The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbour in their spiritual and bodily necessities. Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead. Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to showing love, to our brothers and sisters, in fraternal charity
Mercy can be described as love which continues to love in the face of rejection. It is unmerited, unwarranted love. God, Who is Love itself, is the perfect combination of both justice and mercy. All of Scripture recounts His merciful plan of salvation--what He did in spite of rejection to love His people and call them back to Himself for all eternity. The most beautiful account in Scripture of the mercy of God is recounted in the parable of the prodigal son. The father in the narrative represents God. His son, who has taken his inheritance prematurely (effectively signifying that his father was dead to him), squanders it. Left in destitution and despair, he decided to come back to his father's house, preferring the life of a servant to his current condition. The father has been waiting anxiously for the son's return, looking on the horizon day after day with hope and longing for their reunion. He runs out to his son, embraces him and celebrates his return. This is God himself who longs to be reunited with us.
The Corporal Works of Mercy are oriented toward the body. Six of the seven are mentioned in Matthew 25:31-40 - although not precisely - as the reason for the salvation of the saved, while Matthew 25:41-46 exhorts the omission of them as the reason for damnation. As deprivation of burial was viewed with horror by the Jews, the seventh Corporal Work of Mercy (Tobit 1:17-19) was later added.
Food is a fundamental and basic human need. Food is what nourishes us in order to be able to simply live. Feeding the hungry means providing nourishment through charity and hospitality. You can do this by working at a soup kitchen, inviting some friends over for a meal, sharing a snack with someone whose forgotten their lunch or giving someone on the street a sandwich.
Having a roof over our heads is a basic human need. Sheltering the homeless can take many forms. Some include: giving time or money to a homeless ministry, hosting someone like a religious pilgrim, supporting ministries that work with the displaced or refugees, or volunteering.
Water is the very essence of life. To give drink to the thirsty is to offer them life itself. Giving drink to the thirsty can be lived out by volunteering at a soup kitchen, contributing funds to clean water and well projects in underdeveloped countries or even within a family, as a mother provides food and drink to her children. Also, be mindful of your own water consumption and try not to waste water.
Visiting the sick can mean going to the hospital and praying with patients there, bringing a sick family member or friend flowers or something to eat, visiting a nursing home, or offering someone going through illness support. Our health is a gift and a blessing. Let us make a special effort to reach out to those in need this.
During funerals, we mourn the loss of life. As Christians, we live in the hope of the Resurrection. Participate in this work of mercy by offering condolences or sending a card to someone who lost a loved one. Pray for those who have gone before you whenever you pass a cemetery or go to a cemetery intentionally to pray.
There are many ways to give. Some donate to charitable organizations, others might volunteer their time working with the needy. One idea is to skip a drink, coffee or meal out each week and instead give the money you would have spent to a charitable organization or to put in the church collection basket.
Visiting the imprisoned can be difficult to participate in without special clearance or permission. If you find yourself unable to physically visit the imprisoned, try getting involved in a ministry that writes letters to the imprisoned or one that organizes retreats for them. Those incarcerated, and their families can always use prayers.
The Spiritual Works of Mercy are oriented toward the soul. Though ideally applicable for all faithful, not everyone is considered capable or obligated to perform the first three Spiritual Works of Mercy before they possess the proper tact, knowledge or canonical training to do so. The remaining four Spiritual Works of Mercy are considered to be an obligation of all faithful to practice unconditionally. The Seven Spiritual Works of Mercy and their Holy Scripture references are:
Admonish the Sinner:
Instruct the Ignorant:
Counsel the Doubtful:
Bear Wrongs Patiently:
Forgive Offenses Willingly:
Comfort the Afflicted :
Pray for the Living and the Dead:
Proverbs 27:17, Luke 15:7; 17:3, 2 Timothy 4:2
Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:14-18, Luke 24:47-49, John 20:21,
2 Timothy 3:16-17; 4:1-5
Matthew 13:18-23, Mark 4:13-20; 9:14-29, Luke 8:11-15, John 14:27
Matthew 5:38-48, Luke 6:27-36, 1 Peter 2:18-19
Matthew 6:14-15; 18:15-35, Mark 11:25, Luke 11:1-4; 17:1-4
Psalms 9:8-11; 22:23-27, 30:2-4, 46:2; 55:22, 56; 71:20-22, 116; 119:49-50, Jeremiah 29:11-14, Lamentations 3:21-24, 31-33, Nahum 1:7-8,
Matthew 11:28-30, John 14:15-18, 27; 2 Corinthians 5:17, 1 Peter 5:5-11, Revelation 21:4
Pray for the Living and the Dead: 2 Maccabees 38-46
Our faith is incredibly deep and rich. Knowing all of it can be impossible, but it's important to learn as much about it as we can! Instructing the ignorant means teaching others how to live according to the Gospel and how to be followers of Christ. This can include formal Catechesis, volunteering in youth ministry, teaching Religion classes or religious education, or even teaching your children or family members about different prayers, devotions or Church teaching.
Forgiveness often is not our natural response when we have been hurt or wounded. It's much easier to close up, hold a grudge or avoid the problem altogether. As Christians, we know that only forgiveness will lead us to true freedom. Try to understand why someone might have hurt you. Does it stem from their own woundedness? Pray for those that have harmed you.
Counselling the doubtful means helping guide someone towards truth. As Christians, our very lives should be a witness to the truth that God sent his only Son to redeem us and invite us to share in his life forever. Each of us, however, can go through moments of doubt. How can we counsel the doubtful? Some examples could include: a priest guiding a person towards a life of virtue in confession; a mother or father instructing or correcting their children; a spiritual director helping someone grow in their spiritual life; a teacher helping their students learn a certain subject.
We all experience different moments of sorrow in our lives. Comforting the sorrowful involves reaching out to those having a hard time and accompanying them on their journey of grief. Call a friend who has been feeling down and ask them about their day. Send a card to someone going through a difficult time. Listen to and comfort a friend who needs to vent or cry. Don't forget the value in simple accompaniment.
Prayer unites us not only with God but with each other. We are called to pray, as the Church, for the other members of the Body of Christ. Some of these members have gone before us. We pray for the repose of their souls, especially within our families, so that we may hope to join them one day in heaven. We also pray for the needs of our friends, family and those of the whole world. Ask a friend or family member how you can best pray for them. Write down a list of prayer intentions and bring them with you to Mass. Offer up your day, work or activities for the needs of those around you. Offer up a Mass for a deceased loved one or family member.
Admonishing the sinner means helping someone who has fallen off track get back on the path towards holiness. We all fall at different points in our life. Sometimes, we need help choosing the good and sticking with it. James 5:19 says, "whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way...will cover a multitude of sins." An example of admonishing the sinner is a friend or loved one sitting down in love to point out some wrong behaviour or actions to a loved one. Admonishing the sinner should never be easy. We do not do it out of spite or pride, but as a merciful act of love to bring someone closer to the heart of the Father.
Because we live in a fallen world, we face injustice throughout our lives. Do not fear to ask for the strength to encounter hardship and sorrow with patience when it arises. There will be moments when you feel unjustly treated by co-workers, family, friends, or even by God himself. Ask for clarity, patience and joy in the midst of these trials. Pray for those who have treated you unfairly. This may also be a good time to pray about any time you have treated others unfairly.