Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Review: What to Do When Jesus Is Hungry

Fr. Apostoli is an appropriate person to have written this book. As one of the founders of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, he lives among the poor and experiences firsthand what he writes about.

Fr. Apostoli explains the theological (faith, hope and love) and moral (prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude) virtues and how they must find expression in the works of mercy. As the Catechism defines it, “The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor.” This book has a chapter on each of the Corporal Works of Mercy: Give food to the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead, and it also has a chapter on each of the Spiritual Works of Mercy: Instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, admonish the sinner, bear wrongs patiently, forgive offenses, comfort the sorrowful, and pray for the living and the dead. I enjoyed how Fr. Apostoli intermixed his personal experiences in his explanations with quotes from various saints or teachers.

I especially enjoyed his explanations on the spiritual works of mercy, which are so easily forgotten by the masses which are focused on material things.

• Many of the problems we encounter have emotional roots. If we encourage people to grow authentically in their emotional life, they will grow spiritually as well. It is like “dispelling the demons” of discouragement, self-pity, apathy, fear, and despair. This is a genuine work of mercy.
• The very purpose for which God created us, namely, to share eternal life with him in the Kingdom of Heaven dictates that in seeking to admonish the sinner, we need to admonish ourselves first.
• Jesus came for two reasons: he came to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. (Dorothy Day)
• It takes a great deal of patience to accept people and situations that are unexpected, or inconvenient, or irritating. This means that, many times, we end up having to clean up after them. Usually we experience varying degrees of anger toward these people. We might even react: “Who needs these people?” It is precisely at these moments that Jesus would say to us, “You do, and that is why I sent these people to you.” It’s precisely these kinds of people who help us to grow in patience.
• His greatest expression of forgiveness occurred when he prayed upon the Cross for those who were putting him to death: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what the do.”
• Jesus tells us that our love must be a love that costs us something to give.

The works of mercy, Fr. Apostoli explains, are the outward actions of our virtues, for our neighbors and ourselves. But the Corporal Works of Mercy should first be sought for our neighbor, while the Spiritual Works of Mercy should first be sought for ourselves. The reason differing priority is that while our neighbor will gratefully accept our gifts to aid his body, he won’t accept our attempts to spiritually help him unless he see that we are practicing those spiritual actions in our daily lives. We can say that we practice the Corporal Works of Mercy by just writing a check, but to practice the Spiritual Works of Mercy we not only have to do something, we have to live it.

I think What to Do When Jesus is Hungry provides the reader with a simple scorecard to comparatively measure how successful he is in this task of “growing in holiness.” I think many people would like to think they are “good people” because of the corporal works of mercy which they do --- and which can so readily be seen by others. But if we are really scoring how well our spiritual lives are advancing, we need to look at how well we are growing in the Spiritual Works of Mercy, administered to ourselves first, and then others.

As the book so softly explains: This is a challenge.


  1. Thanks for giving us a glimpse of Fr. Apostoli's mindset.
    I appreciated the way he presented the Corporal works side by side with the Spiritual works.
    I enjoyed the book review.

    I think the Spiritual works of Mercy are well suited for this phase of our lives (that is, Clinton and me)

  2. You're right in seeing life as a series of phases, Maryellen. And with each of them come tasks to be done.

    I'm caring for my mom now, much longer than I believed would occur, but this is a good thing, a blessing. Some comment that what they read here is a good thing, so that also is part of this phase of my life. It seems to be what He wants, and I'll just try to do my best, as I am sure you are with your current phase.

    Being content with our lot is important, accepting where we are. This afternoon I am helping a friend choose a rehab center for her mother, and both are very upset. Changes to new phases are always difficult, and we worry and stress. And the words, Do Not Be Anxious, don't seem to help much. But as you know, help IS available, if we accept it --- along with the inevitable changes in our lives.

    Peace be to you and Clinton, now and always.