The Spiritual Works of Mercy

Dear Friends in Christ,

One of the hallmarks and themes in the pontificate of Pope Francis has been his emphasis on mercy. In fact, when he was elected Supreme Pontiff in 2013, he chose as his motto for his coat of arms “miserando atque eligendo” (by mercy and by choosing). He also designated 2016 as an extraordinary jubilee Holy Year dedicated to mercy. Pope Francis has repeatedly reminded us that “Mercy is the very foundation of the Christian life.” He has asked us to look anew at practicing and living the Works of Mercy. We are to perform the works of mercy as individuals and as a community of believers. Most of us are familiar with the Corporal Works of Mercy in which we care out of love for the bodily needs of our neighbor: feeding the hungry, drink for the thirsty, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, visiting the imprisoned and burying the dead. The works of mercy are given to us in the scriptures. These works of mercy are practiced at every level of the church (individual, family, parish, diocese, universal). In performing these corporal works we express our respect and love of neighbor, life and the Creator. These merciful works are restorative and extend dignity to our neighbor.

Pope Francis also reminds us that we are not to forget the Spiritual Works of Mercy: admonishing the sinner, instructing the ignorant, counseling the doubtful, comforting the sorrowful, bearing wrongs patiently, forgiving injuries and praying for the living and the dead. Sadly, people are often more comfortable with the corporal works of mercy than the spiritual works! In many instances, it is easier to feed the hungry than to admonish the sinner or to shelter the homeless than to bear wrongs patiently! Yet, the Spiritual Works of Mercy are no less important than the Corporal Works of Mercy. Being a faithful Christian, a practicing Catholic, is to care for people’s souls as well as their bodies. To be a faithful disciple of Jesus means that we must be concerned for their spiritual welfare of our neighbor as well as their bodily needs. If people are sinning or living in ignorance and this includes religious ignorance and we say nothing or do nothing, then we fail to truly love them. Likewise, if we hold grudges and fail to forgive our neighbor or if we are quick to judge or seek revenge, we fail to extend God’s mercy. In each of the spiritual works of mercy, there is a care and concern for the soul of our neighbor. The mercy we extend comes from the mercy God has bestowed upon us. People’s bodily needs are great, but their spiritual needs are even greater. Too often, we neglect spiritual needs of our neighbor. In failing to care for the spiritual needs of others, we fail to love God and our neighbor. We cannot care only for the body and neglect the soul. In many instances, if we cared more for the spiritual well-being of our neighbors’ souls, their physical situations would improve as well. It has been written in an article in Forbes magazine that, “researchers at the Mayo Clinic concluded, “Most studies have shown that religious involvement and spirituality are associated with better health outcomes, including greater longevity, coping skills, and health-related quality of life (even during terminal illness) and less anxiety, depression, and suicide.” This should be no surprise to us! Jesus teaches us in the gospel that the spiritual well-being is more important than the physical (Mk 8:36). Helping people grow in holiness is also a means of our own holiness.

How are you practicing the Spiritual Works of Mercy? In what ways can you extend God’s mercy by caring for others’ souls?

In pace Christi,
Fr. Troy