The Spiritual Works of Mercy
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877
Q. Which are the principal spiritual works of mercy?
A. 1. Admonishing sinners. 2. Advising those in doubt. 3. Consoling the afflicted. 4. Bearing patiently with injustice. 5. Forgiving those who offend us. 6. Instructing the ignorant. 7. Praying for the living and the dead. Do whatever lies in your power in order to prevent your neighbor from committing sin, and to promote within him the growth of virtue and piety.
Q. How may this be done?
A. By instruction, example, direction, reproof, correction, and the exercise of the just authority possessed by parents and superiors, as also by prayer. Whoever is thus zealously attentive to promote his neighbor's salvation, strives himself after Christian perfection; for the truths of faith, which impel him to labor for the spiritual welfare of his fellow-men, incite him with still greater zeal to strive to secure the great object of his own salvation. If God so richly rewards the works of corporal mercy by graces here and glory hereafter, how much richer and more glorious must be the recompense awarded in eternity to spiritual works of mercy. This is clearly manifested in the lives of the saints.
Q. What does Holy Scripture say of these works of spiritual mercy?
A. "God gave to every one of them a commandment concerning his neighbor." (Eccle. xii) "He must know that he who causeth a sinner to be converted from the error of his way shall save his soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins." (Jam. v. 20) "In this we have known the charity of God, because He hath laid down His life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." (John, iii. 16) "I have become all to all, in order to gain all for Christ." (1 Cor. ix. 22)
Q. What motives are best calculated to inflame our zeal in the practice of works of spiritual mercy?
A. 1. Reflection on the great dignity of human nature, man being the image of God.
2. The consideration of man's priceless value in the sight of the Divinity, as he has been bought, redeemed, and sanctified by the blood of the Messiah.
3. The relation in which our neighbor stands to us as a brother or sister in Adam and in Christ.
4. The reflection of the inestimable value of spiritual works of mercy according to the words of St. Chrysostom: "A spiritual work of mercy surpasses in value all the corporal works of mercy which a person might exercise in one act towards all mankind."
5. The infinite pleasure with which God regards such works; they may even be said to elevate us to the dignity of co-operators with God when zealously and lovingly performed. Oh, with what unbounded delight do not Jesus and Mary look upon the endeavors of such as strive to prevent Christ's merits and sufferings from proving fruitless to the souls of the redeemed!
6. The guarantee for salvation thus obtained.
7. The ineffable reward in heaven, and the eternal participation in the joys of those who have been delivered from a sinful condition or sanctified by our efforts. Whoever will meditate on these and similar considerations will, without doubt, feel his heart inflamed with a burning desire to procure the salvation of souls. He will frequently exclaim, with St, Francis Xavier, from the depths of his fervent heart: "O Lord, give me souls."
On The Spiritual Works of Mercy
Richard Challoner, 1859
Consider lst, that the spiritual works of mercy, by which we believe our neighbors in the necessities of their souls, are of far greater value in the sight of God, than such as merely relate to their bodies. If then he is pleased to promise such ample rewards, to the feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and such like good works, which relate only to those corruptible carcasses, and to the short time of our mortal pilgrimage; how much more will he esteem and reward those works of mercy and charity, by which immortal souls, made after God's own image, and redeemed by, the blood of Christ, are drawn out of darkness and sin, rescued from Satan and hell, and brought to God and a happy eternity? "He that causeth a sinner to be converted from the error of his way," saith the Scripture, "shall save his soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins (James v. 20)," "And they that instruct many to justice, shall shine as stars for all eternity (Dan. xii. 3)."
Consider secondly, that the spiritual works of mercy are principally exercised, by reclaiming sinners from their evil ways, even the ways of death and hell, by admonitions, remonstrances, fraternal corrections, &c.; by enlightening and instructing such as through ignorance are in danger of losing their precious souls, or by procuring them this light and instruction from other proper persons ; by comforting the afflicted, encouraging the pusillanimous, upholding and assisting them that are under temptations, reconciling such as are at variance, bearing with all, forgiving all, overcoming evil with good, and praying for all. O how happy, how precious in the sight of God, is a life spent in such works of mercy and charity, as these are and how happy will that death he that shall conclude such a life! O my soul, that we may lead such a life! O that we may die such a death!
Consider 3dly, that these spiritual works of mercy, are not only the most acceptable of all, and the most meritorious in the sight of God, but also are of strict obligation, and this not only to pastors, but to all other Christians, according to their circumstances and abilities. Charity is a virtue of universal obligation, and the principal object of that love, which charity obliges us to have for our neighbors, is the eternal welfare of their immortal souls. lf then we can unconcernedly see numbers of souls crowding into hell, without affording them all the help that lies our power in order to rescue them from that extremity of enless misery, is it not evident, that we have no charity for them, and if not, may not our case one day be as bad as theirs?
What then must we do? We must gladly lay hold of every opportunity of contributing what lies in us to the conversion and salvation to any one of these poor unhappy souls, and we shall quickly find that opportunities of this nature will not be wanting, if we take the matter to heart. At least there are two ways, and those the most effectual of all, of reclaiming sinners and bringing them to God, which are certainly in the power of every one, and from which no one can be excused; and these are the example of a holy life, and the efficacy of fervent prayer poured out to God in behalf of poor sinners.
Conclude ever to make use of these two, the most effectual lays of bringing sinners to God; yet so, as not to neglect any other means that lie in thy power. What a comfort will it be to thee, what an honor, what a happiness, to be the instrument of God, in the salvation of souls; that same great work, which brought the Son of God from heaven! but what dreadful punishments mayest thou not justly apprehend, if for want of this charity, any of these souls should perish, because thou wouldst not lend them a helping hand, to withdraw them from the precipice to which they were running! Ah! will not their blood one day cry to heaven for vengeance against thee!
Prayer for the Conversion of Sinners
O Mary, Mother of Perpetual Help, thou knowest so well the great value of an immortal soul. Thou knowest what it means, that every soul has been redeemed by the Blood of thy Divine Son; thou wilt then not despise my prayer, if I ask from thee the conversion of a sinner, nay, a great sinner who is rapidly hurrying on towards eternal ruin. Thou, O good, merciful Mother, knowest well his irregular life.
Remember, then, that thou art the refuge of sinners, remember that God has given thee power to bring about the conversion of even the most wretched sinners. All that has been done for his soul has been unsuccessful; if thou dost not come to his assistance, he will go from bad to worse. Obtain for him an effectual grace that he may be moved and brought back to God and his duties. Send him, if necessary, temporal calamities and trials, that he may enter into himself, and put an end to his sinful course.
Thou, O most merciful Mother, hast converted so many sinners at the intercession of their friends. Be moved also by my prayer, and bring this unhappy soul to true conversion of heart. O Mary, help; O Mother of Perpetual Succor, show that thou art the advocate and refuge of sinners. So I hope, so may it be.