The Needs of a Neighbor’s Soul
All that We Have: The Iron Gates to the Daily Mass Chapel, Part 2
Published on June 1-2, 2013 in the Parish Bulletin of Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY
The symbols for the Spiritual Works of Mercy can be seen on the left gate of the Daily Mass Chapel when coming in from the narthex. These works of mercy are called ‘spiritual’ since they attend to the needs of a neighbor’s soul.
At the top left of this gate is a thurible with the smoke of incense rising from within it; it signifies the work of praying for the living and the dead and recalls the words of the psalmist: “Let my prayer be incense before You” (Ps. 141:2). An example of prayer for the living is found in the Acts of the Apostles: in the 12th chapter, the evangelist recounts that, when Peter was in prison, “the prayer by the Church was fervently being made to God on his behalf” (Acts 12:5). Prayer for the dead is found in the Book of Maccabees when Judas Maccabeus took up a collection for an expiatory sacrifice to be offered in the temple on behalf of the dead (cf. 2 Mac. 12:43, 46).
Right next to this thurible is the image of a hand pierced by a nail; it evokes the work of forgiving injuries and the example of the Crucified Christ who pleaded to the Father to forgive those who had nailed Him to the cross for “they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34).
In the section right below these two is an open book representing the work of instructing the ignorant. This service to one’s neighbor heeds the teaching of Saint Paul: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another” (Col. 3:16).
In the third section, the Jerusalem Cross calls the mind the work of bearing wrongs patiently. This image stands for the five wounds of Christ: the four small crosses for the wounds on His hands and feet, the larger central cross for the spear wound on His side. To this work of mercy Saint Peter makes an exhortation in his letter: “For whenever anyone bears the pain of unjust suffering because of consciousness of God, that is a grace…if you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. For to this you have been called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in His footsteps…When He was insulted, He returned no insult; when He suffered, He did not threaten; instead, He handed Himself over to the One who judges justly” (1 Pt. 2:19-21, 23).
The lighthouse in the fourth section signifies the work of counseling the doubtful. Just as a lighthouse guides those in dark waters to a safe harbor, so does wise counsel lead those lost in the darkness of doubts to the light of faith. This is illustrated in the story of the apostle Thomas who had doubted the resurrection of the Lord. The Risen Lord appeared before him and offered for his scrutiny the wounds on His hands and in His side (cf. Jn. 20:26-27). The Lord admonished Thomas, “Do not be unbelieving, but believe,” (Jn. 20:27) and the apostle replied with a profession of faith: “My Lord and my God!” (Jn. 20:28).