Living the Works of Mercy

Lara Patangan’s new book, Simple Mercies: How the Works of Mercy Bring Peace and Fulfillment, provides practical, do-able ways to live the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy in your family and community.

We have the tendency to think too small when we think about the Works of Mercy – or maybe we’re thinking too big? We look at some of them and think we can’t possibly do things like Visiting the Imprisoned, and that the 42,578th sippy cup of water we’ve just handed to our toddler doesn’t count as Giving Drink to the Thirsty.

The thing is: we don’t have to make a big splash when we do a Work of Mercy. Filling yet another sippy cup, sharing your child’s outgrown but gently-used clothes with a family for their younger children, bringing a plate of cookies to a new neighbor, and praying for the repose of the soul of a friend’s parent might seem like small things to us (the doer) but they have big meaning for the receiver.

A couple of years ago, two close family members had medical crises, one on top of the other. I was spending part of the week helping my parents handle the situation there, more than 100 miles from my own family, where another situation was unfolding. My husband let me know that friends had started just showing up with hot dinners in their hands. That pan of lasagna fed us for a couple of meals so we didn’t have to think about shopping and cooking — and I know that our friends were happy to do this and would say, “Oh, it was nothing.” Truly, it was not nothing. It was a big thing. 

Corporal Works of Mercy

Corporal Works of Mercy are very concrete ways of being a living sign of God’s love in the world, but concrete doesn’t have to be complicated. Consider these ideas to try with your family:

  • If your children are old enough, designate someone to be the server each night, and give them the special task of waiting on others. (Feed the Hungry)
  • Raise money for an organization that provides clean drinking water. (Give Drink to the Thirsty)
  • Encourage your children to get involved by adopting a family at Christmas or donating backpacks at the beginning of a school year. (Clothe the Naked)
  • Collect socks, underwear, and toiletries to help with [the] basic needs [of the homeless]. (Shelter the Homeless)
  • Have [children] make a homemade card, take over the chores of those who don’t feel well, and ask sick family members how they can best comfort them. (Visit the Sick)
  • Visit the homebound, those in nursing homes, and the lonely. (Visit the Imprisoned)
  • Teach your children to attend funerals, send sympathy cards, and make meals for the bereaved. (Bury the Dead)

Spiritual Works of Mercy

Similarly, Lara’s breakdowns of the Spiritual Works of Mercy demonstrate how we can involve our families in living these Works of Mercy in creative ways:

  • Encourage your children to speak up for those who can’t advocate for themselves. (Admonish the Sinner)
  • Do a family Bible study, saint of the week, or watch a religious movie together and discuss it. (Instruct the Ignorant)
  • Demonstrate how you turn to God during difficult times and seek friends who listen with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. (Counsel the Doubtful)
  • Help (family members) facilitate a random act of kindness for someone else that will spread joy to their own heart. (Comfort the Sorrowful)
  • Point out times when (your children) are being patient or someone is being patient with them. (Bear Wrongs Patiently)
  • Teach your children how to make a good apology. (Forgive Injuries)
  • Keep a prayer list for family members’ special intentions. (Pray for the Living and the Dead)

In each chapter of Simple Mercies, Lara begins with a quote that sets the tone for the chapter, then discusses the kinds of opportunities for experiencing a particular Work of Mercy in our own lives, families, work, church and communities. God is never left out of the equation, as Lara frequently references the graces God gives us to carry out works of mercy in His name, with love. Later in each chapter, you’ll find a section titled “Mercy Works: Try It” which lists ideas for applying each Work of Mercy in your family, community, and personal relationship with God. Chapters conclude with reflection questions (perfect for journaling on your own, or for discussion at your book club or parish faith-sharing group), and a concluding prayer.

Lara observes, 

The works of mercy aren’t just another gimmick. They are game-changers. When I tried these works of mercy as an alternative to the creed of the secular world, I found less striving, less busying, less dissatisfaction, less emptiness, and more time for my relationship with God, my family, and the people I love. I found more meaning, more compassion, and more clarity than I’d ever found in anything the world offered. (196-97)

If you want to know how to make small changes in your life that have a big impact on others, read this book.

Simple Mercies is available from Our Sunday Visitor. Download the free study guide with discussion questions you can use on your own or with friends to explore the Works of Mercy in more depth.


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Image: Stencil

This article contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links benefits my work. Thanks!