Monday of the First Week in Lent
The word alms is derived from the Greek word elenmosyne, which means mercy. The Lenten exhortation to give alms, then, should be regarded as no more than redoubling our efforts to fulfill Christ’s call for mercy made in the gospel today.
The works of mercy have been extended and enumerated in the seven corporal and seven spiritual works of mercy. Naming these, of course, does not substitute for practicing them. Knowledge is not virtue. However, identifying these practices may remind us to perform them when opportunities arise. The seven corporal works of mercy are to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to shelter the homeless, to visit the sick, to ransom the captive, and to bury the dead. The spiritual works of mercy are to instruct the ignorant, to counsel the doubtful, to admonish sinners, to bear wrongs patiently, to forgive offences willingly, to comfort the afflicted, and to pray for the living and the dead.
Mercy is hardly limited to these acts. To name just a couple other works of mercy we might say to listen to the reminiscences of the elderly and to support international development agencies. Again, there is little if any virtue in naming such acts. Goodness comes from performing them.