Q — I’m just a typical member of my parish, faithfully attending Mass each Sunday and receiving the sacraments. Do you have any simple ideas about how I can do some act or project relative to the Holy Year of Mercy?

A — Thank you for this question, because so many of us just like yourself are asking this seemingly straightforward question about what we can do relative to the Year of Mercy. What comes immediately to mind is to look at the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, and commit myself to doing some of these, as my circumstances and state of life permit, throughout the whole Year of Mercy. That would be an excellent project. The rest of my response to the question is really a scriptural reflection on the works of mercy, and it can be summarized in this fashion: “Be all you can be as Christ’s holy body!”

That’s easy to say but it’s extraordinarily difficult to do. The Church as Christ’s holy body exists in order to signal to humankind the love and mercy of God, and to be an effective means/sacrament of drawing us into closer communion with this God who is Love. So, as an act or project during this year, I would suggest slow reading and meditation on three passages from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.

The first passage is Chapter 11, verses 17 to 32. This is the earliest account of the Mass in existence and it remains so instructive for us as contemporary Catholics. If you read the passage carefully, you recognize that this Corinthian parish was riddled with divisions and factions and groups, so riddled that they were ripping apart the church as the Body of Christ. St. Paul says to them in my loose paraphrase, “Stop it! The local parish cannot help being characterized by differences among the members, but it can help being divisive. Difference, yes, division, no.”

The second passage is chapter 12, verses 4 to 28. This is the great passage from St. Paul that talks about the church as the Body of Christ, and contains those beautiful words: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” The parts of the one Body of Christ, the organic, living reality of the parish are all inter-related. The members of the body have different parts and roles and duties, but they are bonded into one with Jesus Christ as the head of this body. The question now emerges – “How should this Body of Christ act?”

That question takes us to the third passage in chapter 13, especially verses 4 to 8: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” That is a marvelous description of how a local parish should be, of how I should be.