I spent the entire Lenten season with “Mercy in the City” swimming in my mind. Despite my most sincere efforts to be anything but lost in questions about faith, I am not a Catholic. In In fact, I’ve had a pretty mixed bag of encounters with the church, which on a pro/con list has become pretty con-centric.
Author Kerry Webber is a lot like most 20-something women: learning what it means to be an adult, dating, having weird pancake-themed parties and trying to engage with the world in a new, post-college way. What sets her debut memoir apart from most 20-something female writers is that while she is charmingly funny, she is also on a mission: to complete all the Corporal Acts of Mercy during the Lenten Season.
The Corporal Acts for many are the definition of what it means to be a good person. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, give drink to the thirsty, visit the incarcerated, and bury the dead. For most people, each individual act may play a role at one time or another during their lives, but rarely does it become creed. During Webber’s mission (which she impressively completes) she grapples with the questions of what the Corporal Acts really mean. Is it enough to share a half of a sandwich with a homeless person on the street? Or does it need to be more intentional? By bury the dead, do they mean go to a stranger’s funeral, or help facilitate an otherwise improper burial? And how am I supposed to visit the incarcerated? Do they just let people do that (turns out in certain circumstances they do).
Throughout the memoir, she finds not only God in the Acts, but she also finds true humanity. The stories of the men she stays with in an overnight shelter in New York City are unexpectedly familiar. After much email hounding, she is given the opportunity to visit with death-row prisoners in a New York prison. Instead of dark tales of their crimes, it is a portrait of humans wrestling with the questions of faith and life that I face daily.
As a questioning non-believer, Webber’s stories represent the wonder that lies in engaging in the world in a positive, intentional way. “Mercy in the City” represents what it truly means to be a Catholic: to live as Christ did.
This article was written by Alayna Becker, The Spovangelist editor-in-chief.
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