We continue the 52-week plan to grow in Catholic Manhood by becoming a better Catholic Son and Catholic Father.

Last week, we continued reflecting upon Major Habit 6 – Perform Works of Mercy and reviewed Habit 21 – Perform the Corporal Works of Mercy.

We turn our attention to Habit 22.

Habit 22 – Perform the Spiritual Works of Mercy

Perform the Spiritual Works of Mercy through daily interactions with others and volunteering in the many ministries of the Church to Instruct the Ignorant, Counsel the Doubtful, Admonish Sinners, Bear Patiently with those who wrong you, Forgive Offenses, Comfort the Afflicted, Pray for the living and seek Indulgences for the Dead.

Does Jesus command men to perform Works of Mercy?

Yielding from the Virtue of Charity which calls a man to love God and love his neighbor (CCC 1822) is the fruit of “mercy” (CCC 1829), a type of love which selflessly ignores offenses by others and fills a man with compassion that recognizes and seeks to alleviate the suffering of another. As directed by Jesus Christ, who is Divine Mercy, the Holy Catholic Church urges every Catholic man to regularly perform Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. See here for more on Jesus’ command for men to perform Works of Mercy

What are the Works of Mercy?

The Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy (CCC 2447) are charitable actions by which men come to the aid of neighbors in their corporal (Latin corporalis, meaning “body”) and spiritual needs. The Works of Mercy performed by the men of Jesus Christ bear witness to Him and failing to perform the Works of Mercy is a sinful act of omission (CCC 1853) which Jesus warns will result in eternal damnation (Mt 25:46).

What are the Spiritual Works of Mercy?

The Spiritual Works of Mercy were established by the Church based on the teachings of Jesus Christ (CCC 2447) and are acts which every Catholic man should continually perform in his daily life. The Spiritual Works of Mercy are to: Instruct the Ignorant, Counsel the Doubtful, Admonish Sinners, Bear Patiently with those who wrong you, Forgive Offenses, Comfort the Afflicted, Pray for the living and seek Indulgences for the Dead.

How can a Catholic man Instruct the Ignorant?

In these days of poor catechesis and the failure of even “cradle Catholics” to understand the fullness of the faith, there are many who are at grave risk of eternal damnation because they do not understand, believe or hold firm to the essential life-saving doctrines of the Catholic faith. Every Catholic man is called and accountable to make disciples for Jesus Christ (Mt 28:16-20), beginning with his family, friends and many others.

Every Catholic man is called to perform the Spiritual Work of Mercy of Instructing the Ignorant in the Catholic faith. To do this, every Catholic man should ensure that he knows the faith and take firm action to evangelize and catechize others by personally witnessing and teaching the faith in one’s family, through his parish and spontaneously with the many people a man comes into contact with in his daily life. To encourage a man to teach the faith, the Church offers an Indulgence to those who teach Christian Doctrine (Manual of Indulgences  6) and also offers an Indulgence for giving explicit witness to the faith to another (Manual of Indulgences Grant 4 of the General Concessions).

How can a Catholic man Counsel the Doubtful?

In recent generations, millions have rejected God, turned to new moral codes and lifestyles which embrace mortal sin and the negative impact on individuals, families and society has been devastating. In addition to the grim reality that millions are willingly embracing mortal sin and risk eternal death and damnation, large numbers of people are confused, discouraged and doubtful as new ways of thinking and living have led to a loss of happiness and increasing mental and physical illness. When men reject God, mankind cannot flourish.

The truth of God and the way of His Holy Catholic Church is the light to the world that overcomes the darkness of confusion and doubt. Because he has been blessed by God, every Catholic man has the duty to offer the Spiritual Work of Mercy of Counseling the Doubtful to the suffering. Strengthened by the overflowing grace which comes to a Catholic man who lives a devout life, a Catholic man is filled with the Holy Spirit and is given the compassion and wisdom to help others overcome doubt by calling them to Jesus Christ and His Holy Catholic Church.

How can a Catholic man Admonish Sinners?

With the rejection of God, great evil has flourished in the world and thoughts and acts which directly oppose the moral law of God are now widely embraced as acceptable to the majority of people; many have fallen into mortal sin by willingly embracing evil and many are in danger. The epidemic of immoral behavior is obvious by measuring the thoughts and behaviors of the people of today using any ancient measure of moral law (The 10 Commandments, The 7 Deadly Sins, The Theological and Cardinal Virtues).

