To Be Christ to His Neighbor
All that We Have: The Iron Gates to the Daily Mass Chapel, Part 3
Published on June 15-16, 2013 in the Parish Bulletin of Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY
The bottom section of the iron gate that features the Spiritual Works of Mercy has on the left the image of a compass and on the right the image of an open hand; these represent, respectively, the works of converting the sinner and of comforting the sorrowful.
The work of converting the sinner heeds the instruction given by Saint James in his letter: “If anyone among you should stray from the truth and someone bring him back, he should know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (Jas. 5:19-20). These verses also explain why this deed has been known as the work of correcting those in error. The apostle describes the sinner as someone who has lost his way: he has strayed from the truth and from the way, both of which are Christ (cf. Jn. 14:6). The image of the compass thus evokes the task of directing this lost sheep back to the Lord’s fold.
The Gospels record at least three occasions in which Jesus encountered the dead and their grieving families: the young man of Nain and his widowed mother (cf. Lk. 7:11-15), the twelve year old girl and her father Jairus (cf. Mt. 9:18-19, 23-25; Mk. 5:22-24, 35-43; Lk. 8:40-42, 49-56), Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary (cf. Jn. 11:17-44). In every instance, Christ did not turn away from those in mourning; He reached out to them and even gave to their dead the gift of new life. The Lord’s generosity is thus symbolized on this gate by an open hand. Although he does not possess the Lord’s power to raise the dead back to life, a Christian is called to extend the same open hand and do the work of consoling those who grieve.
Christ quite literally identifies with those who suffer in the body: “For I was hungry and you gave Me no food, I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink, a stranger and you gave Me no welcome, naked and you gave Me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for Me” (Mt. 25:42-43). He does not say the same thing about those who suffer in the spirit. That is quite understandable when one realizes that Christ could never have been numbered among those who needed to be prayed for. He was never ignorant or impatient, merciless or faithless, sinful or sorrowful. Yet, He was always there for those who were.
A Christian then is called, through the Corporal Works of Mercy, to find Christ in his neighbor; but, through these Spiritual Works of Mercy, he is called to be Christ to his neighbor.
Thus, when a churchgoer enters the Chapel from the narthex, the gate of the Corporal Works on the right serves as a visual guide in reviewing how he had found the Lord before he had come to Mass. Once he exits to the narthex, the gate of the Spiritual Works on the left also serves as a visual guide. But, this one reminds him on how he ought to live his life so that others would find in him the Lord whom he had received at Mass.