If Dorothy Day stood for anything, it was the centrality of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy in the life of Catholics. She once said that everything a baptized person does should be, directly or indirectly, related to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Unlike some who reduce Christianity to a philosophy, Dorothy Day knew that Christianity was an embodied set of practices: things that we DO for others. In his book, The Strangest Way, Fr. Robert Barron tells us that the works of mercy “compel a self-regarding ego outward in the direction of mission and connection, and, as such, they constitute a distinctively Christian social theory, radically out of step with modern social arrangements.” (152)
This is precisely why we incorporate service components in our catechetical programs. To promote the cause for Dorothy Day’s canonization, I propose that we stop referring to these components as “service hours” or “service projects,” but rather call them “mercy experiences.” Public schools require service hours as a way of developing good citizens and instilling an upright ethical attitude. Catholics engage in service as a way of extending God’s mercy to others, sharing one another’s burdens, and “moving in sync with the deepest rhythms of creation.” (Barron, 153) As such, they are not service projects or service hours, but experiences of God’s enduring mercy.
“Mercy experiences” instead of “service hours”—what are your thoughts?
Image of Dorothy Day by New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection (New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.