Works of Mercy -- Penitent Apostolate
How merciful God is!
We penitents, perhaps more than other folks, understand and love God's mercy, for we know that we have entered upon the path of penance (conversion) because God has been merciful to us. Were it not for God's mercy, we would yet be mired in our sins. We are not perfect, we know, but at least we now recognize and acknowledge our shortcomings. We at least try to steer clear of sin now instead of toying with it or even wallowing in it as we once did. We attempt to replace sin with good actions and prayers, not always succeeding but certainly sincerely trying. We thank God for having called us to this life of penance, of conversion.
Because God has been merciful to us, He calls us to be merciful to others. Because God has loved us, He calls us to love others. Love and mercy create a mystical, spiritual spiral which funnels us toward the heart of God.
The Confraternity of Penitents has a Prayer, Mission, Motto, and Action. The Action of the CFP combines the Prayer, Motto, and Mission into a goal for each penitent.
The Action of the Confraternity of Penitents is "To pray for God's specific direction in one's life so that, through humbly living our Rule of Life, each penitent may help to rebuild the house of God by bringing love of God and neighbor to his or her own corner of the world."
Prayer helps us individually to discern how God wishes to use us personally to rebuild the Church. Any successful rebuilding must have love of God and neighbor as its foundation. The love of God and of neighbor is manifest in the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy. Each penitent is to engage in a specific apostolate which involves at least one of these works of mercy. Because we penitents are flung worldwide, the Confraternity does not mandate one specific apostolate, other than prayer, which each member is to embrace. Rather, we trust that God will give each of us our own apostolate involving one or more of these merciful works.
What sorts of works do the Works of Mercy encompass?
The Spiritual Works of Mercy minister to the soul. They are:
Instruct the ignorant: Teaching nursery school, day care, college, religious education; RCIA; home schooling; vocational school; adult education; vocational rehabilitation; skills instruction; teaching children in one's role as parent; subscribe someone to an instructive magazine; pass on an article or book that touched you; mentor someone and share your skills and knowledge; give surplus books and magazines to a senior center, school, library, or mail to an organization that distributes them to underprivileged nations.
Advise the doubtful: Formal and informal counseling on all levels and in all areas; letter writing; phone calls; advising children and peers; encouraging the depressed; psychological and psychiatric therapy; guidance counseling; offering sincere compliments; write letters of appreciation to government officials, business people, employees; write the wait person a compliment when you pay your restaurant bill; write love notes to family members and hide them in their dresser drawers, lunch boxes, or coat pockets; befriend a new classmate, fellow employee, or neighbor;
Correct sinners: Writing, speaking, witnessing for the faith; teaching religious education; adult education; standing up for God's righteousness; letters to the editor; calling in on talk shows; picketing. This work of mercy must be done in union with the following ones on patience, forgiveness, and comfort, because all correction must be given in charity and with sensitivity toward the feelings of the one being corrected.
Be patient with those in error or who do wrong: Parenting; charity toward employees; teaching on all levels; put money in someone else's expired parking meter; help someone find something lost; give a gift of flowers or a plant to someone who rubs you the wrong way (you might even do it secretly); listen attentively.
Forgive offenses: Not only those done to us personally but also those done to others and done by institutions, employers, governments, subordinates, clergy and religious, those in authority, and our children, spouses, and relatives; recommend someone you may see as a competitor.
Comfort the afflicted: Offering a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, a hug, a pat on the back; sending sympathy cards; bringing meals; cleaning house, or running errands for shut ins or those suffering loss of loved ones; repairing or replacing broken treasures and toys; giving a gift of flowers; take a day trip or a movie with a person who needs some cheering up; share a funny comic strip or joke; visit those in hospitals or nursing homes who have no visitors; write a note of encouragement to someone who has received sad news; collect stuffed toys for the hospital to give to traumatized children; say "Good morning" to everyone you meet; pass on positive news; put copies of inspirational poems or sayings on the company bulletin board or water cooler; put inspirational books in public areas.
