Compassion is a Virtue…So is Mercy: Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy in the Workplace
The Gospel of Luke gives us a clear definition of who our neighbor is, and how we are called to love our neighbor, illustrated by Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. What a great reminder that our Lord calls us to the path of love through the virtue of compassion and of mercy.
Throughout the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus continues to lead us in our ordinary lives to love others through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. By developing the virtue of compassion and of mercy, we draw closer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is questioned about being a neighbor, and how to treat them. Here is what happens:
“and one of them, (a scholar of the law) tested him by asking, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest? He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22: 35-40)
In what is commonly referred to as the Corporal Works of Mercy, Jesus Himself gives us a path as we journey to eternal life:
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me. Then the righteous will answer him and say, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison and visit you?” And the king will say to them in reply, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25: 35-40)
What a great reminder of how we are to model developing the virtue of compassion and mercy! And this isn’t just about our home lives. It is about our lives!
Usually, it is easy to do this with our friends and family. But Jesus reminds us that this is an easy task. Practicing this virtue with our neighbors – even those we don’t understand or trust or feel close to – actually refines the virtues of compassion and of mercy in our lives.
What about practicing these virtues at work? What would that look like? Blessed Mother Teresa gives us this example in her vocation. Sometimes, as Blessed Mother Teresa illustrates for us, practicing these virtues at work is difficult, but the fruits and rewards are well worth the intention and practice of the virtues.
How do you feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, bury the dead, instruct, counsel, admonish, bear wrongs patiently, forgive offenses willingly, comfort the afflicted, and pray for the living and the dead in the workplace? Perhaps we could all use a reminder this summer in our work lives to practice the virtues of compassion and of mercy.
1. You have 2 ears and 1 mouth…use them in the same proportion they were given! I’ve always tried to use this adage in my work life. There is so much happening in people’s private lives impacting their performance. As teammates, supervisors, and colleagues, we can reach out as people of faith to listen to others as they bring situations to work. Some who are in the work world have told me in the past, “Get your love at home. Keep your problems from the workplace.” How do you do that? In a world that is increasingly complex, sharing struggles is natural in the workplace. Sometimes, when shared, employees are able to focus better at work, or as a supervisor, you are able to adjust the work load or pitch in when needed to help someone get over a bump. This is COMPASSION! This is MERCY! This is so desparately missing from many of our work environments. As a Catholic Christian,we are called to this kind of mercy and compassion.
2. When my husband was ill 11 years ago, in a coma in the hospital, I was distraught. The first person to the hospital were my colleagues and my supervisor. I was hungry, thirsty, my husband was sick, I was afflicted (and so were my children), and I needed major prayer. My supervisor, who previously I had thought of as a micro-manager, was the first to take care of my needs. She set up systems for my family to have dinners and the household managed, she visited each day, bringing me warmth and compassion. She would let me know she was praying for me (did I mention we worked in a public institution of higher education??). That moment defined my relationship with my supervisor, and how I needed to live her example of compassion and mercy from that moment on in my work life.
3. People are going to step on your toes at work. They are going to make mistakes, and have missteps in their communication, their performance, and their collegiality. Forgiveness and asking for forgiveness, couched in charity and love, is crucial for the workplace. It is a missing piece of the equation. We begin to think that the world of work is about the “venting” sessions, selling others down the river to make yourself look better, and teamwork when it suits you. But the Lord is calling us to something better in the work world. Forgiving hurts and asking for forgiveness when you make mistakes is important. I give you permission to hold me accountable on this one! I struggle with it, and pray for the desire to forgive and ask forgiveness, especially in the work world.
4. Because I live an integrated life, and my career involves my leadership which is informed by my faith, many of my colleagues know that I am Catholic. Colleagues know if they approach me about situations in their lives (work or personal), that I am going to pray for them. They know they can ask me for prayer, and I will gladly do it for them. They see me make the Sign of the Cross before meals. Praying for my friends comes naturally to me because it is a response to my faith, which guides how I live my life.
5. Patience…besides family life, where do you have so much practice than at work? One way to practice patience at work is to bear the wrongs of others patiently, which would entail trying to understand their point of view. This would also mean that “venting” to others would not be allowed! Calumniation could result from the “vent” sessions. Venting does not build the virtues of compassion and mercy; in fact, it builds the vice of gossip, and office gossip can be the worst. Patience, practiced as spiritual work of mercy, indicates a relationship with the individual, rather than reducing them to an object of gossip. In the end, their reputation is preserved, and you are able to develop the virtues needed in the workplace.
Let’s help one another this week to practice the virtues of compassion and mercy at work, just like Blessed Mother Teresa. Let’s hold one another accountable to these practices, and others you may have, as we journey closer to the most sacred heart of Jesus.
Blessed Mother Teresa…Pray for us!
Peace of Christ to you and yours!
Copyright 2013 Mary Wallace