In preparation for our oldest child’s first Communion, we were reviewing the various works of mercy. When he heard they included things like feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty and clothing the naked, he looked up at us and said, “You guys do those things all the time. They should call them the corporal works of mommy — and daddy, too!”
| During family mealtime, parents are practicing a corporal work of mercy. Shutterstock photo
Our son stumbled upon a great spiritual truth. Family life can be an incredible engine of spiritual growth. The works of mercy as practiced at home — what I have come to call the Corporal Works of Mommy and Daddy — remind us that charity truly does begin at home, and that there is no better place to remind each other what we are worth in God’s eyes — that is, to practice mercy — than in the home. Here are some ways you can draw greater spiritual significance from living out the simple tasks of life in your family.
Feed the hungry: Family members truly bless one another when they create a nurturing place around the dinner table for communion and conversation to occur and when they take time to plan nourishing, heartwarming meals. Tons of research reveals the benefits of families sitting down to meals together, including everything from better physical and mental health outcomes, higher academic achievement and greater life and relationship satisfaction. Add “growing in holiness” to the list!
Give drink to the thirsty: What parent hasn’t been asked to get a thirsty child a drink in the middle of the night? Getting up and serving that child cheerfully with compassion is a work of mercy that reminds the child that his or her needs are important and that they will be heard and loved even when it is inconvenient for us to do so.
Clothe the naked: Finding the grace to be patient while dealing with a toddler who only wants to wear the blue shirt or helping a teen dress attractively, yet modestly, isn’t just an exercise in patience, it’s an opportunity to help your children remember their worth in God’s eyes!
Sheltering the homeless: Putting in the thought, time and effort it takes to make your house a welcoming home by working to make it a beautiful, orderly, yet comfortable and hospitable place is a great way to remind yourself and your family of their dignity as children of God. And teaching your family to be good stewards of what you have been given is an important lesson in godly gratitude.
Visit the sick: When you respond to a sick child lovingly, refusing to treat him or her as a burden or an inconvenience even though the illness has thrown your schedule into chaos, you are practicing mercy, growing in personal holiness and showing your child his or her worth in God’s eyes and yours.
Visit the imprisoned: It is one thing to banish our children to their rooms or to timeout when they have committed some offense, but when we visit them a few minutes later, talk them through their error, teach them what to do instead and work to heal their hurts and rebuild our relationship, we are practicing true mercy and showing our children they still have worth in God’s eyes and our eyes even when they mess up.
Bury the dead: Helping a child deal with sad transitions in life, whether due to the loss of a pet or favorite relative, or other events that can turn family life upside down, requires incredible compassion and sensitivity — especially when we are dealing with our own grief. Doing this well enables our children to connect with God’s loving presence even in times of sadness.
The spiritual works
Of course, there are Spiritual Works of Mommy and Daddy, too.
There isn’t room to address these at length here, but it should be obvious that there are ample opportunities to admonish wrongdoing, instruct each other in the right things to do, counsel each other, work through doubts, comfort each other in times of sadness, bear wrongs patiently, forgive willingly and pray for one another.
The truth is, our homes can become saint-making machines if we simply realize the transforming, spiritual power that exists behind even the most mundane tasks of family life. We can use the Corporal Works of Mommy and Daddy to cooperate with God’s plan to make us and our children into the saints we were created to be!
God has incredible plans for your family! May those plans unfold in your home as you explore all the ways the Corporal Works of Mommy and Daddy can help you experience the family life God wants for you!
Dr. Greg Popcak is the director of www.CatholicCounselors.com and the author of many books including the upcoming “The Corporal Works of Mommy and Daddy: Living the Little Way of Family Life” (OSV).