New Year, New Mercies

COMMENTARY: Use a time-tested, Church-backed rubric to inspire resolutions: the corporal works of mercy.

Charity is exhibited to others through the works of mercy.
Charity is exhibited to others through the works of mercy. (photo: Unsplash)

It’s easy to feel pressure to pick the “right” New Year’s resolutions. So, this year, rather than trying to produce my own process, I’m using a time-tested, Church-backed rubric to inspire my resolutions: the corporal works of mercy.

“The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities,” explains the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2447). 

This year, through the works of mercy, I hope to live my vocation with renewed fervor, allowing Christ to reveal himself to and through me in new ways. 

If you need a plan and this sounds good to you, here’s how I’m doing it:

Set aside time to do some “works of mercy divina” — like lectio divina

Print out or write down the works of mercy, then prayerfully read through them, inviting the Holy Spirit to nudge the duty in your heart, daily, monthly, quarterly, etc.

Prayerfully decide and then make a concrete plan. Get out your calendar and write down goals, intentions and just how and when to implement them.

Right down a list of qualities/virtues to develop deeper this year. For example, “I want to wake up with my alarm clock” or “I want to grow in patience.” Then      see how improvement can come in these ways through the service of others.

Find a way to document the process. Keep a journal or add notes on your phone, to chronicle how the process evolved amid personal growth and progress.

Pick a Scripture verse for guidance through the year. Perhaps Lamentations 3:22-23?

In terms of ideas, here is a sampling to discern and build upon.


Feed the Hungry.

St. John Chrysostom said, “Feeding the hungry is greater work than raising the dead.” Guided by this notion, prepare a meal for someone once a month. Is there an elderly neighbor, a new mom on your street or a young couple new to your parish? Write down who you plan to cook for on the first of that month, get the date on the calendar, and then pray for their intentions all month. 


Give Drink to the Thirsty.

Keep a case of water or Gatorades in your car and offer them to the homeless shelter or the thirsty kids on your post-practice carpool schedule. 


Clothe the Naked.

Commit to a quarterly closet cleanout. Pick four days of the year that you will devote to a quick purge, and take the belongings to your local St. Vincent de Paul or shelter.


Shelter the Homeless.

Know of anyone new to the area? Moving to a new town, even when you have a physical place to live, can be incredibly isolating. Find someone who might be figuratively homeless and have them for dinner or ask them if they’d like to meet for coffee or a drink. You can also volunteer at your local shelter.


Visit the Sick.

Visit a sick or elderly relative or neighbor. Find a local nursing home and schedule a regular visit. Mother Teresa stated that “loneliness is the leprosy of the modern world.” Maybe plan to pray a monthly Rosary or chaplet with the residents, inviting the Lord to work through your presence as a healing balm for their loneliness.


Visit the Imprisoned.

There are many forms of imprisonment. We all have these people in our lives: a relative who is homebound, a mom with many young children, someone with a disability that makes leaving the home difficult, someone suffering from mental illness. Arrange a bouquet of flowers in a mason jar and drop them off with a little note or plan a visit to cheer spirits.


Bury the Dead.

My dad always told us, “Go to the funeral.” Even if the person isn’t directly connected to you, make the resolution to attend. Be aware of people’s loss. This should include comforting those who are grieving practically, in addition to prayer.


Spiritual Works of Mercy

In addition to the corporal works of mercy, the Church also gives us a list of seven spiritual works of mercy, and resolutions can develop from these, too: Admonish sinners. Instruct the uninformed. Counsel the doubtful. Comfort the sorrowful. Be patient with those in error. Forgive offenses. Pray for the living and the dead.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI aptly reminds us, “Only if people change will the world change; and in order to change, people need the light that comes from God, the light which so unexpectedly [on the night of Christmas] entered into our night.” 

Stepping into the new year, may we be docile to how the Spirit hopes to initiate change in and through us, burgeoning us with hope and tethering us to himself. May this year be the most joyful, most fruitful and most fulfilling yet.

Happy new year — and come, Holy Spirit!