Works of Mercy


The corporal works of mercy are formally listed at the website of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.   This website also discusses various specific implementations of these works of mercy.  In brief, these works of mercy are:
    • Feed the hungry
    • Give drink to the thirsty
    • Shelter the homeless
    • Visit the sick
    • Visit the prisoners
    • Bury the dead
    • Give alms to the poor
An observation by Dorothy Day pointed out a substantial contrast that can be used to lead each of us to a decision in how we lead our lives and interact with society.  She stated: “The works of mercy are the opposite of the works of war: feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, nursing the sick, visiting the prisoner. But we are destroying crops, setting fire to entire villages and to the people in them. We are not performing the works of mercy but the works of war.“ St. James offered a slightly different observation in his first letter: “For if a man with gold rings on his fingers and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in, and you pay attention to the one wearing fine clothes and say, ‘sit here, please,’ while you say to the poor one, ‘stand there,’ or sit at my feet,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil designs” (James 2: 2-4).  Both observations lead us to the corporal works of mercy as expressed by Jesus in the beatitudes.
The spiritual works of mercy are spread throughout the scriptures and are well summarized at the USCCB website.  Various specific implementations of the spiritual works of mercy are also discussed.  In brief, the spiritual works of mercy are:
  • Instruct the ignorant
  • Admonish the sinner
  • Comfort the Sorrowful
  • Forgive Injuries
  • Bear wrongs patiently
  • Pray for the living and the dead
  • Bury the dead
St. James presents the value of the spiritual works of mercy in a terser manner: “My brothers, if anyone among you should stray from the truth and someone bring him back, he should know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).
We at the Eugene Catholic Worker embrace a spirituality in our work.  We see our daily work not so much as making a living; rather, our daily work is a way of life.  It is our hope that the fruits of our labors will contribute in some small way to humanizing and healing the wounds of the world and of ourselves.  All of our efforts are our attempt to give expression to the social teachings of the church found in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
Catholic Social Teaching for the modern world is summarized in the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope).  The USCCB dedicates a portion of its site to an exposition of catholic social teaching.  A handout that briefly discusses some aspects of catholic social teaching is presented.  
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