Pray for the living and the dead: Offering Masses; praying chaplets, novenas, or rosaries; praying for intentions of others; prayerful use of relics and sacramentals as tools of intercession; distribution of prayer cards; organizing prayer services, retreats, missions, days of reflection; tell someone you love them and are praying for them.
The Corporal Works of Mercy minister to the physical body. They are:
Feed the hungry: In one's family; soup kitchen work; donating to and working in food pantries; giving money to charities combating world hunger; collecting for the needy; giving away or selling reasonably garden produce; donating to bake sales for charitable causes; all types of kitchen work whether for free or as employment; growing food; farming; raising livestock, fish, fowl for consumption; pot luck dinners, cooking for an ill or infirm neighbor; driving someone without a car to the grocery; invite those who live alone for a meal including holiday meals; leave a muffin or cookies for your garbage collector, paper carrier, teacher, police or fire station, town hall, or mail delivery person or give them a gift of fruit, flowers, or potted plant; help folks load their groceries into their cars or hold their umbrella if it's raining; bring to work a birthday cake for a colleague; treat someone to lunch; give gift certificates for food; volunteer for "Meals on Wheels".
Give drink to the thirsty: All of those listed under Feed the hungry as well as building water pipelines and digging wells; contributing money toward alleviation of thirst; donating beverages to social gatherings; working for clean water laws; sewage treatment plant work; bring a cup of coffee or tea to a colleague; buy a box of popsicles to share on a hot day.
Clothe the naked: Donating used clothing; conducting clothing drives; making sure one's family is adequately clothed; mending; sewing; tailor work; clothing designer; raising natural fibers and animal products for clothing; working in or managing used clothing shops.
Shelter the homeless: Working in and supporting homeless shelters; renting rooms or apartments; building work; contracting; taking in boarders; managing guest houses and retreat centers; stop over shelters; safe houses for runaways and abuse victims; homes for unwed or single mothers; working with street children; half way houses; live in treatment centers; group homes; adopting; foster care; working in orphanages; housecleaning; interior design; making furniture; home furnishings and crafts; inventing; plant trees and flowers.
Visit the sick and imprisoned: Visiting by phone call, letter, email, or in person those in hospitals, institutions, prisons, shelters, half way houses; working for justice for the imprisoned, handicapped, marginalized; become a voluntary companion for an elderly person; share musical or story telling talents with the elderly; take the elderly places; offer manicures or hair dressing to nursing home residents; offer to babysit; buy disposable diapers for a new mom; push someone's wheelchair; do chores for the homebound.
Ransom the captive: Buying back those enslaved; prolife work; working for justice for oppressed; rescuing abuse victims; reporting abuse; assistance for those suffering from addictions, handicaps, social and sexual deviations; working for peace; clean up graffiti; offer to switch with a colleague when they need a day off; offer to write letters for someone who can't.
Bury the dead: Attending funerals; funeral home work; putting past offenses to rest; aid of any sort to survivors.
These are only a few of the ways in which penitents can and do engage in the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.
There are many other ways to show mercy, which don't fit neatly into the above categories but which do show love of God and of neighbor. Some of those ways are:
Return shopping carts to the store; write thank you letters; shovel someone's sidewalk or mow their law without pay; hold the door open for someone; give your place in the grocery line to someone with only a few items; pick up trash; do someone else's chores; give up your parking spot to someone else; offer to do a distasteful job; raise money for charity; leave money secretly at a needy person's house or mail it to them anonymously; share photos with those in them; donate blood; help someone in trouble; play with your children; help someone carry packages; help a mother carry a stroller up and down stairs; buy a raffle ticket for someone else (they might win); take out someone's trash.
Please email us with any additional ways in which works of mercy can be performed.
May God inspire each penitent to perform the works of mercy to which He has called each and may every work of mercy be truly merciful and centered in love.
Mary McGarry and Madeline Pecora Nugent