Though many in the Church today avoid the direct admonishment of sinners that Jesus Christ Himself so often used, every Catholic man is called to the great Spiritual Work of Mercy of Admonishing Sinners. Admonishing Sinners is a Spiritual Work of Mercy for it does not seek to punish sinners, but out of charity awaken them to their grave offense against God, others and themselves their sins cause, and to lead them to repentance and commitment to Christ. Every Catholic man must be guided by the Holy Spirit to grow in personal holiness so he can grow in love, wisdom and the prudence to effectively lead sinners to repent beginning with admonishment.

How can a Catholic man Bear Wrongs Patiently?

With the deepening confusion and conflict that necessarily comes to mankind when they rebel against God, the rejection of moral law is resulting in growing factionalism and bitter dissension among people in different “camps.” With the growing animosity, many who hold to the truth of Christ and His Holy Catholic Church are targets of attack and persecution, just as Jesus revealed. In addition to persecution due to moral differences, there remains the every day kinds of wrongs which routinely occurs in a world of sinners.    

While God has given men a natural ability and motivation to fight and defend in order to survive, every Catholic man is called to the Spiritual Work of Mercy to Bear Wrongs Patiently. Rather than the impulse to fight fire with fire, a Catholic man is to consider his longterm purpose to build the Kingdom of God and to often (but not always) respond to wrongs with patient acceptance and gentleness, as Christ endured the Passion. Patient endurance of sorrows of being wronged help a man mortify his pride in the service of Christ and also are an example which witnesses to others of the evil of doing wrong and the blessings of patient love.

How can a Catholic man Forgive Offenses Willingly?

The unavoidable result of Original Sin, which is growing as many now refuse Baptism and remain stained with Original Sin, and the lingering tendency to sin even when baptized (concupiscence), every man both sins against others and is sinned against by others countless times over a lifetime. Over time, every man experiences the pain and sorrow of the sins others commit against him, including the deep wounds which leave scars and are difficult to forgive and forget.

In imitation of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who said from the Cross, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34) and urged men to forgive others (Mt 6:12), every Catholic man is called to the Spiritual Work of Mercy to Forgive Offenses Willingly. The heroic ability and willingness of a Catholic man to forgive others is the result of drawing closer to God through the devout practice of the Catholic faith, and in particular, to grow in the virtues of humility (against pride which amplifies offenses) and meekness (against wrath which seeks retribution). Like Bearing Wrongs Patiently, Forgiving Offenses Willingly helps a man draw closer to God and is a witness of love to those who offend.

How can a Catholic man Comfort the Afflicted?

As sin continues to grow in a society that rejects God and moral law, more and more people are suffering from the mental anguish of abandonment, loneliness, confusion, anxiety and fear. In addition, as human beings, every person also experiences the suffering of disease, injury, aging and death. Sadly, with the growth of self-centeredness, the widespread choice to accept few children in families, the failure to marry and to stay married, the breakdown of social connections, many people, including growing numbers of the elderly, suffer in their afflictions alone and with little support.

Every Catholic man, in imitation of Christ, is called to the Spiritual Work of Comforting the Afflicted (literally, to be “tormented and crushed”). Comforting others begins with drawing closer to Jesus Christ through the practice of the Catholic faith and experiencing the reality of His mercy, which leads a man to desire to be merciful to others, to grow in awareness of the suffering all around them, and to be helped by the Holy Spirit to respond to the afflicted by being present, empathetic, cheerful, hopeful, and helpful in Christ. Comforting the Afflicted can be a powerful and fruitful way to evangelize others by helping them find meaning and to endure suffering in Jesus Christ and His Holy Catholic Church.

How can a Catholic man Pray for the Living and the Dead?

As the world becomes more conflicted and every man develops his own “religion”, a core strategy of Satan is to promote the denial of God and to shut down the public discussion of God and acts of faith. Public prayer is legally opposed, stigmatized, and mocked by those who oppose God and there is growing cultural intimidation against public expression of faith as being presumptuous, “phobic” in some way, and offensive. With the decline in those who believe in God, growing numbers of people do not pray and do not know how to pray.

In stark contrast to the suppression of prayer, Jesus Christ calls every Catholic man to the Spiritual Work of Mercy to Pray for the Living and the Dead and promises that a man’s prayers are heard and answered by God (Mt 7:7). As a Catholic man increases his personal prayer for himself and others, he experiences the reality of God’s response to prayer and grows in competence and confidence to publicly offer to pray for others. Rather than offending people, when a Catholic man offers to pray out of love for those who are suffering he often finds that people are moved and grateful; simply asking for a person’s name and committing to pray is a powerful act of faith which comforts and can lead to conversion. Every Catholic man is also called to pray for the faithfully departed and is promised by Christ’s Church that his indulged prayers actually reduce the suffering of those in Purgatory (Manual of Indulgences 29.2).

