The Little Black Book, a collection of daily reflections for Lent, recently focused on almsgiving.
“Almsgiving results from feelings of pity and compassion for someone in need. It’s often associated with giving money to the poor but almsgiving includes all of the seven corporal works of mercy: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick, burying the dead.”
Visiting the imprisoned jumped off the page.
Next week will be the tenth anniversary of my friend Jim’s death. After his death, a woman at church told me how grateful she was that Jim had visited her son in prison. I remembered that visit because I had gone with Jim. She asked why, and I explained that Jim had never visited anyone in prison before, so he asked me to go with him because he knew I had. She asked if I was a probation officer or social worker and I said “no.” Then why I had visited someone in prison? “It is in the Bible,” I said. She looked confused, so I quoted from Matthew 25. She still looked confused, so I tried a different approach.
I asked if she had visited her son in prison, and she said she had. I then asked if she would visit someone else in prison, now that she could see from her son’s experience what it was like to be locked up. She became defensive and explained that her son was not like other people in prison. “He just…” she started, but I stopped her. “Your son broke the law and got caught, right?” “Yes, but…” she started, and again I stopped her and pointed out he is just like the other people in prison who broke the law and got caught.
Why, I wondered, can it be so difficult to see ourselves and those we love honestly?
To be fair, I understand that this woman wanted to put this episode in her son’s life behind her, but I wondered how she could do that without accepting the truth of her son’s situation.
A few years later, I met a woman who told me her son was at “boot camp.” I asked which branch of the service, and she said it was a different kind of boot camp. “Some people say he is in prison, but he is not in prison” she said.
I recently read an article by a man on death row, reflecting on how he and others on death row were consoled by a priest who has cared for them and helped them grow spiritually. I am doing an Internship in Ignatian Spirituality and pondering how I might use what I am learning. The article prompted the thought that maybe I could offer a listening ear to someone who is in prison.
Reflecting on the article, people I have visited in prison and these two mothers made me wonder if I am being invited to this work of mercy.