these mercies sound like actions that other
people take, usually other "official" and often "church"
people. Peace Corps volunteers feed the hungry and
shelter the homeless. Chaplains (priests and other
ministers) visit those in prison. Missionaries teach the
gospel to people who haven't heard it. Priests admonish
or advise sinners. Counselors comfort the sorrowful.
If we leave
the works of mercy completely to professionals, though,
the needs of many hurting people won't be met. Every one
of us is called to do what Jesus did, as Peter said of
him in the Book of Acts: He "went about doing good"
(10:38). Our faith challenges us to do the work of Jesus
today, so doing good (expressing mercy) is your call
probably are doing more works of mercy than you've even
recognized already. Sometimes we think of "really
Christian" living as something we'll get around to in
the future when we have more time, feel more inspired or
somehow get holy. But that doesn't mean we're doing
from the outside inward, looking at the corporal works
of mercy (those that help bodies) first.
the hungry. •Give drink to the thirsty. These are
separate items on the traditional list, but they belong
together. Perhaps more than any others, they suggest
images of "professional volunteers" on mercy missions to
Ethiopia and similar areas of the globe. We certainly
don't mean to minimize such efforts, but let's explore
some ways in which you're already doing these.
ever made lunch or dinner for the family—or picked it up
for them at the drive-through? Ever made a
peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich for a younger sister or
brother? Ever poured a glass of milk for someone?
things don't sound noble and heroic. But there's no
clause that says the hungry and thirsty have to be near
death in order for these works of mercy to count. The
crowds of people whom Jesus fed by multiplying loaves of
bread and fish weren't on the brink of starvation. They
were just hungry.
But we do
need to give special attention to our sisters and
brothers who are desperately hungry and near
death from starvation and dehydration.
For most of
us, this amounts to a "work" that again doesn't look or
feel heroic or spectacular. But it gets the job done.
It's called sharing your own resources with people who
do work in the places of special need where we can't go
at this point. To do this, you may have to go without
something you'd like to have, but don't actually need.
To do this, you also need a big heart. All the works of
mercy exercise and enlarge your (spiritual) heart.
"ordinary hungry" family member and the literally
starving person across the globe are people who don't
eat very well and will benefit from your school's canned
food drive and similar projects. Show some enthusiasm
for projects like that.
the naked. Few people are literally naked, but
millions of people own no more clothing than what they
wear each day. If you search your closet and your heart,
you may discover that you have more than you need. You
can lend something to a friend for a special occasion.
You can also restrain yourself from an unnecessary
purchase and give the money to an agency that helps
people in need of clothing.
include donating your own outgrown but usable clothing
to a local relief agency rather than selling it at a
yard sale. Another is helping poor people care for the
little clothing they do have by collecting and
delivering donations of soap and shampoo to places that
offer facilities for the homeless to shower and do
the homeless. You're not likely to drive to the
inner city, locate some homeless people and invite them
to stay with you and your family for a while. This is
partially because you are not a homeowner with a place
of your own to invite them. That doesn't mean you can't
shelter the homeless in other ways.
If you do some checking, you'll probably find a group in
your area that rehabs old housing to make it safe and
habitable for families on low incomes. There may be a
group in your parish that does this on weekends. If
you're skilled in construction, that's a plus. If you
can't tell a jigsaw from a piece of drywall, they'll
find a way for you to help anyway. This is a terrific
work of mercy to do with a group of friends!
the sick. If a classmate is injured or seriously
ill, take the time to stop at his or her home or send a
note. Maybe best of all, organize a card from the
class—perhaps a huge, poster-size card that incorporates
everyone's extra effort and cheerful craziness! A visit
to a grandma or grandpa who hasn't been feeling
well—there's no way to measure the effect that can have.
