The spiritual and corporal works of mercy

DEAR people of God in the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn.

One of the highlights in the Archdiocese for me, over the last year or so, was to have conducted three retreats: for the clergy, for the principals in our schools and for the laity.

I observed a common thread running through all three retreats: an almost insatiable thirst for prayer. This is surely a real sign of the Holy Spirit among us!

As Lent starts early (February 10) and the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy continues to gain momentum, we have an opportunity to deepen and give expression to this thirst for prayer.

Pope Francis offers us a way forward. He writes: “It is my burning desire that during this Jubilee, the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy… they will serve as the criterion upon which we will be judged,” (Misericordiae Vultus, s. 15).

Mercy is an English word translated from the Latin ‘misericordia’. There are several ways of translating this word more comprehensively. One expression, “the heart that shares another’s misery”, seems a good translation. Pope Francis points out that “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy,” (Misericordiae Vultus, s.1).

The spiritual and corporal works of mercy are firstly God’s acts of mercy towards us. In our offering these interior and exterior ‘works’ to others, God uses us to channel his mercy to others. That is, God expresses his ‘loving kindness’ to the world through us – especially to the poor and oppressed.

The number seven symbolises completeness. So there are seven spiritual works of mercy, as well as seven corporal works of mercy.

Let us draw up a complete list (although they are never meant to be exhaustive):

The Spiritual Works of Mercy

1. Counsel the doubtful

2. Instruct the ignorant

3. Admonish the sinner

4. Comfort the afflicted

5. Forgive offences

6. Bear wrongs patiently

7. Pray for the living and the dead.

The Corporal Works of Mercy

1. Feed the hungry

2. Give drink to the thirsty

3. Clothe the naked

4. House the homeless

5. Visit the imprisoned

6. Visit the sick

7. Bury the dead.

Lent is a penitential season in the life of the Church. It is a time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving in preparation for the central Christian celebrations: the death and Resurrection of Jesus in the Easter (Paschal) mysteries. It is a season of conversion.

This Lent, during a Year of Mercy, you may find it helpful to reflect on the above spiritual and corporal works of mercy and respond in a deeper way to their urgency in your personal lives and communities. Supporting Project Compassion is surely one such expression. Also responding more fulsomely in your family, neighbourhood and parish/school communities is another possibility.

The ‘24 Hours for the Lord’ (March 4-5), the ‘Missionaries of Mercy’ and the ‘Jubilee Indulgences’ are other initiatives of Pope Francis which we will hear more about shortly.

During this Lenten season, let us join in the Jubilee prayer of Pope Francis, especially when he prays to Jesus:

“You are the visible face

of the invisible Father,

of the God who manifests

his power above all,

by forgiveness and mercy;

let the Church be your

visible face in the world,

its Lord risen and glorified.”

May the merciful Lord Jesus bless you and your loved ones always, especially during Lent.

Archbishop Christopher Prowse

Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn