Practicing Works of Mercy as a Family

Shelter the homeless. Visit the prisoners. Instruct the ignorant. Admonish the sinner. The works of mercy can be intimidating to parents. When you’re herding kids and juggling naptimes, mealtimes, school and other activities, how can you practice mercy as a family?

“There are ways of looking at the works of mercy that really are doable within a family and for a family,” said Kendra Tierney, a Catholic mom, author, and blogger. “So to just look at the things that we’re doing as parents everyday anyway and mindfully do them as works of mercy. When I’m feeling frustrated about cooking dinner or cleaning up or tending to a bunch of sick kids, to experience that as doing works of mercy is really helpful to me to have an eternal perspective on the mundane. But then there are also ways to encourage our kids to do the works of mercy in like a junior kind of way.”

serving a meal to homelessHow about trying to make the works of mercy fun for your kids? “I actually made a challenge checklist for the family and we went through and tried to accomplish all of the works of mercy in one year. So things like, making sandwiches and passing them out to homeless at the park,” said Tierney. “And going through our closets and cleaning clothes out to give to a shelter, and just encouraging the kids to do things like helping your little brother or sister get dressed—you know, that can count as clothe the naked, too! But just so they became aware of what the works of mercy are and were able to do them in an age-appropriate way.”

Don’t wait to introduce your kids to works of mercy. “If acts of service within and outside of the family are something they’ve grown up with or something that’s part of our family culture, then I think you get less pushback,” said Tierney. “Now is always the best time to start.”

Think outside the box for works of mercy that seem impossible to accomplish! Tierney wasn’t able to bring her family to visit the imprisoned, but they wrote letters to someone in prison and that experience opened up a conversation with her kids. She also suggests helping out a mom with small children who isn’t often able to get out of the house, or spending time with a homebound person—types of ‘imprisonment’ we might not think of.

Here are a few basic ideas to get you started:

  • Visit a cemetery and pray for the people buried there
  • Volunteer at a soup kitchen
  • Make blankets for a homeless shelter
  • Visit a nursing home or elderly neighbor
  • Save money and donate to a favorite charity
  • Lovingly correct the behavior of a sibling
  • Send a card or a meal to someone going through a difficult situation
  • Forgive a family member who hurt your feelings
  • Talk to a friend about your Faith
  • Invite someone to attend Mass with your family

Corporal Works of Mercy:
Feed the hungry, Give drink to the thirsty, Clothe the naked, Shelter the homeless, Visit the sick, Visit the imprisoned, Bury the dead

Spiritual Works of Mercy:
Counsel the doubtful, Instruct the ignorant, Admonish the sinner, Comfort the sorrowful, Forgive offenses, Bear wrongs patiently, Pray for the living and the dead