Visit the imprisoned

| Father Michael Van Sloun | June 22, 2016 | 0 Comments

To visit the imprisoned is a corporal work of mercy. Jesus mentioned it specifically when he said, “For I was . . . in prison and you visited me” (Mt 25:35, 36).

Jesus has mercy for “the least,” those despised by others. Convicts rank high among “the least.” For the general public, when a criminal gets prison time, the criminal is getting what is deserved; the criminal needs to pay for what has been done. Jesus understands the brokenness of those who have done hateful things. From the cross Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).

Jesus wants us to have compassion for those in jail or prison. Instead of having an attitude of anger, retribution, punishment or vengefulness, Jesus wants us to be merciful. We need to honestly acknowledge our own inclination to evildoing and admit, “There, except by the grace of God, go I.” Many of us are all lucky to be a “step ahead of the law,” because all of us have gotten away with something for which we deserve to be punished.

Inmates are real human beings. Prison time is hard time. It is lonely time. It is dangerous time. Prisoners need help, support, encouragement and prayers. And as Jesus explained, a visit is a great way to help a prisoner.

Visiting prisoners is not so easy these days. Security measures have been strengthened and access is restricted. A prisoner can place several names on an approved list of visitors, and volunteers can gain access to inmates only after training and background checks. So how can the average person perform the corporal work of mercy to visit the imprisoned?

If you know someone who is in prison, and if you are on the approved list of visitors, make every effort to go and visit the person. Your presence will be a great blessing.

Consider prison ministry. Ministries include prayer services, Bible studies, retreats, religious book clubs and pastoral visits. Step forward. Offer your services. Go through the orientation for jail volunteers. Submit to the background check. Embark on the corporal work of mercy of visiting the imprisoned.

Because security measures keep most people out of jails and prisons, there are spiritual things that the average person can do for those who are incarcerated. First and foremost, we can pray for those in prison. Pray that inmates, in their isolation, will know God’s constant presence and love. Pray for their safety in the face of danger. Pray for their conversion as they deal with their troubled past. And, as they deal with separation from family and friends, pray that they will receive forgiveness, a second chance and continuing support.

We can turn to St. Dismas, the criminal who was crucified next to Jesus (Lk 23:40-43), the “good thief” and the patron saint of inmates, to intercede on behalf of those who are in prison. We can also turn to St. Barbara, the other patron saint of inmates, and St. John Cafasso, the patron saint of prisons, who served prisoners, heard their confessions, granted them absolution and accompanied them on their way to the gallows. We can also work to abolish capital punishment, support halfway houses, correspond with prisoners, assist the families of those who have someone in prison, and support parish and diocesan ministries to the incarcerated.

Father Van Sloun is pastor of St. Bartholomew in Wayzata.

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Category: Year of Mercy