Corporal Works of Mercy

  • To feed the hungry;
  • To give drink to the thirsty;
  • To clothe the naked;
  • To harbour the harbourless;
  • To visit the sick;
  • To ransom the captive;
  • To bury the dead

Spiritual Works of Mercy

  • To instruct the ignorant;
  • To counsel the doubtful;
  • To admonish sinners;
  • To bear wrongs patiently;
  • To forgive offences willingly;
  • To comfort the afflicted;
  • To pray for the living and the dead

The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned and burying the dead.

The spiritual and corporal works of mercy seek to help alleviate material  deprivation, unjust oppression, physical and psychological illness and death. The spiritual and corporal works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily needs..

Everyone is obliged to perform the works of mercy, according to his own ability and the need of his neighbor. It is important to remember that ordinary deeds done every day to relieve the corporal or spiritual needs of others are true works of mercy, if done in the name of Christ.

The Corporal Works of Mercy are primarily drawn from Jesus’ Last Judgment discourse. (Matthew 25:31-40)  The Spiritual Works of Mercy are drawn from a variety of Old and New Testament sources such as:

My brothers, if someone is living in sin, you who live by the Spirit should gently set him right. (Galatians 6:1)

As a mother comforts her son, so I will comfort you.  (Isaiah 66:13)

Bear with one another; forgive whatever grievances you have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you. (Colossians 3:12)



Hunger may be physical or spiritual. We need both food for the body and spiritual nourishment. Through scripture we know that Jesus fed the hungry and met spiritual needs of followers and strangers.

Meeting the needs of the hungry is our ministry to others. Caretakers, who provide for the sick or dying, may not have the energy to shop or cook. Providing meals to a friend during a difficult time, is an effective act of charity. The elderly or homebound appreciate visits and a meal. A good meal – accompanied by a warm heart and a generous ear – nourishes the spirit as well as the body. So visiting the sick is a two-fer, ministering to body and soul.

The hunger for food for the body and food for the soul is enormous.  It is much easier at times to recognize those who are hungering for material needs.  But we need to see and hear with the eyes and ears of Jesus who never assumed a person had material needs alone.  “Your sins are forgiven, pick up your mat.”

Jesus fed the 5,000 with loaves and fishes. He met Matthew, the tax collector and called Zacchaeus from a tree to share a meal in their homes. Jesus visited Mary and Martha and comforted them upon the death of their brother Lazarus. He made breakfast for Peter and the disciples after the resurrection. We are called to meet the physical and spiritual needs of others as Jesus did in homes, fields, and on the shore.

There are many instances of Jesus healing, the lame, the blind, the deaf, the possessed but He never ignored the needs of the soul either.  The Samaritan woman at the well was looking for an easy way to fill her bucket with water and Jesus promised her “water” that would make her never thirst again.  Jesus recognized the duality of human needs.

In his final judgment discourse (Matthew 25:31-40), Jesus turned away the “goats” who did not give any food to the least of these brethren. Jesus’ admonition to us is then later supported in the Letter of James who reminds us it is not enough to have faith in Jesus; our behavior needs to imitate Jesus.

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. “(James 2:14-18)

There are many people in this world who go without food.  So much of our food goes to waste. Consider how good stewardship practices of your own food habits can benefit others who do not have those same resources.

One suggestion I might make is to be active in our local community. Almost every community has a food bank or emergency food pantry where they distribute food to families in need. Additionally, many communities have “soup kitchens,” where they offer weekly or daily meals for those in need.

Giving donations to groups like food banks is certainly important, but that still leaves us a little removed.  Experience the poor and needy by volunteering.  Get our hands “dirty” so to speak. Be in solidarity with the poor.  It is a life changer.  Compassion and mercy comes from experience of those in need. Giving money to someone else to do this work is not going to do it.  Get out there and become one with Jesus. “Whatever you do to one of these least of my brethren, you do to me!” 


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