Friday, March 2, 2012

This Lent, Let Mercy Lead

Here is my March Catholic Post column.  I invite your feedback here or on Facebook or Twitter.

Do you like reading C.S. Lewis?  Many people, especially converts, do.

I recall first discovering Lewis when I was a young adult and for the first time truly embracing my cradle Catholic faith.   I soaked up his intellectual wisdom,  his sensible, easy-to-read theology and I grew in knowledge of and desire for my faith.  Lewis (like GK Chesterton, whom I find a little harder going) is eminently quotable, with lines that stick with you.

If I could use the analogy for food (and, as longtime readers know, I’m fond of using such analogies), reading C.S. Lewis is a like eating a delicious, multi-course feast, full of a range of dishes that both nourishes and tastes great, and you remember for a long time.

I was trying to find a way to characterize Mark Shea’s writing style as I read his newest book The Work of Mercy:  Being the Hands and Heart of Christ.  What kept occurring to me “he writes like a modern C.S. Lewis.”   Those are some big shoes to fill, but I propose that it’s an appropriate comparison.

I occasionally read Mark Shea’s blog, “Catholic and Enjoying It” (and I always smile at the blog’s subhead, “So that no thought of mine, no matter how stupid, should ever go unpublished again!”)

But even though he’s the author of many books, I’ve never read one until The Work of Mercy. Turns out, all these years, I’ve been missing out.

 Mark Shea, like C.S. Lewis, lays out a feast for readers, combining many elements of culture, faith and life in an honest, approachable style.   The Work of Mercy is easy to read, but not “lightweight”; rather, it’s challenging and uplifting in the best way.

The Work of Mercy, with a chapter dedicated to each of the corporal and then spiritual works of mercy, is full of challenges for the individuals, groups and the Church, as well as the world.  It’s such a cliché to say, “I laughed, I cried, I was moved,” but I truly did all these things reading The Work of Mercy.  I had insights and growth in my understanding of works of mercy throughout.  I felt more of a desire to do specific actions to practice specific works of mercy, instead of just reading along and nodding my head (though I did plenty of that, too).

There’s so much varied and good in the book, it’s hard to get too specific, but two elements emerge:

*Shea’s honest humor:  “For me to assume the task of writing about "bearing wrongs patiently" is like asking the Incredible Hulk for anger-management counseling."

*Shea’s message throughout that the works of mercy not so much change the world as change we who practice them.   In “Visit the Sick,” for instance, Shea writes that, “visiting the sick brings the human dignity of the sufferer into view."

The Afterword, “What Next?” is especially good—for each of the spiritual or corporal works of mercy, Shea offers varied ideas, as well as web and other addresses for a charity or Christian outreach for action. For instance, for the work of mercy “forgive offenses willingly,” Shea recommends the sacrament of reconciliation, as well as Rachel’s Vineyard and Immaculee’s Rwandan Left to Tell Foundation.

If you’re fasting this Lent from certain foods, consider Mark Shea’s The Work of Mercy a multi-course feast for your spiritual life.

No comments:

Post a Comment