Philip Kosloski graduated from the University of Saint Thomas in Minnesota with a Bachelor’s in Philosophy and Catholic Studies and completed his Master of Arts degree in Theology with the Augustine Institute. He is a writer and author of In the Footsteps of a Saint: John Paul II’s Visit to Wisconsin. He blogs at philipkosloski.com and writes to help all Catholics master the art of prayer by conquering the practical obstacles that prevent a fruitful relationship with Christ.
The next corporal work of mercy includes two separate acts: “ransoming the captive” and “visiting the imprisoned.” For the purposes of this article we will look at “visiting the imprisoned” as that is a bit more accessible for the average person.
In my last article we looked at a recent pope, John Paul II, and his practice of “visiting the sick.” This week I decided to continue that trend and look at another recent pope who has made this work of mercy (visiting the imprisoned) a hallmark of his pontificate. As you may have guessed, it is none other than Pope Francis.
Loving Without Limits
It has become routine for Pope Francis to visit those in prison. On Holy Thursday he makes it a priority to celebrate Mass at a local prison, going so far as to wash the feet of the inmates there. This is not something new for Pope Francis, as he often visited the imprisoned as a bishop.
Even during his apostolic trips outside of Rome, Pope Francis has made it a part of his schedule to visit prisons. When he visited Philadelphia he stopped at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, gave a short sermon and shook hands with inmates.
During one of his recent homilies on Holy Thursday, Pope Francis addressed the prisoners and said:
“Jesus loves us, without limits, always, until the end. The love of God for us doesn't have limits. There is always more, always more. He never tires of loving anyone.”
It is clear that Pope Francis’ mission is to show to these souls that God still loves them and beckons them to reform their ways. Pope Francis is reaching out to these men and women who have made many bad choices in their life and is trying to instill hope in their hearts.
It is easy for prisoners to lose hope and turn inward upon themselves. They believe that they can never be “good” or break the cycle of sin. For many of them, it appears that God has abandoned them and does not know of their suffering.
Pope Francis realizes this state of mind and takes care not to forget these men and women, who are so often neglected. He reminds us that they have souls too and deserve our time and attention.
Prison ministry is a beautiful way of participating in this work of mercy, but is certainly not for everyone. It takes “tough skin” to encounter prisoners and is not easy. This does not mean we should not carefully discern if God is calling us to visit the imprisoned. It is very much needed in today’s world, especially in this year of Mercy.
Another way that we can participate in this work of mercy is to imitate Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. Before she entered the convent Saint Thérèse learned about a criminal sentenced to death and decided to fervently pray for his conversion. Here is how she describes it in Story of a Soul:
“Just then I heard much talk of a notorious criminal, Pranzini, who was sentenced to death for several shocking murders, and, as he was quite impenitent…How I longed to avert this irreparable calamity! In order to do so I employed all the spiritual means I could think of, and, knowing that my own efforts were unavailing, I offered for his pardon the infinite merits of Our Savior and the treasures of Holy Church…I said in all simplicity: ‘My God, I am quite sure that Thou wilt pardon this unhappy Pranzini. I should still think so if he did not confess his sins or give any sign of sorrow, because I have such confidence in Thy unbounded Mercy; but this is my first sinner, and therefore I beg for just one sign of repentance to reassure me.’ My prayer was granted to the letter…The day after his execution I hastily opened the paper, La Croix, and what did I see? … Pranzini had mounted the scaffold without confessing or receiving absolution, and the executioners were already dragging him towards the fatal block, when all at once, apparently in answer to a sudden inspiration, he turned round, seized the crucifix which the Priest was offering to him, and kissed Our Lord's Sacred Wounds three times.”
We must not forget the imprisoned or treat them like refuse to be thrown away. God loves them and He desires their salvation. Let us discern in this year of Mercy how we can practice this much needed corporal work of mercy.