Friday, August 12, 2016

Secret Acts of Mercy

Sometime last year I posted a list of 55 Precepts for Christian Living by Fr. Thomas Hopko. I have seen the list circulated quite a bit since then and I recently came across the suggestion of journaling through each item on the list. I thought that was a wonderful suggestion and, as I considered doing it, I decided that I'd like to share some of my thoughts here.

#10 Do acts of mercy in secret.

I'm sure you're all familiar with the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus speaks about alms-giving:
 “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.   ~ Matthew 6:1-4

As I spent time pondering this precept, thinking about what I'd write about it, I found myself focusing on the idea of keeping our acts secret. I also thought a lot about what acts of mercy even are: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick. Usually we think we must leave our home to go and do those things; we believe that the people who need our help are far away and we must search them out.

But what if the sick, the hungry and the naked are right here, next to me? How if they live in my own home with me? Is a person only hungry when they are at the point of starvation? Is someone only sick if they are hospitalized or near death? Are those who are penniless and homeless the only people who run the risk of being unable to clothe themselves?

I've often found myself feeling badly because it's not very practical for me to leave my home and go serve meals to the homeless, or to visit the sick in their homes or the hospital. I thought that I was failing at giving alms because I didn't see myself going out and doing it. The reality is though, that my neighbor, the person right next to me, right now, is the one I must seek to serve. The acts of mercy I must do are the ones which present themselves to me throughout the course of the day through the people, big and little, who are in my path.

In one of my favorite books, Way of the Ascetics, it says this:

The externally noticeable happening is not the decisive one. The little thing can be big, and the big, little. 
You are working for the Invisible One; let your work be invisible.  
Remember: there is no place, no community, no external circumstance that is not serviceable for the battle you have chosen. 
In order to do acts of mercy then, it is not always necessary for me to seek without and go in search of opportunity. Opportunity is always available to me if only I can learn to recognize it. And perhaps that is the best way to remain secret. If I can hardly see it myself, chances are not many other people are going to notice.