The spiritual works of mercy are to admonish the sinner, to instruct the ignorant, to counsel the doubtful, to comfort the sorrowful, to bear wrongs patiently, to forgive all injuries, and to pray for the living and the dead.
The corporal works of mercy are to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to ransom the captive, to harbor the harborless, to visit the sick, and to bury the dead.
When Peter Maurin talked about the necessity of practicing the works of mercy, he meant all of them. He envisioned houses of hospitality in poor parishes in every city of the country, where these precepts of our Lord could be put into effect. He pointed out that we have turned to the state through home relief, social legislation, and social security, that we no longer practice personal responsibility, but are repeating the words of the first murderer, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
The works of mercy are a wonderful stimulus to our growth in faith as well as love. Our faith is taxed to the utmost and so grows through this strain put upon it. It is pruned again and again, and springs up bearing much fruit. For anyone starting to live literally the words of the fathers of the church – “The bread you retain belongs to the hungry, the dress you lock up is the property of the naked”; “What is superfluous for one’s need is to be regarded as plunder if one retains it for one’s self” – there is always a trial ahead. “Our faith, more precious than gold, must be tried as though by fire.”
We must love to the point of folly, and we are indeed fools, as our Lord himself was who died for such a one as this.
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