Thursday, November 19, 2020 –
On to another favorite, but misunderstood Spiritual Work of Mercy: to instruct the ignorant.
I think a lot of people misunderstand this one to mean they can call out every stupid thing you see in the world. First, ain’t nobody got time for that! Seriously, there is just too much stupid in the world, so don’t waste your time. Yes, there is someone wrong on the internet. No, you are not the cyber vigilante of intelligent thought. Second, this is NOT about telling someone they ignorant.
Okay, now that we have that cleared up, let’s see what Bishop Morrow has to say:
Which are the chief spiritual works of mercy?—The chief spiritual works of mercy are seven:
2. To instruct the ignorant.
Missionaries, catechists, confessors, Christian writers and teachers—all who teach religion or other useful knowledge—are doing an important work of mercy, and will receive a reward. “They that instruct many unto justice shall shine as stars for all eternity” (Dan. 12:3). Those who collect money for foreign missions do this work of mercy. (Bishop Morrow, My Catholic Faith, p. 181)
Even I am a little perplexed by the last sentence. I mean, I was with him on the whole education thing, but collecting money? Okay, sure…if you think about it in terms of financially helping the missionaries go over and teach, then that makes sense. Personally, given the “missionary efforts” of Catholic Relief Services, this was just a bit too difficult to wrap my head around. But, I assume that CRS wasn’t the bastion of contraceptives it is today back in Bishop Morrow’s day.
Right. Back to the matter at hand. Clearly we are talking about knowledge…TURE knowledge. You cannot expect someone to know something if they have never been taught. Right!? And, someone who fails to know something is ignorant of that fact.
Our Baltimore Catechism #3 gives us a great twofer summary of who these mysterious “ignorant” people are. It also tells us about tomorrow’s “doubtful” people, but we will cover that…well…tomorrow:
Q. 815. Who are meant by the “ignorant” we are to instruct, and the “doubtful” we are to counsel?
A. By the ignorant we are to instruct and the doubtful we are to counsel, are meant those particularly who are ignorant of the truths of religion and those who are in doubt about matters of faith. We must aid such persons as far as we can to know and believe the truths necessary for salvation.
So there you have it. In looking at these two sources it becomes quite plain that you are not to snarkily correct every silly thing you see on the interwebs, however much you really, really want. Rather, focus your efforts on truly bringing Christ’s truth to those who clearly do not know the error of their ways.
A good example: if you see a politician who calls himself “catholic,” but has zero clue on what the Church actually teaches, then by all means buy him a Catechism and take the time to highlight where he has gone afoul. Umm…scratch that. Chances are he has run afoul of the whole kit and caboodle, and it would take you forever to highlight the whole book.
A more accessible example (i.e. something many of us have seen in our daily lives and CAN doe something about) would be when you see someone chewing gum in Mass. Clearly they have little to no understanding of the Eucharistic fast, basic respect for our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, and the spiritual harm they do themselves by desecrating the Eucharist. Yes, you can have a calm and productive conversation with them, and you should. Obviously, find a prudent time. Yanking them to the ground in the middle of Mass is probably not the way to properly educate them. However, politely approaching them before or after Mass and asking if they know about the Eucharistic fast is prudent and a great Spiritual Work of Mercy.
Sancte Paule, ora pro nobis!