Open main menu

Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 10.djvu/233

This page needs to be proofread.




clothe the naked; (4) To harbour the harbourless; (5) To visit the siclc; (6) To ransom the captive; (7) To bury the dead. The spiritual works of mercy are: (1) To instruct the ignorant; (2) To counsel the doubtful; (3) To admonish sinners; (-1) To bear wrongs patiently ; (5) To forgive offences will- ingly; (6) To comfort the afflicted; (7) To pray for the living and the dead. It will be seen from these divi- sions that the works of mercy practically coincide with the various forms of almsgivmg. It is thus that St. Thomas regards them. The word alms of course is a corruption of the Greek iXequocivq (mercy). The do- ing of works of mercy is not merely a matter of exalted counsel; there is as well a strict precept imposed lioth by the natural and the positive Divine law enjoining their performance. That the natural law enjoins works of mercy is based upon the principle that we are to do to others as we would have them do to us.

The Divine command is set forth in the most strin- gent terms by Christ, and the failure to comply with it is visited with the supreme penalty of eternal damna- tion (Matt., XXV, 41) : " Tlien he shall say to them also that shall be on his left hand: Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave me not to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave me not to drink. I was a stranger, and you took me not in: naked, and you covered me not: sick and in prison, and you did not visit me ", etc. Here it is true there is mention directly and explicitly of only the corporal works of mercy. As, however, the spiritual works of mercy deal with a distress whose relief is even more imperative as well as more effective for the grand pur- pose of man's creation, the injunction must be sup- posed to extend to them also. Besides there are the plain references of Christ to such works as fraternal correction (Matt., xviii, 15) as well as the forgiveness of injuries (Matt., vi, 14). It has to be remembered however that the precept is an affirmative one, that is, it is of the sort whicli is always binding but not always operative, for lack of matter or occasion or fitting circumstances. It obhges, as the theologians say, semper scd non pro semper. Thus in general it may be said that the determination of its actual obligatory force in a given case depends largely on the degree of distress to be aided, and the capacity or condition of the one whose duty in the matter is in c^uestion. There are easily recognizable limitations which the precei)t undergoes in practice so far as the performance of the corporal works of mercy are concerned. These are treated in the article on Alms and Almsgiving (q. v.). Likewise the law imposing spiritual works of mercy is subject in individual instances to important reserva- tions. For example, it may easily happen that an alto- gether special measure of tact and prudence, or, at any rate, some definite superiority is required for the dis- charge of the oftentimes difficult task of fraternal correction. Similarly to instruct the ignorant, coun- sel the doubtful, and console the sorrowing is not always within the competency of every one. To bear wrongs patiently, to forgive offences willingly, and to pray for the living and the dead are things from which on due occasion no one may dispense himself on the plea that he has not some special array of gifts re- quired for their observance. They are evidently within the reach of all. It must not be forgotten that the works of mercy demand more than a humanitarian basis if they are to serve as instruments in bringing about our eternal salvation. The proper motive is indispensable and this must be one drawn from the supernatural order. Finally it is interesting to note that for the exercise of the sixth among the corporal works of mercy two religious orders have at different times in the history of tlie Church been instituted. In the year 119S the Trinitarians were founded by St. John of Matha and St. Felix of Valois, and just twenty years later St. Peter Nolasco and St. Raymond of

Pennafort established the Order of Our Lady of Ran- som. Both of these communities had as their chief scope the recovery of Christians who were held captive by the infidels. In the rehgious body which owes its origin to St. Peter Nolasco, the members took a fourth vow to surrender their own persons in place of those whom they were not otherwise able to redeem from slavery.

Spihago. The Catechism Explained (New York, 1899): Walsh. The Thirteenth, Greatest of Centuries (New York, 1907)' Lehmkohl, Theologia Moralis (Freiburg, 1887); Billuart, Summa Sancti Thomm (Paris); St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica (Turin, 1885).

Joseph F. Delany.

Mercy, Sistehs op, a congregation of women founded in Dublin, Ireland, in 1S27, bv Catherine Elizabeth McAuley, b. 29 September, 1787, at Stor- manstown House, County Duljlin. Descended from an ancient and distinguished Catholic family, she was the eldest of three children. At a time when Catholi- cism was crushed, Mr. McAuley strove as much as was possible to keep the faith alive in those who had so many inducements to relinquish it, and engaged in many charitable works. In these he was little as- sisted by Mrs. McAuley, whose cliarm and accomplish- ments made her a favourite in society. After Mr. McAuley's death (1794) the pecuniary affairs of the family became so involved that the widow sold Stor- manslown House and removed to Dublin. Here the family came so completely under the influence of Protestant fasnionable society that all, with the ex- ception of Catherine, became Protestants. She re- vered the memory of her father too greatly to em- brace a religion he abhorred. Mrs. McAuley did not long survive her husband, and after her death the orphans passed into the family of a relative who in- vested their patrimony for their benefit. From one relative to another the orphans passed, each guardian doing all in his power to strengthen the children in the Protestant religion. Catherine, however, could not ha induced by threats or promises to join in Protestant worship, for she clung with strange pertinacity to the very name Catholic; but having no one to consult in her doubts, she finally became unsettled in her religious ideas. Precocious and serious beyond her years, she grew daily more alive to the insecurity of her spiritual position, and finally accedefl to the desires of her friends to examine the religion she saw practised among her truly virtuous relatives. The more she read, the more she thought and studied, the stronger her doubts in regard to Protestantism became. Its dissensions and contradictions, the coldness and the barrenness of its spiritual life, repelled her and all thought of becoming a Protestant died away. Cath- erine is described as being beautiful, her complexion was very fair, her eyes blue, and her hair golden; her nature was singularly unselfish, amiable, and affec- tionate. Though several advantageous alliances were proposed, nothing could induce her to marry.

More and more attracted to the faith of her father, Catherine became acquainted with Dean Lub(5 of St. James' Church, Dublin, and Dr. Betagh, whose friend- ship greatly aided her. Aljout th is time a distant rela- tive of her mother's, returning from Inrlia, purchased Coolock House, a few miles from Dulilin, and being attracted by Catherine's appearance, desired to adopt her; consequently, in the year 1803 Catherine removed to her new and beautiful home. Catherine's interior disquietude now became such that she determined to follow the dictates of her conscience. She sought an interview with Rev. Dr. Murray, afterwards Arch- bishopof Dublin, and shortly after was received into the Church. Her kind guardians allowed her to practise the charitable works to which she felt inclined and even provided her with the necessary means; but they were so opposed to everything having an appearance of Catholicism that they would not allow a crucifix.