This corporal work of mercy, like the others, seems deceptively easy. Go to a hospital, visit a sick relative, work of mercy fulfilled.
But Christianity demands full devotion to Christ, which requires more than mere rote fulfillment of the letter of the laws of God. St. Francis of Assisi famously ministered to a leper with his own hands, despite his aversion to the terrible disease. This type of total devotion to the letter and spirit of the spiritual works of mercy is required of us as Christians - overcoming our squeamishness to give fully of ourselves to others.
As with the other works of mercy, fulfillment of this requirement requires more than grudging adherence to the letter of the law. Visiting hospitals or friends suffering from illness is merely the first and barest requirement of this corporal work of mercy.
For there are many sick in this day and age who are not found in hospitals. The hospitalized, of course, need care and support from their fellow man - and not merely doctors and nurses who devote their lives to curing illness. But there are many types of physical sickness: the blind and the broken, the deaf and the dumb, the leper and the lame. There are individuals suffering from chronic and debilitating illnesses such as arthritis. There are those confined to their home who need care and human interaction.
And sickness is not confined to the realm of the physical - mental illness is a scourge of many in this vale of tears. There are enough men and women suffering from chemical imbalances of the brain – men and women who shun others (and a few of whom snap in the face of madness). These people need love, not the shunning that many so-called Christians launch in their direction.
Then there are those in continuous danger of sickness – those exposed to illness daily through their work, those living in conditions not conducive to good health, those who overwork themselves. They also must be assisted.
The methods of assisting these men and women may be simple. The sick coworker who receives a heartfelt get well card – he or she is a recipient of this work of mercy. The simple act of cooking for someone in pain or ill - this is an act of mercy.
Most of us in the busy first world, hindered by our ties to our cares, can devote comparatively little of our time to serving the sick. But we can spend a few minutes visiting others, even those we barely know. And we can do little things to serve others. Little acts, as long as they are done in a spirit of charity, are often the greatest help to others.