Be compassionate Print
Cutting Edge
Thursday, Mar. 19, 2015 -- 12:00 AM

We have a loving and compassionate God, and Jesus calls us to practice these virtues in our lives. This is our mission as Christians.

When I was growing up, we learned the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. They are tools for living a good Christian life, showing us how to be compassionate.

Corporal Works of Mercy

Jesus tells us about the Corporal Works of Mercy in Chapter 25 of the Gospel of Matthew. He challenges us to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, and bury the dead. We will be judged by how we do these things.

At first glance, we might think that we are rarely presented with opportunities to exercise many of these good works. But, if we look a little closer, we might be surprised at how often we are presented with ways to do some of them.

Feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty. Feeding the hungry and the thirsty does not have to be limited to literal food and water. People have all kinds of hungers and thirst for many things.

A common hunger we all share is the hunger for love. We can help satisfy that hunger by reaching out to people, especially the lonely, and being kind and generous to others when it would be easier not to get involved.

Another hunger we all share is the hunger to be listened to. Begin by giving your whole attention to people who are speaking to you.

Clothing the naked. It might be as easy as opening my closet and deciding I don't need 20 pairs of slacks and dresses that I haven't worn for years.

A priest told me that every Good Friday, he goes through his clothes and gives away everything he hasn't worn for the past two years.

Visiting the imprisoned. We don't have to literally go to prisons or jails. That is good, if the opportunity arises, but there are other ways people can be imprisoned.

Maybe I could confront those who are imprisoned by drugs or alcohol or other addictions and encourage them to get help. Another group of "imprisoned" persons are the elderly or disabled who could use a visit, call, or email.

Sheltering the homeless. It might mean volunteering at a shelter or visiting the sick. We may not like hospitals and funeral homes. If so, maybe we can at least send get-well or sympathy cards.

Spiritual Works of Mercy

Even more challenging are the Spiritual Works of Mercy. They call us to admonish the sinner, instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, comfort the sorrowful, bear wrongs patiently, forgive all injuries, and pray for the living and the dead.

Admonishing the sinner. I may feel hypocritical admonishing a person. One way might be to point out another's destructive behavior -- not in a righteous way but out of true care or by saying something or at least changing the subject in a negative conversation.

Instructing the ignorant. To instruct the ignorant might mean sharing my beliefs with people who have little or no knowledge of Christianity.

Comforting the sorrowful. One way to comfort the sorrowful is to acknowledge their pain and to be there for them.

Bearing wrongs patiently. It takes much strength not to lash out against those who treat us unjustly. Jesus' command to turn the other cheek is downright hard. Pray for them.

Forgiving all injuries. To forgive all injuries, even if we have been hurt deeply, sometimes seems impossible. One of my spiritual directors said that sometimes we are so hurt that we have to pray for the desire to forgive.

Praying for the living and the dead. Compassionate people express their concern for others in prayer.

During Lent, it might be helpful to focus on one or two of these works that needs to be strengthened in our lives.


Sr. Margie Lavonis, a freelance writer, is a Sister of the Holy Cross, Notre Dame, Ind.