In Honor of Dorothy Day: “Mercy Experiences” Instead of “Service Hours/Projects”

Dorothy Day has been in the news a lot lately due to the fact that the U.S. Bishops recently voted to promote her cause for sainthood.

If Dorothy Day stood for anything it was the centrality of the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy in the life of Catholics. She once said that everything a baptized person does should be, directly or indirectly, related to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.  Unlike some who reduce Christianity to a philosophy, Dorothy Day knew that Christianity was an embodied set of practices: things that we DO for others. In his book, The Strangest Way, Fr. Bob Barron tells us that the Works of Mercy “compel a self-regarding ego outward in the direction of mission and connection, and, as such, they constitute a distinctively Christian social theory, radically out of step with modern social arrangements.” (p. 152)

This is precisely why we incorporate service components into our catechetical programs. To promote the cause for Dorothy Day’s canonization, I propose that we stop referring to these components as “service hours” or “service projects” but rather as “MERCY EXPERIENCES.” Public schools require service hours as a way of developing good citizens and instilling an upright ethical attitude. Catholics engage in service as a way of extending God’s mercy to others, sharing one another’s burdens, and “moving in sync with the deepest rhythms of creation.” (Barron, p. 153) As such, they are not service projects or service hours, but experiences of God’s enduring mercy.

MERCY EXPERIENCES instead of “service hours”…what are your thoughts?


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14 Responses to “In Honor of Dorothy Day: “Mercy Experiences” Instead of “Service Hours/Projects””

  1. Ana H Says:

    I so agree with what you say. Public Schools require service hours but we should focus our requirements on living our lives as followers of Jesus, on being his hands and feet in the world. I wish our program would focus more on this and less on the other.


  2. Cathy Says:

    You have my vote. I’ve been giving kids a journal based on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy for years. And no requirement for specific hours. We expect to see evidence of trying to practice the works of mercy through the whole confirmation prep time.


    • grace Says:

      Cathy, I absolutely love this ideas! I also read something on a daily/weekly Mass journal so the children develop a better understanding of the readings and how Jesus is trying to work in our own lives.
      thank you for sharing,


    • Felicia Says:

      I like the idea of a works of mercy journal. Our Confirmation program is currently in development and one of the things I wanted to get away from was a timed (hrs) requirement, but rather experiences to allow youth to find where they can best share their God given gifts. We call ours Stewardship Experience since we are called to be good stewards of the gifts we are given. And while I would probably still call it this, the idea of a Works of Mercy journal will fall in nicely with this, and I am going to add it to our program next year. Thanks for the inspiration.


    • Natalia Says:

      This is a very good idea. Could you tell me a little bit more about this journal method?


  3. Suzanne Stack Says:

    I like the idea of focusing on mercy! I think I wlll do that, but will use the term “works of mercy” as it’s more clear that it is service and not just a personal experience of mercy. And it’s such a great Catholic term to further foster Catholic identity!


  4. cyndi Says:

    We have already been calling them “Service Experiences” for quite some time now…I think “mercy experiences” is even better!


  5. Karen O'Mara Says:

    What a great insight as we start both our liturgical new year and our calendar “New Year” –restructuring our thinking about extending ourselves to others in thoughts, words, and deeds. Our mission is to act as a conduit for God’s mercy through the blessings we already have, rather than having service be an ego-fulfilling personal mission. “Mercy Experience” is the right term, understanding we are blessed to be experiencing God’s mercy as much as the other person is through the activity.


  6. grace Says:

    Good thinking! semantics matters.
    The kids should be very familiar with the corporal and spiritual acts of mercy in order to be hands and feet of Christ in the 21st century. (and I love the little flower St. Theres’ do little things with great LOVE)
    there is an org. called works of mercy in our area and the Corporal and Spiritual works of mercy are carried out. we also instituted through works of mercy the Good neighbor project through it we get a list of kids in need from various schools and match them with parishners that are getting rid of gently used items to match the kids needs.( 3 times a year fall, winter, and spring, and on as needed basis) the clothes the food that is the easy stuff (corporal works) the despair the loneliness, feeling of belonging for the kids (spiritual needs) well that’s the more challenging. so let us call these acts of love toward our neighbor – what they are __acts of mercy___ what is mercy___love and in order to love we need to show forgivesness and feel forgiven through grace of God’s Mercy.


  7. Joe Says:

    Sondra writes:

    I’ve never liked the whole idea of service hours for youngsters in confirmation. My theory is that this should be happening from day one of a child’s life.
    In religious education it should begin in first grade…going out of self for others. When we wait until confirmation it makes it seem like a check list of to do’s in order to be confirmed instead of a way of life as a Christian.
    Sondra Hoffman


  8. Joe Says:

    Carol writes:

    Great Idea. Maybe even “Mercy Events’ …??


  9. Joe Says:

    Carmel Ann writes:

    I absolutely love this idea! We switched long ago from “Service hours” to “Service Opportunities”.

    Carmel Ann Sperti, D. Min.
    Aredhel Arabians at Patrick Farm
    Morris, NY


  10. Sandy M Says:

    As with Cathy from her Dec. 8th reply, I too have been doing a journal with my classes for many years. And we give them ideas of what they can do. We ask them to continue the journal throughout the year, even after Religious Education is over for them!
    I have been delighted at some students progress. We try to instill in them that what we do to halp others is never a regret, ut a blessing. Thak you


  11. Louisa Cahan Says:

    Our diocese has abolished service hours in favor of simply teaching and encouraging confirmands to give of their time and talents. I like calling it mercy experiences or Works of Mercy experiences, and I agree with Joe that it should begin long before Confirmation. But I would like to know more about the mercy experiences journal idea and also the Mass journal. They both sound like good ideas. Could someone post some specific suggestions of how to get started with these journals? Thanks!


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