We are all encouraged by the Lord, especially by reading and meditating on Mt. 25:31-46, to practice the Corporal Works of Mercy — to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to welcome the foreigner, and to visit both the sick and the imprisoned.
In sum, our Final Judgment will be based largely on love of God but manifested on our love for neighbor. Indeed, using the words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta: “We must find Jesus present in the distressing disguise of the poor.” St. Vincent de Paul, known for his great love for the poor, actually called the poor “his masters”.
Corporal works of mercy done with the most noble of intentions pleases the Heart of Jesus immensely. However, it is equally important to practice the Spiritual Works of Mercy.
Jesus said point blank: “What would it profit a man to gain the whole world and loses his soul in the process. What can a man do in exchange for his soul?” Pope Francis lamented that one of the most common and grave neglects is the failure to preach the Word of God to the poor. First, fill their hungry stomachs. But then, fill their souls with the Bread of the Word of God and the Bread of Life, which is Holy Communion.
In this short essay we would like to go through the seven spiritual works of mercy and give some ways we can implement these all important spiritual injunctions!
First of all the spiritual works of mercy are the following:
- 1) Admonish the sinner;
- 2) Instruct the ignorant;
- 3) Counsel the doubtful;
- 4) Comfort the sorrowful;
- 5) Bear wrongs patiently;
- 6) Forgive all injuries;
- 7) Pray for the living and the dead.
There we have the seven spiritual works of mercy. Let us take them one at a time!
1. Admonish the Sinner
Easier said than done! Doing this can be extremely difficult, but it is exceedingly necessary now more than ever. Why is it so difficult? For the simple reason that we are born proud and do not desire to give up old and ingrained habits, and if they are bad habits they are called “vices”. We often cling to the evil, the dirty, the ugly, the impure, the unhealthy, and the sinful.
A common example merits our attention. Those who cohabit are living in sin and somebody should tell them and give clear reasons why this is wrong? What might be some reasons to explain why it is wrong? Here are some! Premarital sex or fornication is a mortal sin. You deprive yourself of the Sacraments, both of Confession and the Holy Eucharist. You are giving public scandal, even if many are doing it now. Majority does not make right in the eyes of God. You erode your conscience.
God so highly prizes admonishing the sinner and bringing him back on the right path that He promises salvation and the expiation of many of our personal sins by simply bringing back one straying sinner.
Read the words of the Apostle Saint James:
“My brothers, if anyone among you should stray from the truth and someone bring him back, he should know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”James 5: 19-20
2. Instruct the Ignorant
We all have heard the proverb: “Charity begins at home.” This is true especially in the formation of children and adolescents. By choosing the married state, husband and wife profess to be open to life through procreation. That is just the very first step!
Next, it is incumbent upon parents to teach their children all that refers to God, the Commandments, the Sacraments, prayer, Marian devotion, and much more… The primary responsibility of parents bringing children into this world is to bring these children into heaven.
The school is not the first teacher, nor the catechism teacher, nor even the Pastor or priest. No! The first teachers must be Mom and Dad. This necessarily implies the process of ongoing or permanent formation on the part of the parents. Another proverb is worthy of injecting here: “You cannot give what you do not have.”
One field that parents must master, in the realm of education for themselves as well as their children, is that of sexual morality. Parents must strive to know the Biblical and Church’s teaching on purity, live it out in their own lives and then teach it with the utmost clarity to their children!
3. Counsel the Doubtful
Much can be said on this Spiritual work of mercy, but we will briefly mention one: the importance of solid spiritual direction. Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint Faustina Kowalska, as well as Saint Margaret Mary Alocoque all were strongly dependent on spiritual direction so as to discern God’s will in their lives. They all are canonized saints and one of the reasons was that they humbly admitted that they were ignorant in many ways, had many doubts and had to submit their judgments, inspirations and thoughts to a higher authority—their Confessors and Spiritual Directors.
Given there is a shortage of priests as well as spiritual directors, still it is incumbent upon us to find some way to have periodic spiritual direction so as to expel the many doubts that can easily cloud our mind and blur our judgment and corrupt our actions. Saint John of the Cross put it wryly: “He who has himself as spiritual director has an idiot as his spiritual directee!” In other words we all have blind spots that can only be enlightened by proper spiritual direction.
