Works of Mercy Body and Soul

New Jerusalem

New Jerusalem by Gustave Dore

The corporal works of mercy are expressed in the gospels in the section titled Judgment of the Nations (Matthew 25:31-36). Jesus explained the final judgment in what is often referred to as a parable but which is closer to a metaphor. The Spiritual works of mercy are like the Corporal works but they attend to the spirit rather than the body. There is a parallel between the two.



Corporal works of mercy The spiritual works of mercy
• Feed the hungry • Instruct the ignorant
• Give drink to the thirsty • Counsel the doubtful
• Clothe the naked • Admonish sinners
• Harbour the harbourless • Bear wrongs patiently
• Visit the sick • Forgive offences willingly
• Ransom captives • Comfort the afflicted
• Bury the dead • Pray for the living and dead

– Instructing the ignorant or catechizing is like feeding the hungry because God’s word is food for the soul. Recall how Jesus three times asked Peter to “feed my sheep,” this applies to both the liturgy of the Eucharist, which is actual food for the body and soul, and the liturgy of the word, which is food for the heart and mind.

– Council is like water for the soul; refreshing and renewing the person who drinks it.

– Admonishing sinners is like clothing the naked because in sin we are robbed of our robe of innocence as Adam and Eve were. Recall that in their sin they discovered they were naked (Genesis 3:7).

– Bearing wrongs with patience shelters Christ in your heart. Recall that Jesus had said during His ministry, “the foxes have holes and the birds their nets but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest His head.” (Matthew 8:20 , Luke 9:58)

– Forgiving offenses heals those wounded by their transgressions.

– To give comfort is to rescue those who feel imprisoned by suffering.

– Prayer for the dead expiates sins and moves the poor and holy souls closer to their final rest, like burying the dead.

It would be mistake to think that that the only thing that matters in Christian action is whether or not the hungry are fed, the homeless are sheltered, and the naked clothed. Rather it is important, if not equally important, to feed, shelter and cloth the soul with love. If you ask a hungry person what mattered most to him/her when receiving charity, you may find some who are satisfied when their bellies are full but I imagine most feel truly satisfied when they see the eyes of Christ in the faces and actions of others. That’s because the things of the body help us to discover the things of the spirit. And what the body is, the soul is in magnification. The soul knows a hunger that the flesh cannot claim to match. Food staves hunger, water quenches thirst, and shelter protects the body, but who staves, quenches and protects the soul? The only thing that satisfies the soul is its true mate, Jesus. As Saint Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless oh Lord until they rest in thee.”

Note: This posting occurs on the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, who is the archetype of the Church and Sign of Hope. For this reason I have chosen to use the image of the New Jerusalem, which is also the Church Triumphant after the Judgement (of the nations).

Matthew 25:31-36
View in: NAB Vulg Greek
31And when the Son of man shall come in his majesty, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit upon the seat of his majesty.
32And all nations shall be gathered together before him, and he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats:
33And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left.
34Then shall the king say to them that shall be on his right hand: Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
35For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in:
36Naked, and you covered me: sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me.
Genesis 3:7
View in: NAB Vulg Hebrew
7And the eyes of them both were opened: and when they perceived themselves to be naked, they sewed together fig leaves, and made themselves aprons.
Matthew 8:20
View in: NAB Vulg Greek
20And Jesus saith to him: The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air nests: but the son of man hath not where to lay his head.
Luke 9:58
View in: NAB Vulg Greek
58Jesus said to him: The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.

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