Being a writer, I sit at my desk far too much, check my email far too often, and scan through FB postings for anything remotely amusing and/or religious. Even better if humor is combined with theology, as is often the case with the great Pope John XXIII, now a saint.
But, as Christians and as Catholics, we are called to both do the Spiritual Works of Mercy and the Corporal Works of Mercy. It seems like a cruel anomaly to use the internet to try and help people in their bodily forms, but I wonder if it can be done?
Nothing, of course, can take the place of working in a homeless shelter, dishing out food at a Soup Kitchen, visiting people in prison, or going to a nursing home to visit an aged resident. But if my driveway is blocked with snow--a common occurrence this past, dire winter--and I cannot get out of the house, can I still be faithful to this command to reach out to the most vulnerable?
Here are some thoughts which may be useful to those of you who sometimes are unable to do the physical Works of Mercy but who want to help people in need.
1/ Contribute to "www.nothingbutnets.com", an organization which provides nets soaked in insect repellant to people living in malaria-ridden areas to protect them from mosquitos at night.
2/ GIVE DRINK TO THE THIRSTY: Global Ministries has a variety of missions which you can send money to. I like choosing a particular area or population, as I did when I sent money to help dig wells in Africa. Providing clean drinking water is a huge challenge for many today, and definitely a Work of Mercy.
3/ FEED THE HUNGRY: If the snow is flying outside or the rain pouring down, cook up several meals to take to a local homeless shelter and put them in your freezer until you can deliver them. I like cooking burritos, pots of soup (corn chowder is a favorite), a big batch of spaghetti sauce, loaves of homemade bread, and whatever else you like to cook that will freeze easily.
4/ CLOTHE THE NAKED: Sort through your closets to find clothes in good repair which you can take to a Hospice Shop or Goodwill store. I have a multitude of tops and sweaters, all just fine, which I am contributing.
5/ Have your kids, if you have them, go on a coin hunt and start a mason jar by the door to put the coins in. Judaism has a good name for this, "Tikkun Olam," healing the world. Have the kids pull out couch cushions, search beneath, look under the edges of carpets, go through pocket books, and check the coats in the closet. Car doors yield a surprising amount of cash. Then you can talk as a family about what you want to do with the money collected.
6/ VISIT THE PRISONERS: Get a name from your parish of someone in prison who could use a visit and contact with someone on the "outside." Again, if you can't physically visit, start a correspondence and include drawings your kids have done or other colorful things which might cheer someone in prison. Note: Contact the nearby prison to find out what things are acceptable and can be safely sent. You also could contact Amnesty International and find out if they need people to write letters in support of various prisoners.
7/ SHELTER THE HOMELESS: Call a local homeless shelter and ask what they need: clothing, furniture, food, and/or money? Although this puts you somewhat at a distance from this Corporal Work of Mercy, the shelter will welcome any donations!
8/ Some things you really cannot do digitally, i.e.--Bury the Dead (even with the best of intentions this is not possible), and Visit the Sick. Although you could call your parish and ask who on the Parish Prayer line needs prayers and a card. Also, you could contribute financially to burying an indigent person in your parish. Call the parish office to find out more information on this.
Then--on a day when winter has retreated to the cave it hides in and the rainstorms have departed--you can actually go to the homeless shelter, serve your thawed meals at the soup kitchen, visit a prisoner in person, and show up for our most vulnerable citizens.
And when you meet God at last and She asks what you have done for the littlest of these, you can wave the stubs of your bank checks or more likely, the printed records of your internet donations; show the correspondence you sent to prisoners and the sick; and feel that you made a small start in helping the needy.