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Bishop Anthony B. Taylor addressed the following statement, Feb. 12, 2024,...

Perform penance through works of mercy

25 Ways to Do Works of Mercy

Click on the button above to find examples of how you can perform spiritual and corporal works of mercy in Arkansas. For more information about one of these ideas, click on it to get more details

Updated Feb. 7, 2024

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.

Corporal Works of Mercy

The Corporal Works of Mercy are found in the teachings of Jesus and give us a model for how we should treat all others, as if they were Christ in disguise. They "are charitable actions by which we help our neighbors in their bodily needs." (U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults) They respond to the basic needs of humanity as we journey together through this life. 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

The Spiritual Works of Mercy have long been a part of the Christian tradition, appearing in the works of theologians and spiritual writers throughout history.  Just as Jesus attended to the spiritual well-being of those he ministered to, these Spiritual Works of Mercy guide us to "help our neighbor in their spiritual needs." (U.S. Catholic Catechism for AdultsLearn 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

What's New

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor addressed the following statement, Feb. 12, 2024,...