Viewpoint: The Holy Year, Part Two: The Corporal Works of Mercy

by M. Francis Mannion

In last week’s column, I encouraged readers to participate in the Holy Year of Mercy through pilgrimages, retreats, and special liturgies.

I said that Catholics who are unable to participate in formal exercises should enter into the spirit of the Year of Mercy by devising their own personal programs based on the spiritual works of mercy.

This week, I would like to propose the corporal works of mercy as a way of participating in the Holy Year.

The corporal works of mercy are:

To Feed the Hungry. If every Catholic in America were to participate in some way in feeding the poor, it is unlikely that anybody in our nation would go to bed hungry. What can a Catholic do practically? Work one day a week in a food kitchen; buy bread and cheese and bring them to agencies that feed the poor; cut back on one’s own consumption of food; contribute to special collections that provide food for the hungry.

To Give Drink to the Thirsty: What I have just said about feeding the hungry applies in many ways to those who are thirsty. Cut back on soft drinks; lower your consumption of alcohol; discontinue buying and consuming bottled water (it’s not a bit better than water from your kitchen tap). What you save will allow you to contribute to agencies that provide water in drought-stricken regions of the world.

To Clothe the Naked. Empty out your wardrobe of clothes you rarely wear; give away excessive clothing; think twice about buying expensive clothes; and give the money to an agency that provides clothing to the poor, especially in winter. All too often we hear of people freezing to death during the coldest time of the year.

To Shelter the Homeless. Homelessness is an epidemic in our society. The Church and other agencies work tirelessly to provide shelter for street people, especially in winter. Again, we can contribute substantively and on an ongoing basis to homeless shelters; and we can volunteer our services at such facilities.

To Visit the Sick. Visiting sick relatives and friends is something that comes relatively easy to us. But often sick and elderly people live alone and are rarely visited. Every member of the Catholic household, including the young, can visit the sick and the home-bound. Adults can take elderly neighbors to the doctor, pharmacy, or shopping, help cleaning the yard in the fall, invite them to holiday dinners or bring dinner to their homes.

To Visit the Imprisoned. This is a difficult task to fulfil, as getting into a prison nowadays is virtually impossible. But nearly everyone knows someone who is in prison. We can write to them, send cards for holidays and birthdays, and contribute to the work of prison chaplaincies. Contact a prison chaplain and ask him what one can do to assist his ministry. Most of all, pray for the imprisoned.

To Bury the Dead. We need to get away from the uniquely modern notion that funerals are private affairs, and begin to attend the funerals of neighbors and of people we may not know very well; help with funeral lunches; and pray for neighbors, especial those who have died. We can visit the graves of the deceased on a regular basis and place flowers and wreaths on graves at holiday time.

If every Catholic were to select even one of the items listed here and carry it through between now and December 8 (the conclusion of the Holy Year) what a wonderful thing that would be in the eyes of God!

Msgr. Mannion is pastor emeritus of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Salt Lake City. Reprinted by permission of Catholic News Agency.


  1. How do I get this post copied, please? I’d like to put it up in Church. And my abilities with IT are very limited !


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