How can a Catholic man build a habit of performing Spiritual Works of Mercy?

Jesus Christ demonstrates not only the teaching of the Works of Mercy but the zealous and vigorous performance of the Works of Mercy as the central part of a man’s life.

Here are some ideas to help a man build a habit of performing the Spiritual Works of Mercy:

Keep the Spiritual Works of Mercy top of mind – Regularly meditate upon the Spiritual Works of Mercy and ask God to help you recognize and take action to help guide others to Christ and His Holy Catholic Church; seek to see the world through the “lens” of the Spiritual Works of Mercy.  Hold yourself accountable by regularly examining your conscience on how well  you are performing Spiritual Works of Mercy, including in preparation for reception of the Sacrament of Penance.

Perform the Spiritual Works of Mercy for Family and Neighbors – Every Catholic man is called to mature into becoming a Catholic Father who leads many to become adopted children of God.  As a Catholic Son and Catholic Father, every Catholic man must naturally perform many Spiritual Works of Mercy for his parents, siblings, extended family and his wife and children.

While it can be difficult to perform the Spiritual Works of Mercy for those who know a man best and just how sinful he is, especially when family members are far from God, every Catholic man can be confident if he desires to cooperate with God by performing Works of Mercy and constantly seeks God’s guidance and help, he will be led and strengthened by God to know when and how to perform the Spiritual Works of Mercy with his extended family.

Through God’s mysterious and incomprehensible Divine Dominion and Providence, every Catholic man is purposefully led to live in a specific time, in a specific place with specific people; there are no accidents with God, and every person a man comes into contact with are a blessing on his pilgrimage towards Heaven. Every Catholic man must be continually on the lookout for ways to perform the Spiritual Works of Mercy for those whom God has blessed him to meet, particularly his neighbors.

Perform Works of Mercy in the Parish – Beyond his Works of Mercy for his family and his neighbors, every Catholic man’s parish is his extended family, for every member of a parish is one of a man’s brothers or sisters in Jesus Christ.

To perform the Spiritual Works of Mercy in his parish, every Catholic man has different gifts and skills which he can offer in service to his parish as a: catechist, a mentor to young men, lector, usher, choir member, volunteer for events, adorer for Adoration, trustee or committee member, school leader or volunteer, grounds keeper, organizer of men’s ministry, as a deacon or many other ways of service.

Perform Works of Mercy in the Church – Every Catholic man is a member of the Catholic Church Militant, the Catholic Church on earth. While a man’s focus must be on his family and parish, some men are called to help build the Church on a broader scale. Based on a man’s God-given skills and calling, he may be moved to serve in roles in his diocese (men’s movement, fundraising, schools, seminary, Catholic Charities, etc) or to serve the Church in an even broader way through mission work or other types of service.

Perform Works of Mercy in the Society – Every Catholic man’s priority must be to build the Kingdom of Christ; this necessitates that the major focus of men’s Works of Mercy outside of the family, neighbors and parish, should be to support Catholic institutions. Under no circumstances should a Catholic man ever support or become involved in any institution that engages in, or promotes activities that draw people into sin or directly contradict or attack the Church in any way.

Depending on his gifts and calling, a Catholic man may perform Spiritual Works of Mercy through his worldly work, in government or in support of special charities (e.g. counselor, teacher, hospice volunteer, etc.).

This week’s questions

Here are some questions to meditate upon:

Do I have a good understanding of my calling to perform the Spiritual Works of Mercy?

Which of the Spiritual Works of Mercy move my soul at the present time?

This week’s commitments

Making a habit a reality requires commitment to concrete action. Here are this week’s challenges:

Make a commitment to review the Spiritual Works of Mercy on a regular basis, including in preparation to receive the Sacrament of Penance.

Pick one Spiritual Work of Mercy and commit to take some concrete actions to practice it during the next week.

Don’t forget to pray with the ECM Daily Gospel Devotional each day.

Consider listening to the EveryCatholicMan.com Gospel Devotional Podcast to be better prepared for Sunday Mass.

Daily Prayer

During the week, pray this short prayer, or one like it, to more generously perform the Spiritual Works of Mercy:

Jesus, Divine Mercy, help me to imitate Your example of performing many Spiritual Works of Mercy and guide me to see with eyes of mercy and to take concrete action when I see others You are calling me to help guide to You and Your Holy Catholic Church. Amen.