Mercy defines something of God’s love, but it also directs us in how to love. Mercy is a moral virtue – a habit of right action that Christians are called to do. Not only is mercy a theological fact and a call to action, but it can also become a disposition of soul. Someone who is merciful is generous in forgiving others and in attending to their physical and spiritual needs. Our God is merciful. Jesus pours out to us his Divine Mercy. How are we to respond to this high call of mercy? As Nike’s advertisers tell us: “It’s what you do!” The Bible advertises this as well:
“But as for you, brethren, do not weary of doing good.” (2 Thessalonians 3:13)
For Catholics, mercy is a call to action: to succor those in physical or spiritual want. We are instructed specifically in works to perform for the body of Christ — the Corporal Works of Mercy (from the Latin corpus, meaning body) as well as the Spiritual Works of Mercy. This season of Lent calls us to prayer, fasting and almsgiving, so let’s focus on the Corporal Works of Mercy in this special liturgical season of sacrifice and service:
Corporal Works of Mercy
- Feed the hungry
- Give drink to the thirsty
- Clothe the naked
- Shelter the homeless
- Visit the sick
- Visit the imprisoned
- Bury the dead
There is much to explore in these works, and we will do so in a series of blog articles throughout Lent. This article provides both an introduction and an encouragement. You may not realize how many ways you practice the works of mercy in your everyday lives – at home, at school, at work and in your parish. Take a fresh look.
Many focus on making extraordinary efforts, and we look to the saints of old and those we know who volunteer long hours at the soup kitchen, write generous checks to support the works of others, do prison ministry, work at a homeless shelter, visit patients at the local hospital and nursing home weekly. There are so many in need, and it can seem overwhelming to live up to such heroic examples.
But take a minute to see all that you already do…
Do you offer food to your family and practice hospitality to others? Do you provide clothing to your family, buy gifts of clothing, and donate clothes to the poor? To you welcome others to stay in your home, including family, friends, and your children’s friends? Do you bring meals to those who are sick or who’ve had a new baby? Do you nurse your own family members back to health when they are ill? If someone in your family feels angry or depressed, do you try to break down the bars they erect to hold others’ away? Do you go to funerals for those who have died, and make sure your deceased relatives have a Mass and follow Catholic teachings on how to bury the dead?
See, you already practice every single Corporal Act of Mercy in your daily life and in the seasons of your year! Does that mean you should not reach beyond the needs of your family or parish? Of course not. However, if you are in a season of your life when you are scrambling just to care for your own family, know that what you do in the ordinary flow of your days is very good.
And what you model and encourage in your children — and in others’ children you may teach – is a way of teaching the Corporal Works of Mercy. “But as for you, brethren, do not weary of doing good.” (2 Thessalonians 3:13)
Activities for Home and CCD classes
Make a poster of the Corporal Acts of Mercy, and hang it in your kitchen. Encourage your children positively: Catch them “doing good.” Eg. “Thanks for bringing me my coffee; do you know you’ve just performed the Corporal Act of Mercy by giving drink to the thirsty?”
Keep a “good deed” jar in your kitchen or classroom. As you notice children doing small things for others, drop a bead in the jar. As the jar fills, this becomes a visible encouragement to growth in virtue for the whole group, rather than for just for one individual. It provides a symbol for how the Body of Christ works to build up His Kingdom in the most ordinary sacrifices of our lives.
Make a lapbook of the Corporal Works of Mercy. A lapbook can be as simple as a manilla folder with some flaps — one for each Corporal Work of Mercy. Your students (children) can add concrete ideas for practicing the virtue, draw a picture, etc. By seeing, doing and reviewing the Corporal Works of Mercy through this activity, the children will never forget them. Building the knowledge of the faith helps inform their right actions. Click here for instructions on how to make a lap book Works of Mercy lap book.
St. Thomas reminds us that that the habits we form become part of us. Striving in virtue enables us to form our will with the right habits. As we perform Acts of Mercy we grow in Grace and become more merciful in our countenance.
God’s Mercy is sufficient, but how we cooperate with His Grace – the fruits we yield – both reflects and forms us in God’s Goodness. Notice the Corporal Works of Mercy you perform daily without even noticing. Notice generous acts in your children. Growing in awareness of virtue enables us to pay attention and strive in virtue. “It’s what you do.” For we are the Body of Christ.