.
In Stumbling Into Grace, Pezzulo offers her personal stories and testimony about the works of mercy, but each chapter concludes with ideas for how we can practice these works of mercy in our own lives, reaching out and touching others with the love of God. We do have the ability to help the world, one small act of mercy at a time.
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