Whether you’re a lifelong practicing Catholic or one who has been away from the Church for some time and want to come back, the Church offers plenty of tools to boost your faith and help you continually evolve as Christians, specifically by enacting the Corporal Works of Mercy. Some of those tools include praying the rosary, regularly attending Mass, participating in Eucharistic Adoration, joining a church group, and putting into action the Works of Mercy. The Works of Mercy are a list of actions we’re asked to take to extend Jesus’ mercy and compassion to those in need; they’re a handbook of sorts, similar to those given out by employers to their employees or those given to members of private clubs instructing them on the dos and don’ts of being a valued member. Who asks us to fulfill these acts? Jesus. In Matthew 25:40 He tells us:
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
The Works of Mercy are broken into two groups: spiritual works of mercy and corporal works of mercy
Spiritual Works of Mercy
- counsel the doubtful
- instruct the ignorant
- admonish sinners
- comfort the afflicted
- forgive offenses
- bear wrongs patiently
- pray for the living and the dead
Corporal Works of Mercy:
- feed the hungry
- give drink to the thirsty
- clothe the naked
- shelter the homeless
- visit the sick
- visit the imprisoned
- bury the dead
How Can We Apply Them?
When it comes to the Works of Mercy, many people have difficulty coming up with ways of applying them in their daily lives. In part one of this two-part series, we’ll offer suggestions on how to regularly put the corporal Works of Mercy into action.
Feed the hungry
Did you know that in the US, 30-40 percent of the food supply is wasted, equaling more than 20 pounds of food per person per month? What can you do?
- With so many huge warehouse stores offering great discounts on bulk items, we often stock-up on food that we’ll never get around to eating. Set a reminder to periodically check your pantry and cupboards and donate any items that have been sitting there for a while, but haven’t yet expired.
- When doing your weekly food shopping for your family, pick up a few extra items to donate.
- Do you cook enough food during the holidays to feed a proverbial army? Take leftovers to your local soup kitchen. Those in charge will welcome quality food made with love from your kitchen to serve the many men, women, and children who go to their facilities each day looking for something to eat.
- Donate grocery store gift cards to churches in low-income neighborhoods to be passed along to families in need.
Give drink to the thirsty
- Water is a basic life necessity, yet so many worldwide live without easy access to clean drinking water. Search out these communities and contribute funds to programs working to bring potable water to every human on the planet.
- Drop off a case of bottled water to a homeless shelter, food bank, teen community center, or school.
Clothe the naked
- If you live in a large city or near one, you don’t have to travel far to find clothing donation boxes at various locations. As part of your spring cleaning routine, go through your closet and donate any gently worn clothing and shoes that no longer fit or you no longer wear.
- When your children outgrow their clothes and shoes ask friends and family if they can use them rather than tossing them. You can also contact schools and ask if any child could use any of the items such as an extra pair of snow boots or a winter coat.
Shelter the homeless
- Donate money to shelters to help maintain them.
- Homeless shelters, especially in cold areas, are always in need of warm blankets. If you can sew or knit, share your talents by making blankets, or hats, scarves, and mittens.
- Donate magazines and books
Visit the sick
Those who are sick often feel lonely and neglected. When we hear that someone is not well, we stay away for a number of reasons, whether it’s because we feel like we’re intruding or are afraid we may do or say the wrong thing. Human interaction is so important, but especially for those who are in hospitals, senior facilities, or homebound.
- Call sick family, friends, and neighbors and ask if they’re up for a visit. Even if you can’t stay long or if they’re only well enough for a short visit, bringing them flowers, food, or a friendly smile can help take their mind off their health for a bit. Most importantly, they’ll remember that they are loved and special enough for someone to want to visit them.
- If you live far away from a sick loved one, make it a point to call them.
- Even if you don’t know someone well, sending them a card to let them know you’re thinking of them and praying for them will be an unexpected, but pleasant gesture.
Visit the imprisoned
Remember that all of us are made in the image and likeness of God—even those in prison. Now more than ever, they need to hear the word of God.
- See if your parish has a prison ministry and if so, get involved by donating prayer books, bibles, or other religious literature. If your parish doesn’t have such a ministry, consider starting one.
- Donate or lend your time to charities that give Christmas presents to children whose parents are in prison.
Bury the dead
Similar to visiting the sick, when you hear that someone you know has lost a loved one, you may not know what to do or say. You know that you want to do something kind, but aren’t sure what. It’s important to not only show our respect for life (which is a gift from God) but also comfort those who mourn.
- Send a mass card letting the family member know that their loved one will be prayed for at a special Mass that you’ve chosen.
- Send a sympathy card with a handwritten message and enclose a prayer card with words of encouragement.
- Help families struggling to pay for funeral expenses for their loved ones.
- Pray for the souls in purgatory that they may one day soon be joined with Christ
Whenever we have difficulty performing the Works of Mercy—whether it’s because our chaotic lives keep us plenty busy or we simply forget, remember Mark 25:40; whenever we neglect to show mercy and compassion to the vulnerable and needy, it’s like we’re neglecting Jesus Himself!
Read Part II - Works of Mercy - Spiritual Works of Mercy