Jesus names love for God and love for others as the greatest commandments. We love God by obeying His commandments and by accepting His grace. But how do we love others? This can be a huge challenge – especially when faced with people that aren’t all that lovable.
Fortunately, the church helps us out. Instead of depending (as the world sometimes suggests) on our feelings, we are given a set of guidelines or standards to help us see what love looks like on a practical level. We aren’t called to like everyone, but we are called to love. We do this by performing corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
Yet, even with these guidelines, loving others can seem challenging. We think of the saints and great heroes of the faith and wonder how we can ever give that much to God. Who knows what levels of holiness we can reach with God’s help, but in the meantime, we are called to love people in our day to day lives, right where we are. Here are some very practical ways to love others through corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
Corporal Works of Mercy
~Feed the hungry. Parents definitely have this one covered. After all we feed the hungry at least three times a day. But there are ways to answer this call outside of our own families. Take dinner to an overwhelmed mother or a lonely neighbor. Invite your pastor to dinner. Buy a meal for a homeless person or pay for the groceries of the poor family in line behind you at the store.
~Give drink to the thirsty. Get your children that one last drink of water before bed, even if you think they are just stalling. Do it cheerfully. Bring extra bottles of water along to share with friends when playing sports or hanging out. Keep bottles of water in your car to offer the homeless.
~Clothe the naked. Go through your clothes. If you haven’t worn it in six months, donate it to charity. Buy some new school clothes or a coat and drop them off with the school nurse. She will know which children need them.
~Visit the imprisoned. Who do you know who is imprisoned at home? A grandparent? An elderly neighbor? A visit from you could make that person’s day. Even if you can’t visit in person, a phone call or a letter can let a lonely person know she hasn’t been forgotten.
~Shelter the homeless. You might be able to find a charity in your area that helps the homeless. But some people are homeless among their peers. Is there anyone at your school or work who doesn’t fit in? Who doesn’t have friends? Strike up a conversation with that person. Invite him to join you for lunch. Volunteer to work with him on a project. If you can help even one person feel less “homeless” you could make a real difference in his or her life.
~Visit the sick. Go see people in the hospital. Send cards. Give your sick friend a call or shoot her a text to see how she’s doing. Stay in with your friend who doesn’t feel well enough to go out.
~Bury the dead. Go to funeral. Send cards or flowers. Take a casserole. Call or visit the grieving long after the funeral.
Spiritual Works of Mercy
~Admonish the sinner. This takes tact and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but don’t be afraid to talk to a friend who has fallen into sin. Be patient. Be gentle. Don’t judge. But let your friend know you are concerned for her physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
~Instruct the ignorant. Help a friend with her homework. Invite a friend to church. Direct others to Catholic websites (like this one) or share a good apologetics book with him like this or this.
~Counsel the doubtful. You can’t do this if you don’t know your faith yourself. Read up on Catholic apologetics and teachings. Be willing to talk to someone who is struggling with doubt. Don’t worry if you don’t know the answer to a question, that’s okay. Just find out and get back to your friend as soon as you can.
~Comfort the sorrowful. Be there. Be a good listener. Offer to pray with someone who is hurting. Call. Text. Visit. Let people know you are thinking about them.
~Bear wrongs patiently. Be patient with family members and coworkers when they annoy you. Don’t always insist on what is fair or on your own way. Pray for patience. Let stuff go.
~Forgive all injuries. Forgive people who hurt you – in big ways and small. This isn’t easy. Sometimes we can only forgive with God’s help. Pray that He will help you let go of anger, bitterness, and hurt. Pray for the person who hurt you. If you are praying for another person, you are seeking his good. That’s a form of forgiveness.
~Pray for the living and the dead. This seems easy enough, but it’s easy to forget. Consider keeping a prayer journal to help you keep track of the people you are praying for. The Chaplet of Divine Mercy is a powerful prayer for the dying. This very short prayer from Saint Gertrude is a wonderful way to pray for souls in Purgatory. And a Morning Offering is a beautiful way to make your whole day a prayer for you own intentions and those of others.
Loving others means doing, not feeling. When we look for ways to love others each day, we will find them – sometimes in the most mundane activities. When compared to the saints, some ways we love others might seem insignificant, but nothing done out of love for God is ever insignificant.
About Laura Hudgens
In 1999, she and her husband, along with our two children (they now have four) were received into the Catholic Church. She has never looked back. The new has not worn off. She is truly grateful for the gift of her Catholic faith.