Lent Resources

25 Ways to Do Works of Mercy

Corporal Works of Mercy

Learn more about each of the following by visiting the website for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Feed the Hungry

Give Drink to the Thirsty

Shelter the Homeless

Visit the Sick

Visit the Prisoners

Bury the Dead

Give Alms to the Poor

Spiritual Works Of Mercy

Learn more about each of the following by visiting the website for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Counsel the Doubtful

Instruct the Ignorant

Admonish the Sinner

Comfort the Sorrowful

Forgive Injuries

Bear Wrongs Patiently

Pray for the Living and the Dead

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Perform penance through works of mercy

"You and I have begun another Lent, 40 days that Jesus invites us to spend with him in the desert. Throughout the Bible the desert is a place to encounter God and struggle with demon ... It is a place of material deprivation, fasting and hardship. A place to learn how much we depend on God for all those things that St. Basil and Jesus say we should share with the poor: our bread, our clothing, our shoes, our money, our time, our effort, our very life. In the desert we learn that we don’t own any of these things. They all belong to God, on whom we depend for everything and to whom we will one day have to give account regarding the help we give or fail to give the least of our brothers and sisters.  — Bishop Anthony B. Taylor, First Sunday of Lent 2017

Do you know why we are asked to perform acts of penance? Primarily because Jesus is our model and he himself did penance to prepare himself for his ministry. They are also practical in helping us accomplish our goals on certain days and liturgical seasons. Lent in particular is a season to reorder our priorities and penance helps us remember that created things are subordinate to God.

“Penance is a religious, personal act which has as its aim love and surrender to God” (“Paenitemini” chapter 1). Scripture is also clear that the rending of our hearts is the sacrifice the Lord desires. The various acts of penance put into physical reality what should be happening in our hearts. During Lent they work together to prepare us for the passion of our Lord that leads to his resurrection.

According to "Spiritual works of mercy serve body of Christ," denying yourself of normal pleasures through fasting and almsgiving is only a small part of participating in Lent. If the focus ends there, then our connection with one another in the Body of Christ is shallow. As Christians, we are obligated to treat one another with compassion.

Not only must we try to understand how others feel but we must also take action, whenever possible, to help those who cannot help themselves. We call this form of active compassion, mercy. Merciful behaviors are described in the Book of Isaiah, where we are called to release those bound unjustly, setting free the oppressed. We must share our bread with the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, and not turn on our own (58:6-7).

Isaiah is describing two kinds of mercy, corporal and spiritual. Corporal works of mercy are actions to help our neighbors who are physically in distress. They are: feed the hungry; give drink to the thirsty; clothe the naked; shelter the homeless; visit the sick; ransom the captive; and bury the dead. Not only do we help others by practicing merciful actions, we also seek God's mercy for ourselves through those actions. Luke wrote that we should produce good fruits as evidence of our repentance (3:8-11), sharing our possessions with those in need to show our desire for God's merciful justice.

This spiritual transformation occurs when we reflect on what our actions mean and how we are open to the Spirit through our actions. The spiritual works of mercy give us that thoughtful dimension. They call us to: instruct the ignorant; counsel the doubtful; admonish sinners; bear wrongs patiently; forgive offenses willingly; comfort the afflicted; and pray for the living and the dead.

There are physical actions attached to the spiritual works, but they also have a self-reflective faith dimension. While helping others, we must see Christ in both the giving and the receiving of mercy, for showing mercy is to receive God's mercy (Matthew 5:7).

We are also told explicitly to forgive others so that we will be forgiven by God for our own offenses (Matthew 6:14-15). And prayer — unceasing prayer — unites us with the entire communion of saints through conversation with God. We pray to God for others and we, ourselves, are transformed by prayer. The virtue in the spiritual works of mercy is that we make a choice to perfect ourselves by practicing these works joyfully and fully so that we might seek salvation together.

This excerpt came from "Spiritual works of mercy serve body of Christ," Arkansas Catholic, Feb. 9, 2008. Reprinted with permission. Copyright Diocese of Little Rock. All rights reserved. This article may be copied or redistributed with acknowledgement and permission of the publisher.


Lent Resources

25 Ways to Do Works of Mercy

Corporal Works of Mercy

Learn more about each of the following by visiting the website for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Feed the Hungry

Give Drink to the Thirsty

Shelter the Homeless

Visit the Sick

Visit the Prisoners

Bury the Dead

Give Alms to the Poor

Spiritual Works Of Mercy

Learn more about each of the following by visiting the website for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Counsel the Doubtful

Instruct the Ignorant

Admonish the Sinner

Comfort the Sorrowful

Forgive Injuries

Bear Wrongs Patiently

Pray for the Living and the Dead