National Catholic Reporter
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Moments in Time
Issue Date:  December 12, 2003

The Spiritual Works of Mercy

By Gary Macy

Most people know about the corporal works of mercy, but the spiritual works seem to have lapsed. This is a pity, since they are often desperately needed. Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologiae, faithfully records and describes the spiritual works of mercy.

The list includes prayer, probably the most obvious and usually the most needed. Next is instructing the ignorant, a virtue that warms the heart of educators, but extends to all who find themselves in political discussions. Counseling and comforting follow and are the two merciful acts that need little comment. Everyone needs them sometimes, and most people have opportunities to provide them equally often. Reproving the reprobate has to be the most fun of all of the works of mercy, while pardoning injuries against ourselves is certainly the most difficult.

Finally, the act of mercy that demands the greatest fortitude, patience and antacid must be bearing with the annoying. Thomas describes it in this way, “Thirdly, in respect of the result of an inordinate act, on account of which the sinner is an annoyance to those who live with him or her, despite his or her intention; in which case the remedy is applied by bearing with them, especially with regard to those who sin out of weakness … and not only as regards their being infirm and consequently troublesome on account of their unruly actions, but also by bearing any other burdens of theirs with them.”

So the next time you refrain from strangling certain of your coworkers, just remember, you have gained merit in heaven.

Gary Macy is a theology professor at the University of San Diego.

National Catholic Reporter, December 12, 2003

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