The Works of Mercy
When Jesus was asked which of the commandments was the greatest, He responded by saying, "The foremost is . . . you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, you shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:29-31). If we love God, naturally, we will love our neighbor for the love of Him. How do we show God that we love our neighbor for the love of Him? We do this by performing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. What are the works of mercy? They are acts of love that help our neighbor in body or in soul.
The corporal works of mercy are based on Matthew 25:31-46, and are acts of love toward our neighbor to help him in his bodily needs. These are to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to visit the imprisoned, to shelter the homeless, to visit the sick, and to bury the dead.
To feed the hungry is to help others obtain bodily nourishment. This can be done by supporting the missions, bringing food to the poor, preparing meals, or even grocery shopping. To give drink to the thirsty is to help others satisfy their need for drink. To clothe the naked is to help others with clothing, or to help them obtain clothing. This can be done by donating old clothes to the proper organizations, helping others dress themselves, and by ironing and washing clothing. To visit the imprisoned is to not only visit those who are imprisoned or shut in, but also helping or protecting those who are in hindrance or in danger of freedom. So fighting for one's country would be included in this particular work of mercy. To shelter the homeless is to help others find or preserve shelter. This can be done by taking in visitors or by doing household chores. To visit the sick is to help in any way those who are sick or not well. To bury the dead is to respect the bodies of the dead, by attending funerals and taking care of grave sites.
The spiritual works of mercy are acts of love toward our neighbor to help him in the needs of his soul. These 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.
To admonish the sinner is to bring others to the recognition of the evil of sin, helping them to avoid sin or helping them to do what they need to do regarding their sin. To instruct the ignorant is to help others learn the truths necessary for salvation. To counsel the doubtful is to help others achieve certainty regarding what is right. To comfort the sorrowful is to help those in sorrow and avoid causing others sorrow. To bear wrongs patiently is to accept any injustices that one encounters, and to bear them with patience. To forgive all injuries is to pardon all wrongs without exception. To pray for the living and the dead is to pray for each and every person, especially those who are in most need of them.
But this is not an exhaustive list. Any act in which we help our neighbor, especially when done out of love, is a work of mercy. Why should we be so eager to help our neighbor? Because, as Jesus said, "As long as you did it for one of these, the least of my brothers, you did it for me" (Matt. 25:40).