"Big Four" Highlights


Material Mercy

Reviewing the third and fourth corporal works

By Bill Dodds

“Does Grandpa always wear the same clothes?” my 7-year-old granddaughter recently asked my daughter.

Overhearing, my mind raced: What? No! Um. Kind of.

My at-home uniform is jeans, a collared shirt with a pocket for pen and scratch paper, pullover sweater, and . . . grandpa shoes.

“He has a lot a different clothes that look the same,” my daughter said. “And all his shirts are blue.”

Well, yes, but a wide variety of blue.

That question got me thinking about Grandma Dodds, who always wore a dress (an everyday type Monday through Saturday and something special for Sunday), and “grandma shoes,” which had solid arch support.

My “grandpa shoes” are running shoes (though I don’t run), which also have solid arch support.

Looking back, I realize one lesson I absorbed from my late wife was that function trumps fashion. A closet or dresser stuffed with fine threads isn’t a sign of success.

The third corporal work of mercy (clothe the naked) is an invitation to be a 21st-century St. Martin of Tours, “cutting our cloak in two” and giving half to a hidden Jesus. It’s paying attention to the Gospel verses describing the Last Judgment in which Christ says, “I was naked and you clothed me” (Matt 25:36).

There are things we grandparents can do—and talk about doing but not in a bragging sort of way—that can help our grandchildren learn how to “clothe the naked.”

My own grandkids may recall that on the first anniversary of their grandma’s death, I gave away a number of her clothes and shoes. It was a hard, hard day but it gave me great comfort to imagine women wearing the coats or blouses or dresses that Monica had loved, and to picture them so pleased with their lovely “new” outfits.

In a similar way, even the youngest generation can sort through what they have and make a donation to the St. Vincent de Paul Society or a local clothing bank. They can give to a back-to-school or Christmas clothing drive for new and “gently used” items.

As with all the corporal works of mercy, they can discover that an act of kindness, an act of giving, an act that helps us become more aware of how good we have it and how extremely challenging life can be for others, is a sure way to learn about the true value of “stuff”.

What about the fourth corporal work of mercy, sheltering the homeless? Few of us are called to literally make room in our homes. (Though some do that through foster care or adoption, and others open their homes to an adult child or a grandchild who needs a safe place to stay.) But each of us is called to “make room in our hearts.”

How? Perhaps, most simply, it’s the attitude we have when we encounter the homeless, especially when our grandchildren are with us. It’s how we talk about the homeless when the family is gathered around the dinner table.

We shouldn’t have an “us” and “them” attitude. From a Catholic point of view, we’re all “us,” but some of us need extra help for a variety of reasons. And if we had to face the challenges and setbacks that so many of those who are on the street have had to face, we might be right there, too.

It can be harder to accept that the Catholic point of view also doesn’t separate the “deserving” from the “undeserving” poor. The poor are the poor, and Christ instructs us to help them. How? It’s good for us to remember, and for our grandchildren to learn, that those who work with the homeless recommend this:

Don’t give a direct handout to the man with the hand-printed sign at the busy intersection or the woman begging on the street corner. The best way is to give to the charities, agencies, and organizations that help those who are living on the street or in their cars.

To totally fulfill both the third and fourth corporal works of mercy, we need to pray for those in need, and for those who help them.

Bill Dodds and his late wife, Monica, founded the Friends of St. John the Caregiver, an international Catholic organization that promotes care for family caregivers. His novels include Mildred Nudge: A Widower’s Tale and, for children, My Great-grandfather Turns 12 Today.