It’s time for another Jubilee Year of Mercy look at the Corporal Works of Mercy— a service brought to you by Aquinas and More Catholic Goods in response to a mercy directive from management (a.k.a., Pope Francis).
A couple of those Corporal Works of Mercy sound like pretty tall orders. Don’t they? But they just need a little perspective. For instance, last time, we looked at “bury the dead” and discovered that it doesn’t mean carrying a shovel around with you all day.
Today, we’re looking at “visit the prisoners.” That sounds pretty easy on the surface. But how many of us actually know a prisoner? And does anyone who knows someone who has been incarcerated really need to be reminded that visiting him or her is a good idea?
The answer to that second question is probably yes, actually. It’s easy enough to neglect loved ones who live a mile away, let alone friends or family members serving time in jail.
Still, the Corporal Works of Mercy are directed toward all of us no matter whom we know or don’t know. So what do we do?
This used to be even harder.
This particular work used to have an even more puzzling name, “ransom the captive.” That is NOT, by the way, a call for the laity—or the clergy, or anyone else, for that matter—to settle hostage situations. If you see one on the news, do not jump in the car and head for the scene to lend a hand. There are trained law enforcement people for that and they probably wouldn’t appreciate the interruption.
One parish website explains this “ransom the captive” phrasing well it well: “The first Christians…expected that some of their number would be in prison at any given time…[and] took it upon themselves to visit their friends, bringing food, solace, encouragement, and when possible liberation.”
The general contemporary inability of the average person to negotiate someone’s release from prison has led to this work of mercy being rephrased to what the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops uses—“visit the prisoners.”
Not that we know that, what?
Back to our original questions. Which prisoners? Where? Won’t people I don’t know think it’s weird if I show up in jail asking to visit them? Actual visits may or may not be how you eventually help the imprisoned, but you can visit kindness upon prisoners in a number of ways. Here are a few to think about:
Support the efforts of Holy Mother Church. The easiest, and most effective, thing to do is to speak to your pastor, call the chancery in your diocese, about diocesan prison ministry. Find out what you can do to help the priests in your diocese provide for the spiritual needs of prisoners.
Help the families of prisoners. Look for organizations that focus on caring for the families of prisoners; you could help ease the burden on spouses and make birthdays and Christmas happier times for children who are caught in the middle of a sad situation.
Encourage quality reading. Support organizations that get books to prisoners. You know what good books can do to change and better your life when life is already going great. Think what good they can do for people who have found themselves in a position to reassess their lives entirely.
Visit prisoners in prayer. Wherever you live, there are probably incarcerated people somewhere not too far away. Do you pray a daily rosary? Dedicate one a week to the prisoners of a local facility.
Another thing to consider is that there are different types of prisoners—prisoners of drugs, alcohol, pornography, guilt and many other things. Supporting efforts to fight those evils is also a very charitable way of visiting kindness upon prisoners.