Friday, January 01, 2010

Eighth Day of Christmas

Finally, no more birds.  Today is the Eighth Day of Christmas.  The gift for today is Eight Maids A-Milking.  The Eight Maids refer to the Eight Beatitudes as found in the Gospel According to St. Matthew (Matthew 5:3-10).  Sometimes called the 10 Commandments of the New Testament, they open what is a rather long sermon by Jesus on a mountain. A similar sermon (The Sermon on the Plain) is found in the Gospel According to St. Luke (Luke 6:20-26). Read the eight beatitudes again here one at a time, slowly.  Think and feel each one and as you do, consider both where you see yourself and where you see your worst enemy:

(from the English Standard Version)

1. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
2. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.  
3. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
4. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
5. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
6. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
7. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons (and daughters) of God.
8. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

How can we tangibly consider implementing the beatitudes in our daily lives?  That would make for a series of articles of their own, so for today, let us focus on the fifth beatitude, "Blessed are the merciful."  Although we aren't sure when the following teaching developed, St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) outlined them definitively in his writings. In an effort to help people understand the fullness of what it meant to be merciful, the early church outlined two types of mercy, corporal acts of mercy and spiritual acts of mercy.  These were considered obligations or more accurately stated, marks of the true Christian.  It was not things you must do to be a Christian, but things that Christians naturally did.  If one was lax in these points, it was a marker for them to consider the fervency of their faith.  Most of these acts of mercy were outlined from Scripture.  Using Isaiah 58:6-10 and Matthew 25:37-40, the points become both obvious and very biblical.

Corporal Acts of Mercy are:
1. Feed the hungry.
2. Give drink to the thirsty.
3. Clothe the naked.
4. Shelter the homeless.
5. Comfort the imprisoned.
6. Visit the sick.
7. Bury the dead.

Let me give you some statistics:
  • 150 million children under the age of 5 years old will go to bed hungry tonight and 13 million of those children live in the United States.  The world produces enough food for every human being to have 3,000-4,000 calories per day. The problem is that it would require the entire world working together...Feed the hungry.
  • 2.3 billion people are presently suffering from a disease they acquired from poor drinking water...Give drink to the thirsty.
  • It is estimated that of those convicted of a capital offense, 7% of them are innocent....Visit the imprisoned.
  • Worldwide, 42 million babies die in the womb every year. That is equal to the population of Canada.  The United States accounts for 1.6 million each year....Bury the dead.
 Spiritual Acts of Mercy are:
1. Admonish sinners. (Luke 15:7)
2. Instruct the unbelievers. (Mark 16:15)
3. Counsel the doubtful. (John 14:27)
4. Comfort the sorrowful. (Matthew 11:28)
5. Bear wrongs patiently. (Luke 6:27-28)
6. Forgive offenses. (Matthew 6:12)
7. Pray for the living and the dead*. (James 5:16) [*Protestants generally argue that they do not pray for the dead, even though the funeral commendation done by most Protestant clergy asks God to "Give the departed an entrance in to the land of light and joy" or words to that affect.]

Now, with all of that, I'm still sitting here thinking how any of it helps me to be more merciful.  So, consider this.  In each situation in life, how would you want to be treated.  If you were hungry, thirsty, committed a crime, were sick, alone or close to death, what would you want others to do for or with you?  If you were questioning your faith, had insulted someone on purpose or by accident or were slipping into a life of destructive habits or behaviors, what would you want your best friends to do?  Now, go and do likewise.  Consider that the guy who cut you off  at the intersection wasn't paying attention because he can't stop thinking about the fight he had with his wife last night or that his child has entered a rebellious stage and is flunking 9th grade.  The store clerk is slow and you are in a hurry, but she has worked 7 and 1/2 hours a day for 14 days straight and still has no benefits because she isn't considered full time.  Listen for the people's attempts to hide their hurt or fear by getting angry, or there lack of self confidence by always criticizing others.  It IS still Christmas.  Let that spirit of Christmas, that spirit of mercy, fill each day.  In doing so, you too, shall receive mercy.

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