Since it is the Year of Mercy, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.
The Corporal works of mercy are the ones I'd bet most people are familiar with, because it's things like feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and visiting the sick. These are the sort of things that, when people think about "charity", this is what they think about. Whether it's donating to drill a deep well in Sudan, running a food drive at work, or donating clothes to the local homeless shelter, the "corporal works of mercy" are generally well know. Their Biblical basis comes from Matthew 25.
"Corporal" means the works of mercy that pertain to the body--meeting our physical needs. They are:
- Feed the Hungry
- Give Drink to the Thirsty
- Clothe the Naked
- Shelter the Homeless
- Visit the Sick
- Visit the Imprisoned
- Bury the dead
Most of these are pretty straightforward, right? The last one might give you some pause. In most places, we don't actually have to bury the dead. That's what funeral homes and cemetery staff do. But we can be there for people was are experiencing a loss. We can go to the visiting hours, the funeral, bring food by the house for the grieving family--etc. And at the very least, we can always send a card or an email to say that we are praying for the deceased and the family that's been left behind.
But the Church has also taught that it's not enough to just take care of the body. We have to take care of the soul, too. Thus, the seven spiritual works of mercy:
- Counseling the Doubtful
- Instructing the Ignorant
- Admonishing the Sinner
- Comforting the Sorrowful
- Forgive Injuries
- Bear Wrongs Patiently
- Pray for the Living and the Dead
These are a little more....opaque, shall we say? It's a bit harder to see how we can put these into direct action, unlike the corporal works for mercy. So let's break these down a bit.
Some of them are pretty simple, like the last one. Pray for the living and the dead--pray for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory; pray for the church on earth. The pope, our leaders, our world...all of this is fodder for prayer. (And in these times, don't we need it?)
Bearing wrongs patiently and forgiving injuries are a way to more closely imitate Jesus. Jesus bore lots of wrongs patiently, especially during His Passion. Even a quick, cursory reading of the Bible accounts of Jesus' death will give you plenty of examples. Forgiving injuries is similar. When someone snaps at you, or accuses you of doing something that you didn't do, shut up about it. Let it go.
(Now, obviously, that probably doesn't mean to go to jail for something you didn't do. I mean, that's pretty extreme. But if your office mate says you ate her banana, and you didn't, and you've said that, but she still believes you did it--there's nothing you can really do at that point. Let it go.)
Comforting the sorrowful we discussed above; sometimes you see this as "comforting those who mourn." But it can also mean people who are depressed, anxious, etc.
Now we get into the Unpopular Ones.
No one wants to be told they're ignorant. But we shouldn't want people to be ignorant of Christ, or the legitimate teachings of His Church. We can instruct the ignorant by teaching CCD or being an RCIA sponsor, but we can also just explain what the Church believes when the chance comes to defend the church in public. (I like to think that this series instructs anyone who's ignorant. In a nice way!)
Counseling the Doubtful means being able to help people who may be having doubts about the faith, or the existence of God (etc.), that what the Church teaches is really true.
And finally, admonishing the sinner.
No one really likes to do this. And it doesn't mean that you should go around like the woman at the end of Game of Thrones, yelling "shame!" and ringing a cowbell. That's probably not the best way to get your point across.
We are always to do these things in a sprit of love and mercy.
If a parent sees a child doing something wrong, then he's going to stop that child from doing something wrong. In the case of religion, we want people to go to Heaven! And if they are deep sin, they aren't going to get there.
Now, we know that we are to remove the plank in our own eye first. That's important. But if you see someone who is in grave sin--adultery, procuring an abortion, sleeping around, etc.--then you need to, in charity and love and mercy--talk to said person. Suggest that maybe what they're doing isn't the right way to go, and you love them too much to let them keep doing it. That doesn't mean nagging the person. ("Are you going to stop smoking? You need to stop smoking. We talked about this yesterday! STOP SMOKING!" Or whatever.)
Jesus loves us too much to leave us alone. As C.S. Lewis said:
It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird; it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.
Jesus didn't die for us, redeem us so we could be ordinary, decent eggs. He wants us to be birds soaring up to Him. The works of mercy are part of how we help ourselves, and others, become birds.