The Institute for Christian Formation
Each time we celebrate the Eucharist, we are celebrating the new and everlasting covenant. And at the heart of that covenant is mercy. The Hebrew word for mercy is hesed (chesed) – absolute love and mercy. Hesed is covenant love. It is the love God promised the Hebrew people, and in turn the love God promises us. But a covenant is a partnership. We in turn, as God’s people, are to respond to God and God’s people - our neighbors, our fellow humans – with this same absolute love and mercy. And we are to do this not just some of the time, but at all times with all of our heart, mind and entire being.
What does living and breathing hesed look like? In practical terms, we are given a blueprint for hesed living in the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.
Living as Catholic Christians: Works of Mercy
How, in our daily lives, do we live out these works of mercy? Are the works of mercy truly part of our way of life? Certainly we bring in canned goods for the food drive, and donate clothes to the Saint Vincent DePaul Society. But what about those in our community who are hungry for friendship and companionship? Do we look around on Sunday to see who at Mass is sitting alone and invite them to join us for Sunday dinner? What about those held captive by their fears and anxieties – how do we reach out to them? Perhaps we pray each day for
The Corporal Works of Mercy
*Feed the hungry *Give drink to the thirsty
*Clothe the naked
*Shelter the homeless
*Visit the sick
*Bury the dead
The Works of Mercy have a long history in our Judeo-Christian faith. The Scriptural basis for the Corporal Works of Mercy can be found in Matthew’s Gospel. If you read the account of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25:31-46, you will find Jesus’ criteria for the judgment of the nations are the actions we now refer to as the Corporal Works of Mercy. The Spiritual Works of Mercy also are based in Scripture. For example, Isaiah 66:13 talks of comfort. In Colossians 3:13 we are told to bear with one another and forgive one another, while in Colossians 3:16, we are told to “teach and admonish one another.” Galatians 6:1 tells us to correct someone caught in a transgression, and Galatians 6:2 instructs us to “bear one another’s burdens.” Jude 22 tells us to have mercy on “those who waver.” Ephesians 6:18 tells us to “pray at every opportunity”, and 2 Maccabees 12:38-46 references praying for the dead.
Below is a video introduction to the Corporal Works of Mercy by the Redemptorists of the Edmonton-Toronto Province, Presented by Fr. Mark Miller, CSsR.
the living and the dead, but how do we instruct the ignorant or admonish the sinner? How often do we just accept the status quo so as to not “rock the boat”, rather than call someone to accountability?
We are called to love God and love our neighbor. The truth is we cannot love God unless we love our neighbor – and that love is a covenant love. It is hesed. It is absolute love and mercy. It is knowing that we can be merciful to our neighbor, because the Lord has first been so merciful to us. We are merciful because we have been shown mercy.
Every day – at home, at school, at work, at church and at play – we live and breathe the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. We don’t wait for the special times (the food and clothing drive, the project for Habitat for Humanity), nor do we show mercy for only a select few (our friends, family, fellow parishioners). We don’t show mercy only when we feel like it. No, we strive to live lives of mercy every minute of every day because the all-merciful God has showered us with mercy.
In our call to live lives of mercy, perhaps we can join our Orthodox brothers and sisters in the repetitive “Jesus Prayer”, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.
Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Teach us how to be merciful to others. Show us how to be faithful to the new and everlasting covenant.
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Catechism of the Catholic Church #2447
“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. Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God…”
English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church for the United States of America copyright © 1994, United States Catholic Conference, Inc. - Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mt. Sinai
The Spiritual Works of Mercy
*Instruct the ignorant
*Counsel the doubtful
*Admonish the sinner
*Bear wrongs patiently
*Comfort the afflicted
*Pray for the living and the dead
The Seven Works of Charity; Master of Alkmaar, 1504; Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam
The Works of Mercy
David Teniers the Younger, Circa 1645
Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
Click on the image above to download our ICF bulletin, "Living as Catholic Christians: Works of Mercy."