Living the Corporal Works of Mercy

I’m sure many of you have heard of “The Good Samaritan Experiment.”

Here’s the idea behind the experiment: they gave theology students a presentation to prepare, one group on the Good Samaritan, another group on a different topic. They gave one group a time frame when they NEED to present their homily and another group no time constraint. Then they staged a man in need of help in the path of the students to see who would respond. Most researchers thought that the men who were on their way to give the presentation about the Good Samaritan would respond and the others might not. However, in actuality, the only variable that actually affected the experiment was time. Those without a time constraint stopped, while those with a time constraint did not. It certainly makes you think about how we pack our schedules.

It is important that we give ourselves the time to be moved with compassion like the Samaritan. How often do we act like the priest and Levite, ignoring the suffering around us by packing ourselves with a busy schedule? We have become a society that competes to be the busiest. I know that I’m guilty of this myself, but we need to set ourselves apart by becoming persons who make time to serve and maybe even empty our schedules a little so that we can respond to the spontaneous needs of others.

Feed the Hungry.

I think going to the soup kitchen on a regular basis is an amazing practice. When I was in college I had time to go every first Friday, a day in our Church where we remember the Sacred Heart and God’s mercy, so the correlation between this corporal act of mercy and the liturgical significance really made this act of service an impactful experience.

I suggest taking up the practice if you have the time. However, now that I am a full-time high school teacher and a mother to a one-year-old, I don’t really get down to the food kitchen. Feeding the hungry has become a more see-the-need, meet-the-need, sort of mission. I live near Atlanta, so when I go into the city, I try to bring food with me in my car. I prefer to bring bags that contain 2 PB&J sandwiches with a scripture verse written on the outside. That way when I see Christ in the hungry, I am able to fill Him rather than awkwardly look the other way. You can also always ask them what food they would like and then go and get it for them. I once took a woman shopping in Target for a week’s worth of groceries. it was unexpected and I had somewhere to be, but it was so gratifying to know I was able to truly help her.

Shelter the Homeless.

As a high school teacher, I am lucky enough to actually get to serve with my students. One of my favorite trips this past school year was to a women and children’s shelter where we ate meals, had great conversations, prayed with the women, and entertained the children with games and Bible studies.

If you don’t have a shelter in your town, or you have kids that are too young to accompany you to a shelter, consider making packages filled with toiletries, clothes, bedding, and feminine hygiene for the shelter closest to you. Consider fostering a child, adoption, opening your extra room to a single mom, or opening your house to missionaries in town.

While these opportunities to serve aren’t for every family, as Christians we are called to take in the homeless in some capacity, so pray that God would show you what His will is for you and your family.

Clothe the Naked.

Did you know that many clothing manufacturers follow questionable labor practices? It’s something that I hadn’t given much thought to until lately. So what does this have to do with clothing the naked? First, join me on a clothing fast and save your money by not buying clothes for a while. Then give what you honestly don’t wear away (and maybe some that you do for good sacrificing measure). I suggest giving to St. Vincent de Paul if you’re looking for a good charity. Be aware of what you buy, and admit that you don’t need that much clothing. Donating no longer needed baby clothes to the crisis pregnancy center near you is also good practice.

Visit the Sick and Imprisoned.

The only prison I’ve ever visited is in Nicaragua and I cried myself to sleep because of its conditions. While I would LOVE to do prison ministry at some point in my life, this doesn’t seem to be the season. However, we can all write letters, so here is a web page that will direct you as to how to write to someone on death row.

This is where I get a little creative: Though we may not have many terribly sick or imprisoned persons in our lives, I bet you all know someone who has recently welcomed a baby into their family. Visit them (if they are at that point), or bring them a meal, or offer to fold their laundry. They would love the company and the help. Visit your friends who are recovering from surgery, or offer to watch their family member who is in recovery and needs some company. Consider the suffering in those around you and how you can alleviate it.

Bury the Dead. 

This one seems obvious, but go to funerals of your dear ones. At this stage in my life, sadly, I know many women who have experienced loss through miscarriages. Be their loving support. Bring them food or offer a shoulder, just make it known that you care about their loss and their pain. Send a Mass card or prayer card when a friend’s loved one passes. Assure them of your prayers.

Give Alms to the Poor. 

Yes, give your money to the second collection, but also give of yourself. Pope Francis encourages us to encounter Christ on the streets, amongst the hurting and poor. Don’t let your children be your excuse to not serve. I love bringing my baby boy to the Missionaries of Charity’s shelter for women with AIDS. The women there adore him; they love to make him laugh and some even give him hugs. Obviously be prudent and keep your children’s safety as your priority, but also allow your children to be the light that they can be to the poor and lonely.


The corporal works of mercy are here for us as a guide to being bigger vessels for God’s love. Let’s exercise them and become ever more full of His love to share!

Written by Katherine Towery. Find out more about her here.

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