An hour or so of your time will create a treasured
memory. A letter or card is nice as well, but a personal
appearance has more impact.
those in prison. The options here are not many, but
there are some. Visiting would have to be done by mail,
of course. There are organizations which link prisoners
who would enjoy correspondence with people on the
outside. (This would require a parent's permission
resource for any kind of visiting of prisoners is
probably the local prison chaplain. You can find out how
to contact him or her through your diocese. You could
make and/or send cards or letters to inmates at holiday
times, making your arrangements through the chaplain.
Don't put any enclosures in the card, or use glue, tape,
etc. (It won't get delivered.) And, of course, be
sensitive to how your message might affect someone who
has lost many of the freedoms you take for granted.
shouldn't overlook the mode of visiting anonymously by
prayer. You might ask God to send some special strength
or comfort to the prisoners who feel most despairing
right at that moment, to a prisoner whose health or life
is in danger, to a prisoner who has been unjustly
sentenced or abandoned by his or her family.
the dead. In our society, the actual burial is
handled by funeral directors. But even in older times
when the actual burial was handled by relatives and
friends, this act of service was for the family of the
one who had died. Those families are still in need of
many things, even though a funeral director handles what
we call "the arrangements."
time to visit the funeral home and say simple, ordinary
words of comfort may not seem important, but these
actions are important. Look for ways to ease the path
for relatives of someone who has died. For example, if a
classmate misses two or three days of school at the
death of a grandparent, you could go out of your way to
make copies of missed notes and have them ready when he
or she returns.
like beauty, is more than skin-deep. These works of
mercy reach in to touch people's minds, hearts and
•Instruct the ignorant (Help people understand and
learn). The traditional words "instruct the ignorant"
of us knows dozens of extremely "ignorant" people whom
we would just love to instruct—meaning "see and do
things my way." That's not the idea here.
This is a
work you've done whenever you've helped a younger sister
or brother practice math facts or spelling words, for
example, and every time you've helped a classmate with a
subject or assignment you understand better than he or
she does. It covers all occasions when you've been a
teacher of something good, including how to hold a
baseball bat or serve a volleyball.
If you want
to do this on a more regular basis, tutoring
opportunities are all around. Check with a counselor or
the moderator of the Honor Society at school.
the doubtful (Give good advice to those who are
uncertain about what to do). This is a tough job to do
well, especially when the good advice is something the
"doubtful" person doesn't want to hear. As you well
know, that's frequently the case.
You may not
be aware of how much power you have here. Where do young
people usually go first for advice? Friends! That may or
may not be a good move, depending on how qualified their
friends are to give good advice. But it's a fact that
good advice coming from a friend often has more impact
than the same message coming from an adult.
asked your advice, breathe deeply, remember that all
your wisdom comes from God, and speak out of concern for
the other person.
•Admonish the sinner (Help people who sin understand
and live God's love). This is an even tougher version of
the previous work. We all admit in our heads that we're
sinners, but nobody likes to be told that he or she
really was one on a particular occasion!
most practical way of doing this work is by your own
example—by refusing to take part in things you know are
wrong. When others see your quiet refusals and also
notice that your life is happier and less cluttered with
guilt, the message will get across.
the sorrowful. You could compile a small
encyclopedia of opportunities. We sometimes overlook the
small ones, though. It's not difficult to see when a
death, a parent's divorce or a relationship breakup
produces sorrow and to respond to it.
other sorrows, too: the classmate who didn't get a
hoped-for scholarship or didn't get asked to the dance,
the younger sibling who lost a favorite toy, the parent
who received some nasty comments at work.
that comforting a sorrowful person does not usually mean
fixing what caused the sorrow. It's seldom in our
power to do that. But just as "shared joy is doubled,"
"shared sorrow is halved."
injuries (Forgive people who cause pain) •Bear
wrongs patiently (Deal kindly with people who do
similar works go totally against what we see (and
sometimes cheer for) in movies. The bad guys do
something nasty onscreen in the first half hour, then
they are hunted down and made to pay.
injuries and bearing wrongs does not mean we stand by
and allow truly evil things to keep on happening. It
means we don't enter the cycle of revenge and keep
hatred breeding by adding our own.