How Can Families Practice the Works of Mercy?

By Elizabeth Hansen | Photo By Getty Images/evgenyatamanenko | October 2022

How Can Families Practice the Works of Mercy?

Feed the Hungry

“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”

Jesus’ powerful words in the Gospel of Matthew form the basis for the traditional list of the works of mercy. When it comes to meeting physical needs, the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church lists the following actions as the corporal works of mercy:

  • Feed the hungry
  • Give drink to the thirsty
  • Clothe the naked
  • Shelter the homeless
  • Visit the sick
  • Visit the imprisoned
  • Bury the dead

How can families live this out? Especially with young children, hands-on charitable work can be daunting, but not impossible. The works of mercy will look different for each family – and can be practiced very literally when it comes to caring for children! But if you have a desire to introduce your children to acts of charity outside the home, I hope these ideas can be a gentle nudge to step out as the domestic Church and seek encounters with those in need.


Feed the hungry

Of all the works of mercy, feeding the hungry is perhaps the most straightforward, especially with holiday food drives and charity dinners reminding us of the hungry in our communities.

Beyond a Thanksgiving drive, though (and food banks across the country will be quick to add that their shelves are often bare come spring), it doesn’t take long to think of ways families can help alleviate hunger.


Ideas for families

Most gardens are winding down, but if you spend your winter plotting next year’s beds, consider adding a row or more of vegetables for a local food pantry, like a garden tithe. Fresh produce is always sought after, and involving children in harvesting and delivering is a great use of a bumper crop of cherry tomatoes or zucchini.

Look for opportunities to organize meal delivery for those in special situations, such as: families with new babies; the couple grieving a miscarriage; the parishioner with a chronic illness; a senior citizen who just gave up his or her driver’s license or a family between jobs. Even a single meal can be a powerful affirmation of a person’s dignity and desire for community, regardless of their material need. Whatever you choose, involve the children in preparing food – stirring boxed brownie mix totally counts – and, when you say grace, remember those sharing your dinner elsewhere.

Ask your local food pantry what items are in demand or easily overlooked as donations. What can provide a sense of dignity when facing food insecurity? One director of a community resource center mentioned dried spices – the key to making delicious, home-cooked meals but often an expensive indulgence for struggling families. Others suggest birthday cake mixes, being sure to include the oil, frosting, candles, a disposable pan, and anything else needed to make a cake from start to finish. Could you assemble and donate a kit each time your family celebrates a birthday?

Children can tag along in the family van for Meals on Wheels-type distributions. If you can commit a couple hours a month, reach out to local homebound ministries to see how your family might assist with grocery deliveries or bringing and sharing a meal with an elderly neighbor.


Remember that sharing food is more than just meeting someone’s immediate, material needs – it comes with sharing time, thoughtfulness and the belief in another’s human dignity. We all have to eat; Jesus calls us to reach out in our common need and feed the hungry – and there are as many ways to fulfill that command as there are families.


Elizabeth Hansen and her husband, Luke, raise their four children in Lansing, where they attend Resurrection Parish.

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