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.
To 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 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 (Partial Indulgence MOI 6) and also offers an Indulgence for giving explicit witness to the faith to another (Partial Indulgence MOI Grant 4 of the General Concessions).
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 the sorrowful to Jesus Christ and His Holy Catholic Church.
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 (see “Jesus’ Practice of Admonishing Sinners” p ___), 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.
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.
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 helps a man draw closer to God and is a witness of love to those who offend.
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 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.
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 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 (Partial Indulgence MOI 29.2).