The Corporal Works of Mercy

Jesus presented the corporal works of mercy as the way to love Him. They are “corporal” because they address our neighbor’s physical needs.Through the corporal works of mercy we have compassion, fixing an injustice. Jesus names these specific works of mercy in Matthew 25:31-46. We learn two important things:

  • Loving others in these ways is loving Jesus Christ Himself
  • Failing to do these works of mercy can lead to eternal damnation

Feed the Hungry

The body needs nourishment to live on. God has provided food in major ways in the Bible:
  • Providing manna from heaven to the Jews as they journeyed through the desert
  • Christ’s multiplication of the fish and the loaves
  • Christ giving His Body and Blood in the Eucharist for us to consume
Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes by Giovanni Lanfranco (1620-1623)
Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes by Giovanni Lanfranco (1620-1623)

We, too, must give to those who hunger for food. Many of us have more than enough resources to feed ourselves. Making sure no one goes hungry should be one of our greatest priorities..

Feeding the hungry also helps the giver. Giving of what we have shows our gratitude for what God has given us, bringing us great joy.

“. . . if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.” – Isaiah 58:10

What are some ways we can feed the hungry?

  • Donate to a food drive or a food bank.
  • Volunteer at a local food pantry or soup kitchen.
  • Only buy as much food as you can eat and decreasing waste.

Give Drink to the Thirsty

Like food, the body needs water to survive. Providing drink to the thirsty is nourishing Jesus Himself.

. . . and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” – Matthew 10:42

Christ and the Samaritan Woman at the Well by Angelica Kauffman (1796)
Christ and the Samaritan Woman at the Well by Angelica Kauffman (1796)

There are many examples of giving drink to the thirsty in the Bible.

What are some ways we can give drink to the thirsty?

  • Donate to organizations that provide water to those without it.
  • Donate water bottles to those in need in your local community.
  • Limit wasting water in the bathroom or at meal time.

Clothe the Naked

Giving clothing to the naked also extends to any other material needs the poor may need.

And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.‘” – Luke 3:10-11

The Good Samaritan by Jacopo Bassano (1562-1563)
The Good Samaritan by Jacopo Bassano (1562-1563)

Giving alms to the poor is a crucial part of the Christian life. Almsgiving shows our own detachment to or material belongings. We recognize that everything we have is a gift from God.

What are some ways we can clothe the naked?

  • Gather excess clothing in your closet and give it away to those in need.
  • Take part in local clothing drives, especially in the winter.
  • Volunteer your time, treasure, and talent for the Church and other charitable organizations.

Shelter the Homeless

Even in first world countries, homeless is a major issue. Many of those without homes feel the emotional pains of feeling unwanted and unloved.

Homeless Person

What are some ways we can shelter the homeless?

  • Volunteer time or donate to a local homeless shelter.
  • Help organizations that build homes for those in need, like Habitat for Humanity.
  • Host and provide shelter for visitors in town.

Visit the Sick

Those who are sick are some of the most vulnerable people in society. Christ had a special love and mercy for the sick during His ministry. We an bring great relief to the sick with our loving presence, especially to those who feel abandoned.

Christ Healing the Sick at the Pool of Bethesda by Carl Heinrich Bloch (1883)
Christ Healing the Sick at the Pool of Bethesda by Carl Heinrich Bloch (1883)

What are some ways we can visit the sick?

  • Volunteer at a nursing home.
  • Build a relationship with any elderly neighbors living nearby. Help them with any services like yard work or cooking them a meal.
  • Assist and visit sick family members.

Visit the Imprisoned

Everyone is made in the image and likeness of God, no matter what they may have done. They often need to know of God’s love and mercy for them. Often there are restrictions to visiting prisons, but there are still some ways we can help.

The Liberation of St. Peter by Antonio de Bellis (c. early 1640s)
The Liberation of St. Peter by Antonio de Bellis (c. early 1640s)

What are some ways we can visit the imprisoned?

  • See if any of your parish ministries help or visit the imprisoned and get involved.
  • Help provide for the children of the imprisoned.
  • Promote humane treatment of the imprisoned, especially services that focus on rehabilitation.

Bury the Dead

Burying the dead does not come from Christ’s original list. Christians added it to the list based on Tobit:

In the days of Shalmaneser I performed many acts of charity to my kindred, those of my tribe. I would give my food to the hungry and my clothing to the naked; and if I saw the dead body of any of my people thrown out behind the wall of Nineveh, I would bury it. I also buried any whom King Sennacherib put to death when he came fleeing from Judea in those days of judgment that the king of heaven executed upon him because of his blasphemies. For in his anger he put to death many Israelites; but I would secretly remove the bodies and bury them. So when Sennacherib looked for them he could not find them.” – Tobit 1:16-18

Entombment of Christ by Rogier van der Weyden (1450)
Entombment of Christ by Rogier van der Weyden (1450)

Our bodies are sacred, temples of the Holy Spirit. Paying respect for the dead allows us to show our love for the dead and their loved ones.

What are some ways we can bury the dead?

  • Attend funerals and wakes for those who have passed away.
  • Offer condolences and support for those who have lost a loved one.
  • Visit graveyards and pray for the dead.

The corporal works of mercy are an important way to live out the Christian life. Serving our neighbor in this way is serving Christ Himself.