Are the corporal acts of mercy relevant for our times?

By From the Heart | Health & Wellness with Faith Community Nurses

Jan 28

You probably learned about the acts of corporal mercy, but do you remember what they are? And if you do remember, do you think they are still relevant for our times?

Giving water to the thirsty, feeding the hungry and clothing the naked may be the first things that come to mind and they’re obvious enough. You can give time or money and each will help. There are social programs that cover burying the dead, sheltering the poor and visiting in prisons. That leaves visiting the sick whether at home, hospital, or care centers. And let’s include lonely people, too.

During the holidays we visit elderly relatives, and go caroling at nursing homes, but it’s mid-January and a long time until next December.  Many people are forgotten or avoided. You may feel uncomfortable around sick people. They may be too tired or sick to carry on much of a conversation. They may be wearing pajamas or need a shower. They may even be a bit cantankerous, though visiting will remind them that someone cares. Watching a sports game on TV with someone, playing checkers or even holding a person’s hand can be meaningful and enjoyable for each of you. By visiting, you can help ease loneliness which may help people with depression. By socializing, you may help slow down the dementia process. A person who is recently widowed might find comfort while going through the grieving process.

Even healthy people need a visit now and then. Perhaps they are caretakers for ill parents, or have a special needs child. Visiting for an hour or two may let the caretaker get out to grocery shop, see a movie or just have coffee with a friend.

An unexpected benefit is that you might enjoy stories about a person’s life, learn about new hobbies or pick up a new recipe. Visiting with someone can give you a sense of purpose and take your mind off of your own problems. In fact, new research shows that doing something nice for someone can actually decrease acute and chronic pain symptoms!

So how can you get involved in this ministry? There is a real need for men to visit guys in local care centers and assisted living facilities. Do you have 20-30 minutes a week or every two weeks that you could spend with someone? Many are vets with few or no visitors, especially during the week. There is also a need for women to visit women. Ideally, men would be visitors for men, women would visit women.

Perhaps you would feel more comfortable starting off with a short term commitment. Maybe bringing Holy Communion to someone who is at home after a joint surgery is a good place to start. There are plenty of opportunities!

If any of us can take these ideas and help even one other in our faith community, we can make a difference. Pope Francis said at his Papal Audience on March 4, 2015:

“We must reawaken our collective sense of gratitude, appreciation and hospitality, helping the elderly know they are a living part of their communities.”

In the Catholic Health Association booklet, “Improving the Lives of Older Adults through Faith Community Partnerships:  Healing Body, Mind and Spirit”, this accompanying video says our churches can be a solid support system for individuals to be cared for with the Ministry of Presence.




Advantages for Faith Communities:

  • Strengthens sense of community among congregation
  • Reconnect with congregants no longer involved in congregation
  • Support the work of staff and clergy
  • Help link congregants and members to community resources

Advantages for Congregants:

  • Support for family caregivers
  • Sense of belonging and connectedness to faith community

A Blessing for All Who Serve Caring for Others from Catholic Health Association

May rest find you
In the peaceful moments when all is still,
In the quiet times when you pause
And breathe.

May rest find you
In the chaos of the moment,
In the sorrow you seek to heal.

May rest bless you and strengthen you.
May it fill your spirit
And give you unearned joy.

May you find rest in the care of others,
In the knowledge of your worth,
The value of your service.

May the One who gives rest
Bless you and hold you close.
And may you, in your very being,
Be a place of rest for others.


Elizabeth (Betsy) Clark is a Faith Community Nurse at the Church of Saint Andrew in Elk River, MN since August 2017. She earned her BSN from Iowa Wesleyan College and a Master’s Degree and DNP from the University of Minnesota. Betsy worked extensively in critical care as a staff nurse and advanced practice nurse before becoming a nurse educator. She has also worked in care transitions and care coordination. Betsy has been married to husband Bill for 20 years; they have a 19-year-old son, Brenton. “Faith Community Nursing allows, or sometimes challenges, me to use everything I have learned throughout my nursing career. There are so many opportunities to serve our communities and their varied populations, meeting spiritual, physical and behavioral health needs.”


Leave a Comment:

Leave a Comment: