“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Mt 5:7).
We are all called to perform works of mercy, but What Exactly is Mercy?
In the Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas Aquinas expands upon the work of another church father to define mercy:
As Augustine says (De Civ. Dei ix, 5), mercy is heartfelt sympathy for another’s distress, impelling us to succor him if we can. For mercy takes its name ‘misericordia’ from denoting a man’s compassionate heart [miserum cor] for another’s unhappiness.” (II.II, q. 30, a. 1)
Similarly, Merriam-Webster defines mercy as, “compassionate treatment of those in distress.” Our aim must be to always treat others with tenderness and kindness, especially those who are suffering or who are in need. We must always treat others with mercy.
Each day presents us with opportunities to perform works of mercy, and “we should strive to keep our hearts open to the sufferings and wretchedness of other people, and pray continually that God may grant us that spirit of compassion which is truly the spirit of God” (St. Vincent de Paul). Mercy is a virtue according to St. Thomas Aquinas, and through our works of mercy, we draw closer to God.
Now that we know what mercy is, How Do We Perform Works of Mercy?
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities. Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead. (2447)
There are two types of works of mercy: Spiritual Works and Corporal Works. As pilgrims on earth, we all have spiritual and corporal needs, and whenever we take care of a brother or sister in need, we also take care of Christ.
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me…Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:35-40)
As enumerated in the 1962 Roman Catholic Daily Missal (Angelus Press), the Works of Mercy are:
- To Give Counsel to the Doubtful
- To Instruct the Ignorant
- To Admonish Sinners
- To Comfort the Afflicted
- To Forgive Offenses
- To Bear Patiently the Troublesome
- To Pray for the Living and the Dead
- To Feed the Hungry
- To Give Drink to the Thirsty
- To Clothe the Naked
- To Shelter the Needy
- To Visit the Sick
- To Visit the Imprisoned
- To Bury the Dead
You are tasked to “be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36), which is a very great calling indeed. “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise” for “if a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (Luke 3:11; James 2:15). Think about that: if you have two tunics, just one extra, you are to give that one away to someone in need. How much excess do you have in your life, and how can you more generously share that with others?
This sentiment is repeated by Jesus when He exhorts St. Faustina to “always be merciful, just as I am merciful. Love everyone out of love for Me, even your greatest enemies, so that the full extent of My mercy may be reflected in your heart” (Diary 1695).
By extending our mercy to others, both through spiritual and corporal acts, we allow Christ to work through us.
“Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ must look out on the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now. Amen.” (St. Teresa of Avila)
Conversing with St. Faustina, Jesus further breaks down acts of mercy into three categories: Deed, Word, and Prayer, and He makes it clear how vital it is to cultivate the virtue of mercy by these three means:
“I require you to make acts of mercy, which are to come from your love for Me. You are always and everywhere to show mercy unto your neighbors; you may not withdraw, excuse or absolve yourself from this. I am giving you three ways of performing mercy to your neighbours: first, by deed; second, by word; and third, by prayer; these three levels cover the full scope of mercy, and is unshakeable evidence that a soul loves Me.” (Diary 742)
Other Saints on Mercy:
- “Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs.” (St. John Chrysostom)
- “When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice.” (St. Gregory the Great)
- “Extend your mercy towards others, so that there can be no one in need whom you meet without helping. For what hope is there for us if God should withdraw His Mercy from us?” (St. Vincent de Paul)
- “Alms are an inheritance and a justice which is due to the poor and which Jesus has levied upon us.” (St. Francis of Assisi)
- “Practice acts of mercy. In our own sufferings they give us confidence before God; they contribute much to the value of our prayers, and they secure for our prayers a reception full of mercy, seeing they proceed themselves from a merciful heart.” (St. Peter of Alcántara)
Performing Acts of Mercy on a daily basis is vital to our spiritual growth and helps to keep us on the path to holiness.
Above all, remember the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31). The Rich Man always feasted sumptuously, but Lazarus longed to simply be fed from the scraps that fell from the Rich Man’s table. In life, the Rich Man did not have mercy on poor Lazarus, though he knew of him and his condition. In death, when the Rich Man finds himself in Hell and begs for mercy himself, he instead receives this chilling reply:
“Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Laz′arus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here [in Abraham’s bosom], and you are in anguish [in Hades]” (Luke 16:25).
So, What Acts of Mercy Will You Perform Today?