Lately I’ve been thinking about the Works of Mercy because of the very real circumstances people are facing due to the pandemic. The Works of Mercy are split up into two categories: Corporal, and Spiritual. As Christ’s followers, we’re meant to do these things in imitation of Him. He says in Scripture, “What you do for the least of these, you do for me,” and He speaks of many of the Works of Mercy.
The Corporal Works of Mercy are:
- Feed the hungry
- Give water to the thirsty
- Clothe the naked
- Shelter the homeless
- Visit the sick
- Visit the imprisoned or ransom the captive
- Bury the dead
The Spiritual Works of Mercy are:
- Instruct the ignorant
- Counsel the doubtful
- Admonish the sinner
- Bear with wrongs patiently
- Forgive offenses
- Comfort the afflicted
- Pray for the living and the dead
It is important to do all of these things as much as we can, but I want to focus on the Corporal works of Mercy for now. In Quarantine, we can still fairly easily do the Spiritual Works, online, in our bedrooms, in our basement, in the shower, or what have you. We can talk to friends and family online and while we’re all in uncharted territory and maybe suffering emotionally, we can comfort each other.
The other Works are often harder to do in general. I think right now, though, they are especially important. Right now, depending on where one is, it is more difficult to get resources (food, cleaning products, etc), and where many are losing their jobs, it is important to do what we can to help. This may mean, if we can, donating to food banks, for example.
As one progresses through the list, it seems that the Works get noticeably more difficult. Again, it is relatively easy to “clothe the naked” because one can donate hand-me-down clothing. To shelter the homeless is probably the most difficult, but I think, possibly the most important. I think with much more free time on our hands it is easier to become more introspective, and even selfish. Jesus said to love our neighbors as ourselves. This literally can, and should mean the people living next door to us. If we know they are struggling to pay the rent, for example, and we know they have quarantined for several weeks, for example, it would be merciful to either offer them a room to stay in for free, or simply offer financial assistance.
To visit the sick and imprisoned are both extremely dangerous right now, but they remain important things to do. I think in this case, it is important to use technology to offer friendship and comfort, even from a distance. Especially where hospitals and prisons are some of the most dangerous places, it is important to be a source of hope to those who are scared. Obviously this is no substitute for being there in person, but it is still necessary.
Lastly, though it’s a bit of an ugly thing to think about, it is a Work of Mercy to bury the dead. I think this means a couple of things. It means making sure a person dies with dignity, and it means making sure they are honored at their burial. To be clear, when I say that a person should “die with dignity,” I do not mean that assisted suicide should be an option. I mean they should be respected and taken care of until the moment of death. No matter what condition they are in, they are a valuable human being. When I say that they should be honored at their burial, I mean that they should have a proper funeral, regardless of how many people can attend.
Right now, the world seems a bit out of control. It can be tempting in such a world to fall into a purely survivalist mindset. It is in such a world, however, when mercy is needed most. It is extremely important to teach the faith, and to pray for people, for example, and if this is what we can do, we have even more of a responsibility to do it, but if we have the means, freedom, and ability to provide for the physical or financial needs of those less fortunate than us, it is vitally important to help. It is a sign of our own humanity, and a recognition that the life of the other is just as important as our own.
I have defined “mercy” before as “love in action.” Another definition, however, is “kindness to those who don’t deserve it.” This is God’s love for us; He didn’t owe us anything, but He came to save us; He died for us. It doesn’t matter if you “owe” anything to your friend, or even a stranger living across town. If we are to be like God; if we are to arrive at Heaven’s gate, we need to be merciful, too. I did not cover every way in which we are to do these Works of Mercy, but they need to be done. This is a time to be creative and to love each other as God loves us.