God Calls Souls in Prison to Himself

I was recently reading an article from the Bismarck Diocese Catholic paper, the Dakota Catholic Action, about incarcerated persons and prisons. It caught my eye because we have four prisons spread out throughout the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau: the US Medical Center for Federal Prisoners, Springfield; Southeast Correctional Center, Charleston; South Central Correctional Center, Licking; and the Ozark Correctional Center, in Fordland. Each prison has priests who visit weekly and they celebrate holy Mass. The priests are available for the sacrament of penance and reconciliation and for the anointing of the sick. Recently, during my visit to Fordland, I celebrated the sacraments of initiation for one resident, along with the sacrament of confirmation of another. It is always touching to see how God can get in and touch the hearts of people in dire situations and it is so special to celebrate Holy Mass in our prisons.

I recently received a letter from a resident who was transferred to a different prison outside our diocese. This man was very active in the Catholic community at Licking and in his letter he said, “I am the guy who used to serve every time you came into Licking prison to hold Mass for us. I enjoyed doing it each time you came to the institution and also enjoyed doing it for Fr. Matt (Rehrauer) and Fr. Roy (Rayappa Chinnabathini), especially during the Residence Encounter Christ program. Being at Licking the past 12 years has changed my life for the better. I was welcomed back into the Catholic community as though I had never been away. I am grateful for that most of all.”

Visiting the imprisoned is a “corporal work of mercy,” and I am grateful to our priests, deacons, and members of the laity who, week after week, teach the faith, pray the rosary, and celebrate the sacraments with the incarcerated. I visit our four prisons twice a year, typically during Advent and then during the Easter Season, and it is always a spiritual highlight for me. This past Good Friday, I celebrated the service at the US Medical Center for Federal Prisoners, and I was so touched to see the men, one by one, come up and revere the crucifix. It was quite moving to celebrate Easter Mass with them as well.

Our teachings remind us of the dignity of the imprisoned person. I hope all of us would agree that we are more than the sum of our mistakes. No matter what the person has done and no matter the shame of being in prison, the person is still a child of God and has the same human dignity as every other person. Every human person is created in the image and the likeness of God and has an invaluable dignity, value, and worth. That dignity is present “from the womb to the tomb,” and cannot be taken away by the state or by our own actions. For this reason, the Bishops of the United States have stated that any system of penal justice must provide those necessities that enable the inmates to live in dignity and to exercise religious freedom.

The dignity of the human person is also the reason why the Catholic Church opposes the death penalty. The death penalty eliminates the possibility of rehabilitation and turning back to God. If you have to ask why or how a person got into prison in the first place, you have missed the point.

On Aug. 2, 2018, the Vatican announced that it had formally changed the official Catechism of the Catholic Church on the death penalty, calling capital punishment, “an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,” deeming it “inadmissible” in all cases.” It is often the case that unless we know someone in prison, it is easy to forget about them. But our Lord calls us to visit the imprisoned, and in doing so, we visit Christ himself. Let us always remember to pray for those in prison, for their families, and their victims.

O Sacrament Most Holy, O Sacrament Divine, all praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine.”

Published in the April 26, 2024 issue of The Mirror.
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