Spiritual works of mercy: Gaining ground

Do you ever feel like you’re constantly taking, as the saying goes, “two steps forward, one step back?” As a mom, I know that as soon as I have one diaper changed, another child will have created a different mess. As a wife, a daughter and a sister, I find that one misunderstanding resolved can open the door to a different disagreement. Even back in my student days, I knew that one completed paper would only mean another round of work was coming. I’ve always felt like the finish line kept getting moved back.

That retreating finish line reappears for me whenever I consider the Corporal Works of Mercy. You remember these: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, and so on. Good in themselves, and completely necessary, yet they smack of mortality and noncompletion; of work half-done. For every bed filled at a shelter, another person will go without rest; for every person buried, another waits to be mourned.

So when I’m faced with the discouragement of the Corporal Works, I garner strength from the spring of the Spiritual Works. These—Admonish the Sinner, Bear Wrongs Patiently, Instruct the Ignorant, Counsel the Doubtful, Comfort the Sorrowful, Forgive all injuries, Pray for the Living and the Dead—don’t just require faith, they feed faith. They tell us that there is Something more at work than just us; they allow the Eternal to pave the way. For instance:


“The Truth is like a lion,” St. Augustine said, “You don’t have to defend it. Let it loose; it will defend itself.” In our argumentative culture, speaking the truth is easy. Letting it speak for itself: so often that is another story. These particular spiritual works encourage us to speak the truth to those we love, but they also ask us to let the Holy Spirit do the heavy lifting.


The older I get, the harder I find it to let blithe Christian phrases slide off my tongue in the face of distress. You know the type: “It will all work out,” “God has a plan for you,” “Maybe this is a blessing in disguise.” Nonetheless, when I’m unsure or in pain, other people’s sincere faith does bolster mine: knowing that someone else can believe when I cannot reminds me that the world is bigger than my doubt. What may seem trite or insufficient to us, can be exactly what another in darkness needs to hear, provided it is said with love and sincerity.


Forgive all injuries? Pray for the entire world? Yikes! A fellow blogger once said that when she is unable to pray for others, her best shot often sounds like this: “This is me praying for them, Jesus.” It may not be an insightful prayer, but it is an effective prayer and an honest one at that. If anything, these spiritual works best illustrate our willing surrender over to God.

Because after all, it comes down to letting Jesus pick up our slack. If there’s anything I’ve learned throughout my stunted phases of growth, it’s that. I may never finish the race in this life, but at least I know that our Lord is helping me run it well.

Laura Rydberg is wife to an incredible man, mother to three sweet little boys, and a professional organizer in her “down” time. You can check out her website at:

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