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“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’”
—Matthew 25:34

GOD IS MERCIFUL.
That’s the message we read again and again in Sacred Scripture. And we arem called by God to pattern our own lives on His abundant mercy—to let the love that the Lord pours into our hearts flow out to those around us, toward anyone in need whom we meet along life’s way.

The Catholic Church encourages the “practice of merciful love,” offering as a guide the corporal works of mercy, charitable acts for the common good and basic human welfare. These actions are rooted in our love for the Lord, and as Jesus tells us, knowing that whatever we do for the most vulnerable among us we do for Him.

The corporal works of mercy have a social dimension to be sure, as we compassionately reach out to those who hunger or thirst, those without possessions or home, and those who are ill or in prison. But each of these works also has a deeply personal element, as through them we fulfill the call to follow the Lord with a compassionate, mercy-filled heart.

Feed the Hungry…
Give Drink to the Thirsty…

“Part of the corporal works of mercy for me is praying. Maybe my role is to be a spiritual partner to those actually feeding the hungry.”
—Father Chris Ponnet, Los Angeles

We can reach out to those who are hungry in simple ways—make a donation to a local food bank or volunteer at a local soup kitchen. We can also educate ourselves about the problem of hunger in our world, or be an advocate to find global solutions.

Similarly, we can support clean water policies, or make changes in our homes to conserve water we use or to preserve clean water for others.

For example, one group of high school students in Tampa did something for their neighbors in far-off Nigeria. Knowing that diseases were rampant in part because of a lack of fresh drinking water, they raised money to dig a well that piped it into three villages.

Our mercy must also reach those who hunger or thirst for more than food or drink—for those who long for love in their lives, as an example. We must recognize that need in family and neighbor— and fill hearts with the same love that swells our own hearts, love from God Himself.

Clothe the Naked 

“If honor be your clothing, the suit will last a lifetime.”
—William Arnot

Start in your own closet for this act of compassion toward others. That’s what one grandmother did, as part of a resolution to simplify her life—and help others. In one weekend, she hauled 12 bags and boxes to a local thrift store.

William Yehle makes his mark this way each holiday season, picking a person from his parish church’s Christmas gift-tree and providing a complete outfit, including shoes and jacket.

We can also reach out to “clothe” someone in kind companionship. Perhaps it’s someone in our community who lives alone, and would welcome time with another person, warmed and enlivened by the fabric of friendship.

A Spirit of Mercy All Day…
Making our goal this day to see with the Lord’s eyes and love with His heart.
Extending God’s mercy to all we meet in every moment of this day.
Remembering in prayer those we won’t meet today but who are in need of God’s mercy.
Caring for neighbor as if we were meeting the Lord Himself.
Yes to welcoming His mercy into our own lives from start of day to finish.

 

Shelter the Homeless…

“I felt it shelter to speak to you.”
—Emily Dickinson

Advocacy and service factor into this work of mercy. We can support policies that lead to jobs and provide a safety net for the poor and homeless. And we can offer our time ton groups that specialize in relieving the problem of homelessness.

Take the Smiles Forever Dental Hygiene School in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where some 6,500 homeless young women receive vocational training and free dental care. “The girls here are getting a better focus on their future,” explains Marie Teresa, an educator and shelter supervisor. She is inspired by their hope in the future. “They can begin to dream again,” she says.

Sometimes the “home” we can offer others has no doors or walls. We can open our hearts and provide a safe place for someone to discuss fears and anxieties, to find relief from pain and sorrow.

The Corporal Works of Mercy:
1. Feed the Hungry
2. Give Drink to the Thirsty
3. Clothe the Naked
4. Shelter the Homeless
5. Visit the Sick
6. Visit the Imprisoned
7. Bury the Dead

 

 

Visit Those in Prison…

“The corporal works of mercy give you opportunity for relationship, helping me to experience God in my relationships with others.”
—Julia Occhiogrosso, Las Vegas

We may throw away the key, but not the person. Punishment deters and gives the criminal the opportunity to do penance, but friendship and prayer have the capacity to reform and to heal. A true work of mercy is done by those who befriend those in correctional institutions, motivated by God’s love for each and every person.

Charles Colson, the former Watergate conspirator, was converted to the Christian faith while serving time in prison. He now runs a major prison outreach ministry. And Lorenzo Louden, once in prison himself, founded the Tower of Refuge with his wife, Bevey. The Springfield, Illinois, couple is committed to contributing to the successful reentry of former inmates into their communities while promoting reconciliation with their families. Said one retired elementary school teacher, who has visited women in Southern California jails: “Our listening, with respect for them as human beings, can be a catalyst for them wanting to change.”

We can also reach out to those locked in a prison of their own making, perhaps through drug or alcohol abuse. Helping individuals see their innate dignity and worth in the eyes of God frees them to live fully in His love.

Comfort the Sick…

“The works of mercy are important because they connect the love of neighbor with the love of God.”
—Father Andrew Apostoli, CFR, New York

Our merciful outreach to those who are ill may begin with directing them to good care, or helping them research treatment methods and alternatives. We can spend time visiting friends in the hospital or at home, or even sending our love to someone far away.

That’s what Annie did for her sister-in-law Lauren, who was facing breast cancer surgery. Unable to make the thousand-mile journey to be with her in person, Annie sent her loving support—in a box. She wrapped up almost a dozen items and offered Lauren a meaning for each. There was, for example, a small figurine of an angel standing on her head to remind Lauren to tap into her playful spirit during recovery. A tiny ceramic tulip was enclosed to help her focus on the beauty often hidden in life’s darkest moments.

There is also the merciful connection with those sick from social isolation, from being lonely and forgotten. A look around the neighborhood will uncover those in need—and a knock on their door will make the merciful difference in their day.

Bury the Dead…

“We bury love; forgetfulness grows over it like grass. That is a thing to weep for, not the dead.”
—Alexander Smith

There’s no doubt that most of us make sure our relatives and friends have a proper funeral service. But it’s the grieving that needs our merciful action. That takes friendship—a patient friendship that keeps on visiting the bereaved, keeps on helping them dry their tears, for months or even years, keeps on praying for them and for those they’ve lost.

After his father died, there was little to comfort Frank. Friends started avoiding him because every conversation turned to his deceased dad, and Frank’s pain over the profound loss. Then he bonded with a fellow musician, Eli, who listened to Frank and helped him channel his feelings into music. His lyrics eventually became more about all he learned from his father, realizing that though he was gone physically, his spirit remained.

Our mercy can also extend to others as they struggle to “bury” past hurts and disappointments, as they journey to forgive. And we can accept, in prayer, God’s mercy into our own lives to do the same.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”
—Matthew 5:7

Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and
the treasury of compassion inexhaustible,
look kindly upon us and increase
Your mercy in us,
that in difficult moments we might not
despair nor become despondent,
but with great confidence submit ourselves
to Your holy will, which is Love and
Mercy itself.
CLOSING PRAYER, DIVINE MERCY CHAPLET