When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them
what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of
mercy, we are paying a debt of justice.
The works of mercy
are charitable actions by which we
come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessi
Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual
works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The
corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry,
sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and
imprisoned, and burying the dead.
Among all these, giving alms
to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity: it is also
a work of justice pleasing to God:
He who has two coats, let him share with himwho has none;
and he who has food must do likewise.
But give for alms
those things which are within; and behold, everything is
clean for you.
If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack
of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be
warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed
for the body, what does it profit?
“In its various forms—material deprivation, unjust oppres
sion, physical and psychological illness and death—
is the obvious sign of the inherited condition of frailty and need for
salvation in which man finds himself as a consequence of original
sin. This misery elicited the compassion of Christ the Savior, who
willingly took it upon himself and identified himself with the least
of his brethren. Hence, those who are oppressed by poverty are the
a preferential love
on the part of the Church which, since her
origin and in spite of the failings of many of her members, has not
ceased to work for their relief, defense, and liberation through
numerous works of charity which remain indispensable always
241 St. Gregory the Great,
3, 21: PL 77, 87.
248 CDF, instruction,