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“Love is a verb”: the corporal and spiritual works of mercy

Rev. Eutiquio ‘Euly’ B. Belizar, Jr., SThD
By the roadside


The culture of death is alive in the Philippines, and with a vengeance. It is like a diva that has been given a newer and bigger project and whose performance is so impressive it is cited for having created “a state of lawless violence”. Various quarters object to the declaration for being an overreaction. But haven’t we been living in a ‘state of lawless violence’ for years (if we understand violence to also mean beyond physical)?

Incidentally the word ‘corporal’ (paired with ‘works of mercy’) comes from the Latin ‘corpus’ which simply means ‘body’. There is now a huge number of ‘dead bodies’ from the ongoing campaign against illegal drugs, more than 2,000 as of the latest count. Add to this the recent ‘dead bodies’ of soldiers (14 or 15?) and Abu Sayyaf terrorists (30) and the victims of the Davao blast of last Friday, September 2, 2016 (14 fatalities). The agony is even more exacerbated by fears that other places may be next in line. From all indications, once the spears of death are unleashed, there’s no telling when or even whether it could end.

But it’s not only bodies that fall victim to the Grim Ripper. Our spirits are also constantly given lethal exposure to unbridled violence in words and rhetoric, threats and counter threats, allegations and counter allegations in the media and in official pronouncements. Meanwhile pornography and licentious entertainment still thrive. Poverty continues to slay the dignity of a great majority of our people. Social injustice begets hopelessness, at the same time driving countless souls to uncertain fates in foreign shores, only to come home later with shattered dreams and empty pockets. Others come back inside caskets.

Ironically, while remaining blind and deaf to their own people’s problems, many Pinoys prefer to be glued to their pokemon apps. Yet, owing to the decisive and courageous acts of the present DENR leadership, we have become more privy to the unspeakable destruction God’s creation has been suffering in the country’s environment due to irresponsible mining and many other abuses. No wonder our spirits are hardly moved to the praise of our God, seeing the wounds inflicted on our portions of humanity’s “common home” (in Pope Francis’ words).

That is to say, there is just so much evidence of the ‘corporal and spiritual works’ of the ‘culture of death’ in our midst. Indifference is a costly luxury.
Many thanks to the Year of Mercy, our faith now makes clear to us how the answer has been, partly, just staring us in the face. From the days the Good News reached our corner of the earth, the Master has been reminding us that we actually have the answers to the ‘corporal and spiritual works of death’.
They are called ‘the corporal and spiritual works of mercy’.

The usual victims of the culture of death are the poor. It is not the frontrunners but those left behind in the race to wealth or prosperity, power or development that are found wrapped up dead by the wayside. It is people from what Pope Francis calls “the outer fringes of society” whose wounds the Church is called to respond to with the works of mercy. Why? Says the pope: “Jesus introduces us to the works of mercy so that we can know whether or not we are living as his disciples” (MV 15).

But I have a proposition to the Holy Father: Even the frontrunners, the powerful, the violent, the wealthy—are in dire need of the works of mercy. They also have bodies and souls that are as hungry for redemption as those on the margins of society. And, even admitting that they have been receiving more attention from the Church in the not so long ago, not giving them any now may not be wise.

The ‘corporal works of mercy’ (namely, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, welcoming strangers, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison and burying the dead) and the ‘spiritual works of mercy’ (namely, counseling the doubtful, instructing the ignorant, admonishing sinners, comforting the afflicted, forgiving injuries, bearing patiently ills done by others, and praying for the living and the dead) tell us a powerful statement: From the start, the Church’s mission addresses the whole human person. Not just the soul, not just the body, but both the body and the spirit of human beings are objects of our mission. This is not a late realization; it is a perennial truth, only more later emphasized

Moreover, the works of mercy also are a testament to the truth that God’s love is not abstract. It is as concrete as the acts of Jesus himself who, as Pope Francis says, is “the face of God’s mercy”. It is Jesus who feeds the hungry crowds, cures the sick, welcomes strangers even if sinners, sets free prisoners as well as counsels the doubting Thomas, instructs the ignorant Peter, admonishes the woman caught in adultery, comforts the widow of Naim, forgives his tormentors on the cross, while praying for them to the Father. In the Eucharist Jesus continues to feed and give us drink through concrete bread and wine nourishing our bodies but also through his Body and Blood that vivifies and strengthens our spirits. Actually many saints have survived on the Eucharist alone during long fasts. In a word, Jesus himself does the corporal and spiritual works of mercy on us even now in and through the Eucharist.

By the way, the expression “love is a verb” comes from a story I came upon lately. It seems an English language student in the Philippines was asked by her teacher to use the word ‘love’ in a sentence. She stands and says: “My family is my first love”. The teacher asks: “Is the word ‘love’ in your sentence a noun or a verb?” She answers: “A verb, Ma’am.” The teaches reacts: “That is not correct. ‘Love’ in your sentence is a noun. It is a name, not an action.” The student says: “Not in our family, Ma’am. Love is not a word we use to call anything. It is something we do. That’s why I say love is a verb.”

Grammar-wise the student is wrong; Gospel-wise no one is more right than she. For Jesus and his followers love is not so much a word to call something by; it is a series of acts to do. We call them ‘the corporal and spiritual works of mercy’.

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