works of mercy

Serving Christ By Serving Others: The Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy

It has been said that Christ has no hands and feet but ours in this world. Jesus Himself told us that whatever we do for the least in this world, we do for Him.

But what does that look like in concrete, every day ways? The Church teaches us that we are to serve others with mercy, both practically and spiritually. Formally, these are called the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this:

2447. The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his 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 fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God.

While all of us may agree that these are very good things, how do we (in our day-to-day lives) shelter the homeless or bury the dead? No, the Church is not asking each of us to open homeless shelters or funeral homes. However, it is our Christian duty to attend funerals of those we know and to pray for the dead. We are supposed to work for justice for those who are homeless and hurting. Our castoff clothing can go to charities that give clothing directly to the poor.

On the spiritual side, when we hear someone say something incorrect about the Catholic faith, it is our duty to (charitably!) speak up and correct the error. We are to take time and listen to those who are hurting: a teen who has broken off a relationship, a neighbor that has lost a job, a friend who is struggling in his marriage. These are not simply “nice” things to do; they are our obligations as Christians.

If we bear the name of Christ, we must be His hands and feet. We must convey the Faith, speak with love, reach out in hope and act with mercy.