What are the works of mercy?

| Father Michael Van Sloun | December 3, 2015 | 0 Comments

Works of Mercy

Jesus placed an extraordinarily high value on mercy, so great, in fact, that it is the Fifth Beatitude, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Mt 5:7). There are many nuances to mercy: compassion, understanding, patience, forgiveness, leniency, generosity and kindness, to name some. Mercy is an expression of love and charity. Jesus was merciful himself, and he expects his disciples to be merciful.

There are two categories of works of mercy: the corporal works of mercy and the spiritual works of mercy, with seven in each group.

The corporal works of mercy are charitable deeds that provide for the bodily needs of a neighbor who is beset by misfortune or distress. Jesus provides the first six in his description of the Judgment of the Nations (Mt 25:31-46): feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the imprisoned and care for the sick. These works are so central to the Christian life that Matthew gives the list not once or twice, but four times to increase the emphasis placed on them (Mt 25:35-36,37-39,42-43,44).

A seventh corporal work of mercy, to bury the dead, was added by tradition to achieve the number that represents fullness or completeness. While the first six pertain to care for the living body, the last accords deep respect to the lifeless body because it was the home for the soul, the temple of God, and the dwelling of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16; 6:19).

The seven spiritual works of mercy are concerned with the well-being of a person’s soul. Like the corporal works of mercy, the spiritual works are also charitable deeds, ways to come to the aid of a neighbor in need of spiritual assistance. They are to instruct the uninformed or the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, admonish the sinner, comfort the sorrowful, bear wrongs patiently, forgive offenses or injuries, and pray for the living and dead.

The works of mercy enable the Christian to be the face and hands of Jesus to others. And they are not to be performed by a select few such as clergy, religious, church staff or those with special training. The works of mercy can and should be done by every Christian, regardless of age, gender, education, financial situation or place in life. Mercy is a trait of God, and when Christians perform a work of mercy, they reflect God to others.


Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy:

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Category: Year of Mercy