We all have countless blessings—blessings we should share with others. One way to do this and to live the culture of life is to practice the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, which enable us to relate to other people and bring help where it is needed most.
Where the Spiritual Works of Mercy care for a person’s intellectual, emotional, and spiritual needs, the Corporal Works of Mercy focus on caring for a person’s physical needs to bring them comfort and support in the most humane way possible.
The Corporal Works of Mercy come from Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 25:31–46 when He gives His followers examples of how to live out the Christian message in order to be welcomed into the kingdom of heaven. Here are some ideas of how you can use the Corporal Works of Mercy to live out the culture of life during this Year of Mercy:
Feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty
Nourishing food and clean water are two fundamental human needs. Making sure that people around you are well-fed and have access to clean water is a part of building the culture of life in your own community and of respecting human dignity.
In metropolitan America, those who need food are usually able to find at least limited access to a local food pantry. Food pantries in economically depressed communities are often run by a small staff of volunteers from a church or government office and have rules about who can get food, how much they can take, and how many times they can visit the pantry per month.
While food pantries provide a much-needed service in desperate communities, they are often not sufficient enough to ensure that the hungry in a community are satisfied.
People who go to food shelters are not the desperately poor that you might imagine. Most people who need food from a shelter are just like you and your family. They work hard, go to school, and enjoy the same activities as you, but they are struggling financially.
Sometimes accidents or doctor visits use the money a family needs for other necessities such as rent or heat. Rather than risk losing their homes, the family opts to go to a local food pantry. It takes great courage and humility to visit a food pantry. Imagine having to swallow your pride enough to admit that you are unable to provide for your family without someone else’s help.
Action item: With your family, parish, or pro-life group, take donations for the local food bank. They always need to replenish their supplies, especially around the holidays. You can also volunteer at a local food pantry this holiday season. These places need extra help as they prepare for larger giveaways at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Clothe the naked
In modern America, we don’t often see people lying by the side of the road wearing nothing more than an old flour sack for clothing, as in many third world countries. But we do see people everyday who need clothing and other material goods.
For example, a fellow student may have only one pair of shoes to wear to school or a single mom may save her money to buy warm clothes for her children instead of a new coat for herself. Like food, clothing and shelter are necessities for all people.
Imagine having to make the decision between buying new clothes for your children or buying them food for dinner. In Matthew 25, when Jesus talks about caring for the needs of others, He urges His followers to remember that caring for “the least of these” is the same as caring for Christ Himself.
Action item: Go through your closet and give away gently used clothing to a Saint VIncent de Paul center, homeless shelter, or needy family in your community. When giving away your possessions, always act with love and humility and remember that, but for God’s grace and many blessings, you could be in the same place as the person receiving your possessions.
Harbor the harborless
This work of mercy is also called welcoming the stranger or giving shelter to the homeless. Shelter is one of the basic needs of every person—from the preborn baby in his mother’s womb to the senior citizen who is no longer able to keep his own home.
One way to practice this work of mercy is to volunteer at a homeless shelter, but there are so many more ways you can practice harboring the harborless in your everyday life. Reaching out to strangers and people who are lonely is a fundamental part of living the culture of life.
Not only should we offer kind words and friendly smiles to people in need, we should offer them Christ’s love. Welcoming the stranger can sometimes be difficult—especially if they seem different or are ostracized by other people in your school or parish. But even one person can make a difference in another’s life. Be that person.
Action item: Make the commitment to reach out to those on the fringes of your social circles at your school or parish, especially if others ignore them or exclude them from activities. Remember that every human being has value and deserves respect.
Visit the sick and the imprisoned
Not everyone is called to prison ministry, but we are all called to visit those who are unable to leave their homes because of illness or other handicaps. Visiting the sick and the imprisoned means to take time and spend it with others who need help and support—whether they are homebound because of illness, age, handicap, or other troubles.
Visiting the sick and the imprisoned could be as simple as offering to help an elderly neighbor with yard work or getting groceries for a homebound friend. With the fast pace of our normal daily activities, we often forget that time is one of our most valuable possessions. Once gone, time cannot ever be replaced. When we choose to spend that time visiting people who are all alone, we show them that we truly care about and respect them.
Action item: Visit a nursing home with your family and take cards or small gifts to the residents to show them that you care and that they have not been forgotten.
Bury the dead
November is dedicated the holy souls in Purgatory, and the feast of All Souls is celebrated on November 2. Burying the dead might seem like an obvious work of mercy, but in the early years of the Church, respect for the human body as a temple of the Holy Spirit was not as common.
Today, burying the dead means giving each person the respect that he deserves by solemnly interring him in hallowed ground (meaning that the cemetery has been especially blessed) and remembering the deceased in your daily prayers.
Action item: Visit a cemetery during this month. Pray for your deceased relatives and those who have no one to pray for them. This simple prayer can be said in just a few moments: “May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.”
Laura Kizior is the Digital Media and Communciations Manager for the Culture of Life Studies Program. Her work has appeared on Verily.com, CatholicMom.com, LifeSiteNews.com, Celebrate Life Magazine, TeachersSavingChildren.org, and in the Pro-Life Healthcare Alliance newsletter.