Year of Mercy: Counsel the Doubtful/Instruct the Ignorant

Online Lesson:

These online lessons may be used:
• by individuals anytime, anywhere.
• in group settings — families, faith sharing groups, faith formation programs, and schools.
• in “flipped” classroom situations for people to view before meeting face to face.
You may just want to use a suggested video, story, or question — in anyway that helps us recognize that God’s mercy is anytime, anywhere, and we are called to be merciful as well.

The structure of the lesson is based on Msgr. Francis Kelly’s Ecclesial Method.

Step 1 – Preparation: Each lesson will begin with a video and prayer to help us focus on the Works of Mercy in General.

Works of Mercy Reflection:

Do you know anyone who simply decides to “do good?” Share the story.
Review the Works of Mercy, and choose one to “do good” this week.


Loving God,

Our lives are filled with the magnificence of Your creation! But all too often we fall in love with creation, and miss You, the Creator!

Help us to instruct those who have forgotten about You with our words and actions.

Help us to counsel the doubtful by living lives confident of Your faithful love.

Give us strength and humility to be open to Your Spirit, so that our own ignorance and doubt turns into a journey of faith, with others, that leads us to seek a closer relationship with You, our Creator.

We pray this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Step 2 – Proclamation: Each lesson will repeat the Works of Mercy to help us remember them.

The Spiritual Works of Mercy:

The Spiritual Works of mercy are acts of compassion, as listed below, by which we help our neighbors with their emotional and spiritual needs.

Counsel the doubtful
Instruct the ignorant
Admonish sinners
Comfort the afflicted
Forgive all offenses/injury
Bear wrongs patiently
Pray for the living and the dead

The Corporal Works of Mercy:

The Corporal Works of mercy are these kind acts by which we help our neighbors with their material and physical needs.

Shelter the homeless/Welcome the stranger
Feed the hungry
Give drink to the thirsty
Clothe the naked
Visit the sick
Visit the imprisoned
Bury the dead

Step 3 – Explanation: This step will address a specific Work of Mercy.

This Month: Counsel the Doubtful/Instruct the Ignorant

I. A Vocation for All Christians

The word “ignorant” has such a distasteful sound to modern first world people. But if we are in our comfort zone, a safe place where we can be vulnerable, we can readily admit that we are ignorant in so many things. And when it comes to God, who among us isn’t ignorant of much about this awe inspiring, loving, Mystery and Creator of all things? Although it is often easier to admit to being doubtful (again, who doesn’t have doubts?), it is still difficult in these days to surrender oneself to the counseling guidance of another.

What does it take to Instruct the Ignorant, or Counsel the Doubtful?

Bishop Gary Gordon of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Victoria, British Columbia, said counseling the doubtful is to inform and help bring the fullness of the truth of Jesus Christ in the Gospel of Life to bear upon our world. What that means for us is to continue being leaven to the world.

This image from Lori Dahlhoff’s blog, Graceful Intersections, depicts a man in solitude, taking in the wonders God has to offer. Pope St. John XXIII reminds us that we are to be an animating leaven in the world. Part of this vocation is preparing ourselves, alone and with others, to engage the world and bring to it the hope Bishop Gordon speaks of.

When asked which parish director of faith formation, in her opinion, epitomized “Instructing the Ignorant and Counseling the Doubtful”, diocesan consultant Brenda Kresky named one right away. A big part of the reason was preparedness. On a given evening gathering parishioners or catechists, this director was ready. She had gone to school for advanced studies in Roman Catholic theology. She reviewed what was to be presented that evening. She had refreshments ready, and other detailed amenities available. Presentation materials were all set. And, because she spent every day praying and reflecting theologically on her life and the gifts God offers in the world, she was ready to share her knowledge and journey in faith. And, because she was prepared, she could focus on attending to the folks gathering. She wasn’t harried or fragmented. And she was prepared to listen. Her own confidence in her relationship with God, her own comfort level with her own doubts, and her knowledge of what she knew and what she didn’t know, opened her up to be a listener and co-journeyor as well as a religious educator.

The ingredients being an instructor of the ignorant and counselor of the doubtful, which includes herself as one who constantly needs instruction and counseling, is as follows:

  • Acknowledgement that there is a balance of inward reflection, and communal journeying together. This demands a time for solitude, and a place to feel safe with others. Building trust is needed to create such a safe place.
  • Sharing with each other knowledge and facts
  • Deeply sharing doubts, ideas, fears and ‘Aha’ moments
  • Being prepared to talk to friends, and listen to friends
  • Being prepared to talk to living community members, in the parish, in the school, in play and in work. Do we seek out modern theologians who themselves are wrestling with new questions about God in these times of wonder and threat, scientific opportunity, discovery and even some danger?
  • Talking to deceased community members. Think Communion of Saints. Do we spend time in reflection upon the lives and works of those who preceded us? Praying with them?
  • Trust your own religious imagination enough to be open to changing it as you grow and hear of the religious imagination of others. What is your image of God? How has it changed? How will it change?

And we need to do all this in the presence of and awareness of God.

Step 4 – Application and Appropriation into Life is the bridge between head knowledge and daily living as a disciple of Christ.

Faith in Action:

This presentation was created with Adobe Spark Video, formerly Adobe Voice.
It is a free tool parishes and schools can use.

Reflection Questions:

As our director of faith formation was prepared to engage with her students and other parishioners of all ages, are parents prepared to engage with their children? Teachers with their students? Pastoral care ministers with their community members?

Think of a question, dilemma or situation your child, spouse, friend, student or parishioner may ask you about. How are you prepared to respond? Is the environment comfortable and safe for deep conversation? Have you studied enough to guide the discussion? Have you prayed and reflected enough to share your religious imagination, and hear the religious imagination of the other non-defensively?

Suggested Activities (add your suggestions below):


  • Spend time praying together as a family, especially pray for openness and understanding
  • Learn something new together, maybe it is connected to a vacation or family trip
  • Visit a museum
  • Listen to each other’s “stories” of the day. How does the story exhibit hope?

Parish and School:

  • Create an environment where the activity of asking questions and learning is cherished and welcomed. Encourage the participants to share in small, safe groups their image of God and God’s activity in relation to the given topic.
  • Create a video positively highlighting this work of mercy
  • Encourage and help a fellow learners when s/he is struggling in a subject

Step 5 – Celebration: Lessons will close with a prayer, silent or communally, that gives glory to God.

Closing Prayer:

Tender God,

You desire for all of us health in spirit, mind and body as You created us to be both spiritual and physical beings. Remind us that, in helping to make Your Reign present, we must be prepared to bring hope to the world through prayer, reflection, study and actions. We ask you this as we pray the words Your Son gave to us:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread;

and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us;

and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.


In the “Leave a Reply” area below, please suggest another activity that addresses this Work of Mercy, or share a story about it.


Author: Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is the editor of The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine for the Diocese of St. Cloud.

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