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Mercy in the middle-class


Helping hand: “Catholic social teaching encourages volunteering for the good of the weakest and neediest in society.”

WITNESSING ordinary, middle-class people living extraordinary lives through their corporal works of mercy inspires me.

In the busyness of meeting mortgage repayments, taking care of family, work commitments, shopping, exercise – it would be easy to see corporal works of mercy as something not fitting with an ordinary 2016 Australian lifestyle.

The reason I write about middle-class is because it is what I know best.

While I have spent time with people of both upper and lower socio-economic statuses I do not live in their world every day.

Most of us have read and know the corporal works of mercy.

Corporal refers to how human persons [bodies] show love. I am encouraged every time I read them, so indulge me as I list them again:

  • clothe the naked
  • visit the sick
  • give drink to the thirsty
  • feed the hungry
  • shelter the homeless
  • bury the dead
  • visit the prisoner.

This list stirs up life-giving memories: listening to people’s stories of resilience and humour.

There is also the great camaraderie of shared experiences with other volunteers.

Growing up in middle-class Melbourne I was blessed at a young age to be involved in St Vincent de Paul Society bread runs with my family.

At 16 years I joined a young adults group who ran a Saturday-night soup van which included visiting people in high-rise housing commission flats.

I didn’t realise it at the time but these experiences were shaping my world view.

It is only recently I have become aware for some in the middle-class the thought of visiting someone in a nursing home or prison is: “Well, not something I am comfortable with.”

Unfortunately, I also hear in their conversations casual references to people who are homeless or living with a mental illness as “scummy” or laughing at people with disabilities.

Perhaps this is ignorance but it is not a face of Catholicism Pope Francis wishes to espouse.

Catholic social teaching encourages volunteering for the good of the weakest and neediest in society.

These teachings also state volunteering is good for the volunteer.

This good includes the development a person’s social dimension so they can foster solidarity and co-operation in civil society.

Many committed Christians support pro-life events.

This is good – people protecting life. Part of this call to protect life is about supporting and protecting the lives of people with a disability, the poor, homeless or prisoners­­.

It is not possible to support all worthy causes all the time. However, people professing to be Catholic are called to recognise the personhood of all people, including those who do not fit neatly into a middle-class existence.

St Teresa of Avila and many of the saints call us to live a life in the pursuit of perfection or God’s excellence.

This is quite different from a life of elitism in the pursuit of looking down or to distancing ourselves from others not blessed with the abundance we have inherited.

Our value does not lie in the idealistic image we present on social media, car we drive, job we hold, or even the number of children and grandchildren in our family.

We are all in need of Christ.

If you have not had an opportunity to be part of an organisation involved in corporal works of mercy perhaps this is your year to consider being part of one.

There are many and varied roles for all different temperaments.

To all the people who have worked tirelessly for mercy: thank you.

Thank you for inspiring and supporting me.

You have demonstrated it is possible to rebuild a public ethic based on solidarity and fraternal dialogue.

And thank you to all the Catholic, Christian and secular organisations who make it possible for ordinary people like me to live a life where I see the richness of mercy.

By Clare Burns
Clare BurnsClare Burns is a Brisbane Catholic businesswoman.

Written by: Guest Contributor
Catholic Church Insurance

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