The Exercise of Mercy

As we begin to transition into the final few months of our meditations on mercy, in observance of this special Jubilee Year of Mercy, our attention will turn from what God’s mercy has been and means to us to what God’s mercy calls us to become — merciful.

To this end, we will be looking at works of mercy, especially as traditionally called the “Corporal Works of Mercy” and the “Spiritual Works of Mercy.”

By way of a refresher, here are the Corporal Works of Mercy:

Feed the hungry

Give drink to the thirsty

Clothe the naked

Harbour the harbourless (house the homeless)

Visit the sick

Ransom the captive

Bury the dead


Likewise, these are the Spiritual Works of Mercy:

Instruct the ignorant

Counsel the doubtful

Admonish the sinner

Bear wrongs patiently

Forgive offences willingly

Comfort the afflicted

Pray for the living and the dead

Many of us have been acquainted with both of these lists at some point. Hopefully, we have received a modicum of catechesis regarding what they contain. (If you’ve ever wondered what “catechesis” means, it refers to the act of teaching by word of mouth — the passing on of Christian truths from person to person.) For example, what is actually meant by, “instruct the ignorant?” Let’s be honest; we all have very clear ideas of what we’d like that to mean. However, before we get too far, I’d like to reshape how we think of these acts.

While it certainly is tempting to launch into specific discussion on any number of the works of mercy, that’s not what I’m after in this article. Rather, I want to dispel the mistaken notion that the works of mercy are the works of the good, the holy or those for whom a relationship with God is reserved. Holiness, prayer, spiritual counseling, a living belief in God and personal relationship with God through Jesus are not reserved or set aside for a few. The invitation to know God personally and intimately is an open one.

Besides, the works of mercy are the marks of the faithful who are not yet perfected. They are the exercises of Christians who are yet growing. In short, all of the baptized are invited to take merciful practices as a form of spiritual fitness training, rather than as some proof of merit.

We hear in this week’s Gospel that many will attempt to enter the kingdom, “but will not be strong enough (Luke 13:24).” Acting out of the mercy we have all received is part of striving “to enter through the narrow gate (ibid.).”

In the second reading, we are given a strong elixir for growth and spiritual progress. “So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees. Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed (Hebrews 12:12-13).” Put into practice, then, the works of God’s mercy; not because you already have mercy like God does, but because you wish to.

David Dunst


Leave a Reply