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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