Mercy is a virtue. It compels us to alleviate the suffering of another. The Church presents us with 7 spiritual and 7 corporal works of mercy. These are ways in which we can practice charity to others and thus bring about tremendous good in the world. The practice of these works is required of all of us. These works are binding. Though it may not always be possible to practice them, as the situation does not present itself to perform these works at all times, we should always take the opportunities to live by these works when possible.
The 7 Spiritual Works of Mercy:
- To instruct the ignorant;
- To counsel the doubtful;
- To admonish sinners;
- To bear wrongs patiently;
- To forgive offenses willingly;
- To comfort the afflicted;
- To pray for the living and the dead.
The first work is to instruct the ignorant. By this we are called to instruct others in the faith. This involves teaching formally and dispelling misconceptions and fallacies when they arise. How often do we hear people speaking as if they had authority, only to spread false teachings about Christ and His Church? When these situations arise, we must spring to action. We must therefore, be informed about our faith so that we may properly teach it to those who do not yet know the fullness of the truth.
When we encounter those who are unsure of their faith, we must affirm them in it and help them grow. Everyone’s faith is tested, as that is the only way it can grow. Untested faith is a house of cards, waiting to collapse. Our faith must be tested in fire so that it may be strong. There are times, however, when that fire causes the faith to be soft and malleable on its way to solidifying. During these times when our loved ones are suffering loss, persecution, or anger, and their faith is in doubt, we must stand by them and offer show them the way. We must show them the ultimate source of strength, Jesus.
The third of these works of mercy is to admonish the sinner. This can be the most difficult to carry out. We know that sinfulness is a very secretive and explosive matter. The sinner frequently recognizes his sins, but is defensive about them. Neglect of this particular work of mercy has led to our society being so morally relativistic. If the truth is not made known, it will be forgotten. Though it may cause strife at times, we must bear this cross and carry on. We must tell people when they are sinning. They will likely counter with the line “Stop judging me!” Of course we should not judge others, but sins are committed in plain sight, and so they must be addressed. We must not make assumptions about sins that are implied or that might not have taken place, but we must inform people when they are blatantly sinning.
We must bear wrongs patiently. This is also a very difficult task. Our pride gets in the way. We must not be taken advantage of, says our ego. Truly, when others offend us, injure us, attack us, or undermine us, we are called to “Turn the other cheek”. We can do no better than to imitate Christ, the silent victim, who by His patient, courageous endurance of all forms of bodily and mental torture. He was beaten, insulted and killed, yet in His acceptance, He purchased our redemption. How marvelous would our reward be if we could just bear the slightest wrongs with joy and hope in our eternal reward?
Inseparably bound with the patient endurance of offenses, is the forgiveness of them. When our heart is filled with bitterness and grudges, we find no room for the love of Christ within it. Forgiveness requires heroic virtue at times. Mercy dictates that we forgive others’ faults and wrongs, even when it pains us greatly and gives us no temporal satisfaction. Heroism requires sacrifice. Sometimes the greatest heroism stems from the sacrifice of pride. Forgiveness is an eternal virtue, as we will find forgiveness after death to the degree that we showed it to others in this life.
There are times when all we can do is to give a thoughtful word to someone in pain or sorrow. We must comfort the afflicted. In doing so, we help others cope with difficulties. We build up the dignity of our brothers and sisters in Christ when we give them our time and comfort, for those who suffer, sometimes suffer the most painful of ordeals when they find no one who is willing to help them in their struggles. They find their dignity and self-worth crushed. Let us never leave a friend in misery without some heart-felt words or a loving embrace to lift them out of their affliction.
Finally, the greatest and most powerful form of mercy is prayer, for though we can provide physical and emotional aid to our neighbors, the Lord God can provide the greatest aid, which is spiritual. Our prayers are the most important form of mercy we can give. It shows our ultimate dedication to the alleviation of the burdens of others. Our private intercession for our neighbors and for the departed brings us little fame or admiration from others, but in the end, when we stand before God, we will be able to give an account of our prayerful mercy to others, and so Jesus will in turn show us mercy.
These works are not optional. They are indeed binding and necessary for our eternal salvation. We are called to be merciful. The opportunities are frequent and urgent. Let us not pass by the afflicted in their times of trial. Let us love others through these spiritual works so that through our sacrifice, we may bring others to the greatest joy, which is the vision of God in all His splendor in Heaven.