Corporal Works of Mercy
“The King will say to those on his right: Come. You have my Father’s blessing! Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me. I was ill and you comforted me, in prison and you came to visit me.” (Mt. 25:34-36) Here Jesus gives us the basis for the seven practices of charity, which the Church calls the corporal works of mercy. These works minister to people’s bodily needs. Practicing these works of mercy is a means for us to come to know and enter into a deep personal relationship with Jesus. Jesus, through us, can continue his ministry of mercy to those around us. He wants us to participate in his saving mission. When we voluntarily and lovingly perform these works of mercy, other people receive the opportunity to witness and come to know Jesus as he works through us to accomplish his Father’s will for the human race. Jesus tells us, “The Son of Man has not come to be served but to serve” (Mk 10:45), and he expects us to do the same. Doing corporal works of mercy is necessary for our salvation.
The first corporal work of mercy â€“ to feed the hungry. As the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, God provided them manna and quail to eat (read Ex. 16: 1-15). Jesus multiplied a few loaves of bread and some fish to feed over five thousand people and another time over four thousand people (read Mt. 14:13-21 and Mt.15:32-38). With the four thousand, Jesus said, “My heart is moved with pity for the crowd. By now they have been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not wish to send them away hungry, for fear they may collapse on the way.” (Mt. 15:32) With the five thousand, Jesus told his apostles, “Give them something to eat yourselves.” (Mt. 14:16) Jesus did not say this to befuddle them, but to indicate that his followers are to do as he does. There are a number of ways we can perform this work of mercy: participate in a food drive, donate to and support the food pantry, provide food items to a homeless shelter, help the elderly and frail to obtain food and feed them if necessary. In this way, Jesus can feed the hungry through you and those being helped can discover Jesus’ love for them through you.
The second corporal work of mercy â€“ to give drink to the thirsty. God always does what he asks us to do. Wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites could not find water and bitterly complained to Moses of their thirst (read Ex. 17:1-7). God told Moses, “I will be standing there in front of you on the rock in Horeb. Strike the rock, and the water will flow from it for the people to drink.” (Ex. 17:6) Wine was a very important part of a Jewish wedding feast. To run out of wine was a grievous embarrassment for the wedding couple. Knowing this, Jesus acted with compassion and miraculously provided additional wine for the wedding party at Cana (read Jn. 2:1-11). Using his physical thirst to open a dialogue with the Samaritan woman, Jesus bestowed on the woman and her fellow towns people the blessing of spiritual water. He said to the Samaritan woman (read Jn. 4:4-42) who came to the well to draw water, “Give me a drink” (Jn. 4:7). Thirst and giving a drink to alleviate the thirst can result in a grace filled encounter. To answer Jesus’ “I am thirsty” from the cross (Jn. 19:28), we may provide drink to young children, the ill, and the frail who may not be able to do it for themselves; give bottled water to the homeless; or assist the needy in paying their water bills.
Third corporal work of mercy â€“ to clothe the naked. Jesus told us that he is the truth (read Jn. 14:6). This truth is revealed in the Old Testament in support of the New Testament. In Isaiah God tells us to cloth the naked when we see them (read Is. 58:7). Tobit, a faithful servant of God, states, “I would give my bread to the hungry and my clothing to the naked.” (Tb. 1:17) Tobit instructs his son Tobiah, “Give to the hungry some of your bread, and to the naked some of your clothing.” (Tb. 4:16) As faithful disciples of Jesus, we too are meant to carry on this work of mercy. We can do this in the following ways: donate some of our clothing to organizations that distribute clothing to the poor, donate to and support groups that help clothe poor and underprivileged children, help families who are economically challenged to obtain necessary clothing, give clothing to the homeless, and see that the elderly and infirm have sufficient clothing to sustain themselves.
We will cover the rest of the corporal works of mercy in my next blog.