4. Comfort the Sorrowful
This is extremely important! Saint Ignatius of Loyola, in his rules for discernment, outlines the strategy on how to act when we are in a state of desolation.
In desolation we may feel sad, or even exhausted as if nobody really cares for us while life seems useless and without meaning. We all go through this state at times; it is part of being human. However, when you are aware of somebody going through this state, do all you can to be a source of encouragement.
First, pray for the person. Second, a warm smile can go a long way! Third, say a word or two of encouragement. Fourth, offer a compliment on some good quality the person has. This is very pleasing to God. We become like Simon of Cyrene who helped Jesus to carry His cross.
5. Bear Wrongs Patiently
Once again, easier said than done. In this we need grace and a lot of grace! Maybe at work we have been wronged by a boss or by a co-worker. Changing jobs is unthinkable due to the economic situation. Both the boss and co-worker are not going anywhere. The most pleasing attitude in the eyes of God is simply to return to work with great humility and trust in Divine Providence.
Trust God! He will be there with you to help you to patiently carry the cross. Of immense help could be to meditate upon Jesus carrying His cross heading towards His crucifixion. Even though Jesus fell three times, He still got up with the weight of the sins of the world on His weary and blood-beaten shoulders.
We should always have Jesus before our eyes as our model and example, Indeed Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
6. Forgive All Injuries
May God help us! We have arrived at the heart of mercy in our dealing with others. Mercy is a two-way street! If we want to receive mercy from God, then we must be merciful and forgive those who have done us wrong. Biblical verses on this topic are many, very many…
- “Be merciful as your Heavenly Father is merciful…
- “Vengeance is mine: I will repay, says the Lord.”
- “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”
- “Forgive us out trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…”(The Our Father)
- “I tell you not 7 times, but 70 times 7 times… you must forgive…”
- “Leave your gift and first be reconciled with your brother…”
- “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing.”
- “Amen I say to you: today you will be with me in Paradise.”
One hint in the area of forgiveness: Accept the fact that all of your life people will hurt you. The most common place that we are wounded is in the context of our family, with family members. The key is this: forgive immediately! As soon as anybody hurts or wounds you, then pray for that person and forgive immediately. If done, you have won a major victory over self and shown God how much you love Him by practicing mercy.
7. Pray for the Living and the Dead
Jesus told Saint Faustina that He desires that we practice at least one act of mercy every day. He specified that mercy can be carried out in one of three manners:
- 1) by kind words
- 2) by kind deeds
- 3) by prayer
One of the greatest acts of charity we can do in our lives is to simply pray for others, both the living and the dead.
With respect to the living, there should be a hierarchy of importance. If married and with a family this should be the order: first spouse, children, parents, brothers and sisters, relatives, friends, co-workers and associates, and we should also pray for those we do not like and even for our enemies!
Then, with respect to the dead, we should pray constantly for the dead. Saint Francis de Sales emphasizes the fact that this is one of the greatest acts of charity that we can do. Why? For this simple reason: they are totally dependent on the mercy of God and on our prayers, almsgiving or charity, as well as our sacrifices.
The Gregorian Mass of a month’s consecutive Masses came about because Pope Saint Gregory the Great had to pray thirty consecutive Masses so as to free his deceased friend from the fires of Purgatory. A common error today is in funeral Masses where the deceased person, despite his many moral failures, is being unofficially canonized in the funeral homily as well as in the eulogy. True, we should be compassionate towards those who lose their loved ones. Still, we should not canonize and jump the gun before time. Only the Pope has the right to canonize anyone! The Bible teaches clearly and unequivocally that only the pure and without blemish can enter the Kingdom of God.
Ask yourself, in humble prayer, which of these Spiritual works of mercy you believe the Holy Spirit is inspiring you to undertake right now. Look at your concrete living condition and surely the Holy Spirit will pinpoint persons and areas where you will be able to implement with great generosity of soul one or more of these spiritual works of mercy. Never forget the inspiring and challenging words of Jesus: “Whatsoever you do the least of my brothers that you do unto me.” (Mt. 25:31-46)