The Pressure's On
Father Michael Gaitley, MIC, bestselling author of Consoling the Heart of Jesus, 33 Days to Morning Glory, and The 'One Thing' Is Three, has a new book out, You Did It to Me (Marian Press), which focuses on the works of mercy and ways in which we can — and must — perform them. We recently spoke with him about this urgent call from God:
How did this book come about? Was this something that was on your mind for a long time, or was it a lightning flash in the middle of the night?
By Divine Mercy Sunday this year, I needed to find a book on the works of mercy to use in our Hearts Afire Parish-based Programs. I searched all over but couldn't find one that fit our needs. Then it dawned on me: "I have to write it." This wasn't a happy thought. I mean, with all the work leading up to Divine Mercy Sunday, it seemed impossible, and yet it had to be done. So, I said a prayer, gave it a shot, and it just flowed and flowed. Amazingly, I finished the book in just seven days! And even though it came so quickly, in many respects, I think it's the best book I've written. The Lord really had mercy on me!
Why your emphasis on works of mercy? Have people forgotten that essentially our salvation hinges upon whether we have performed deeds of mercy? Is it a reflection of the times we live in? Is it a reflection in any way of your own personal spiritual development?
When I was in college, something happened at Mass that had a huge impact on me. The priest proclaimed the gospel passage that depicts the Last Judgment scene from Matthew 25, and as if for the first time, I realized that Jesus calls to heaven only those who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, comfort the sick, and visit those in prison. I was blown away by this. I thought to myself, "Holy Toledo! This is important!" Yes, works of mercy are important. In fact, they're a matter of life and death, as in eternal life and death. Well, writing 'You Did It to Me' was a helpful reminder to me of this reality, and I hope it will be a helpful reminder to others.
To what extent did your devotion to St. Faustina influence this book?
At first it seemed she didn't have any influence. I mean, I just knew I had to write the book, and so started writing. I wasn't thinking about St. Faustina. But as I wrote, as it flowed out so effortlessly, St. Faustina and her teaching kept bubbling up to the surface time and time again. By the end, I realized that she was a major, hidden factor behind the book, that she influenced the whole thing by her teaching and, I hope, by her prayers. That's why I dedicated the book to her.
Obviously, you set out to write a book that's distinct from similarly themed books. Explain what it is that makes this book different or unique.
For one thing, as I just saying, 'You Did It to Me' taps deeply into the wisdom of the great mercy saint of our time, St. Faustina. I'm not aware of any other book on the works of mercy that does that.
Also, while other books on the works of mercy offer practical suggestions, their suggestions often take second place to anecdotes and theological explanations. This makes it way too easy to walk away from the reading without a concrete action plan. But that, in my opinion, is what's most needed. Let's face it: None of us is a Mother Teresa. In other words, we can all do a better job living the works of mercy. But how? How can we live them daily, concretely, and consistently? These are the questions I wanted to answer in the book.
Finally, most approaches to the works of mercy follow the traditional 14-point list. Now, I kind of find a list of 14 things to be a bit daunting. So, while 'You Did It to Me' certainly incorporates all 14 of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, it's organized around the much simpler structure of the five Scriptural categories. (Five points are obviously easier to handle than 14.) Plus, no other book on the works of mercy has the bonus feature of a ninja-fied memory device to make things even simpler. (You'll have to read the book to find that one out.)
We all want to engage in works of mercy, but we lead busy lives, and follow-through can be difficult. What's your advice?
The problem is twofold. First, the works of mercy often seem impractical to many of us. I mean, in my own daily life, I don't run across many dead bodies that need to be buried or naked people who need clothes. And I think that goes for all of us. Because of this, I think we easily let ourselves off the hook when we read on the traditional list such things as "bury the dead" and "clothe the naked." Well, in the book, I unpack these traditional, seemingly irrelevant expressions of the works of mercy and try to show that they are completely relevant. Second, I think that even after we identify doable works of mercy, we struggle with follow through. Why? I think it's largely because we don't ever put together action plans and strategies. Sure, we put together action plans when it comes to preparing a party or taking on a project at work, but when was the last time we did an action plan for works of mercy? Probably never. Well, in 'You Did It to Me,' I help guide the reader to put together such an action plan, and it's relatively easy to do.
What makes the spiritual and corporal works of mercy distinct from social work or simple, common decency?
Social work is done out of a love for humanity — we hope. Common decency is done out of duty: "It's just the right thing to do." True works of mercy are done out of love for Jesus. Even more precisely, we believe that they are done to Jesus. The Lord tells us this Himself in Matthew 25 when, speaking to those who lived the works of mercy, He says, "You did it to Me." In other words, whatever we do to "the least," to those in need, to those who are suffering, we do to Jesus.
Is there one particular work of mercy most lacking today?
If I had to pick one, I'd say it's "instruct the ignorant." In saying that, I'm trying to follow Pope Francis' lead. He keeps reminding us of our responsibility to spread the faith, to evangelize. But Catholics don't seem to like to do it. Maybe they think it's too difficult? Anyway, my recommendation to change that is to encourage people to visit DivineMercyArt.com, purchase a box of 1,000 business-card-size Divine Mercy Images, and then use them to do "hit and runs." Here's what I mean: Let's say you're at the grocery store and the checker seems to be having a bad day. Well, as she gives you the change, then — BAM! — hand her one of those Divine Mercy cards and say, "Jesus loves you" as you make your escape. It's easy, pretty painless, and the cards cost less than two cents each!
What did you learn from this project? Maybe another way of asking this is, while writing this book, did you stumble unexpectedly upon wisdom you hadn't foreseen — such that you couldn't wait to tell someone?
I learned that the works of mercy are not outdated, vague practices that only apply to missionaries in far off, developing countries. Rather, I better realized that the works of mercy truly are things that we can do "daily, concretely, and consistently."
You Did It to Me can be ordered by calling 1-800-462-7426 or through our online catalog.