What are the Spiritual Works of Mercy and the Corporal Works of Mercy

What are the Spiritual Works of Mercy and the Corporal Works of Mercy

What are the Spiritual Works of Mercy and the Corporal Works of Mercy

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “the works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities.” Material deprivation, oppression, illness, and death are signs of our human frailty and our need for salvation as a result of our original sin.  The Church teaches that those who are oppressed by poverty are the object of a preferential love on the part of the Church, and she will not cease to work for their defense and liberation.  This ceaseless work for their defense and liberation is not just done by employees of the Church or by those in Religious life.  This work is to be done by all the members of Christ’s Church.

The corporal works of mercy are the seven practices of charity, based on Christ’s prediction of the last judgment (Matthew 25:41). They are:  to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to harbor the harbourless, to visit the sick, to ransom the captive, and to bury the dead.  First and foremost, they recognize the sacredness of human life.  By fulfilling these works of mercy we are reminded that we are our brother’s keeper.  It is our duty and our obligation to love our neighbor through acts of charity and kindness.  When we see a need in our neighbor, we are to strive to fill it.

The spiritual works of mercy recognize sin, ignorance, doubt, sorrow and other human conditions that keep us from fully loving and serving God.  When we recognize these conditions in others we are called to reach out in faith and in love so that we might draw them closer to Christ.  The spiritual works of mercy are the traditional seven forms of Christian charity which strive to preserve the soul of our neighbor. The spiritual works of mercy are:  to instruct the ignorant, to counsel the doubtful, to admonish sinners, to bear wrongs patiently, to forgive offences willingly, to comfort the afflicted, and to pray for the living and the dead.  The spiritual works of mercy are based on the teachings and practices of the Church since apostolic times.

It is our lifelong duty to work to fulfill the works of mercy as our way of living out the teachings of Jesus.  As Matthew 25:32-46 reminds us, when we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, take care of the sick, and visit the imprisoned, we care for Christ himself.

What have you done today to care for Christ?

Copyright 2013 Melinda Seidling



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  1. Thanks for this helpful summary! At a women’s conference once I heard the corporal works of mercy listed along with things we do for our families (and guests and neighbours and even strangers) every day. This helped me think positively about a mother’s work when I was home all day, every day with 5 young children! Feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty: shop for your family, prepare nutritious meals, donate to the foodbank when asked, drop a meal off to a new parent or bereaved family, nurse your baby; clothe the naked: wash and mend clothes, pass on hand-me-downs, recycle old clothes, donate clothing to the homeless. Other ways to practice the corporal works of mercy: welcome into our homes new friends and our children’s spouses and in-laws, invite a new person to dinner in our home, take care of ill family members, pick up a prescription for an elderly parent or transport them to a medical appointment, visit a neighbour or relative in hospital, write to a prisoner, help organize a funeral, support a bereaved person… I am certain that I am missing other really important ways of practicing the corporal works of mercy, but you get the idea!

    • When you reflect on your daily life you can easily be amazed or humbled by the way you care for others. I invite you to follow my blog: http://www.guidingyoungsaints.blogspot.com where I provide daily family reflections on the readings. In addition, Sunday reflections contain a task for the week that is always tied to a spiritual or corporal work of mercy. I think it is a fun and easy way to open our eyes to how we can more actively be the hands and feet of Christ.

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