It used to be required that all young Catholics memorize the Works of Mercy as an ever-present mandate for how we are to live. But recently, memorization is forgotten and most people only know a couple of the Corporal Works. Can you recall—feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, bury the dead? Yet, our world is in desperate need of the Spiritual Works of Mercy, so probably we should bring back that memorization practice to our Sunday School programs. Do you accede?
The Corporal Works talks about poverty and the physical needs of our neighbors. But the Spiritual Works of Mercy are equally relevant and these works call us to love souls. They are:
- Admonish the sinner (Colossians 3:16)
- Instruct the ignorant (Jude 1:23)
- Counsel the doubtful
- Comfort the sorrowful (Isaiah 66:13)
- Bear wrongs patiently (Colossians 3:12)
- Forgive all injuries
- Pray for the living and the dead
Assuredly Jesus instructed, counseled and comforted. He also admonished sinners, calling some “vipers” and telling the woman caught in adultery, “Go and sin no more.” When Jesus was mocked and tortured, He was forgiving. And He often withdrew to quiet places for prayer. The Church admonishes that these acts of mercy are partnered with the Corporal Works because these acts steer others toward heaven.
There has been a lot of conversation in Catholic blogging circles about if it is ever right, in the modern world, to “judge” others. The most often quoted Scripture is, “Judge not, lest you be judged.” But judgment, properly understood and practiced, is an essential part of love and prudence.
Every parent knows it is unloving to let a child have their way at all times. It is not right to allow a teenager to get drunk. It is wrong to smile when one child hits another child.
The same comprehension of love is true in the world. It is unloving to know someone who wants to get an abortion and never to say a thing about “other options.” It is immoral to hear dirty jokes and laugh as if that was just fine. It is unloving to let our entire society slid into immorality without ever raising a cry.
The first three of the Spiritual Works need study and preparation. But first-time parents know the relevance of preparation. They read parenting books and watch how other mothers and fathers give instruction and correction. So why do we as Catholics not do a better job preparing young people for how to live in the world, but not be sucked down by it?
The works of mercy are not optional; they are crucial for a good Christian living.