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Presence and patience key to important works of mercy

Have you ever visited someone in prison, a correctional center, or a jail? I had a former high school student who was arrested for the tragic death of a State Patrol officer. The young man, who had committed a crime, was driving on Interstate 80 pursued by the State Patrol. His vehicle collided with a patrol car, killing the officer.

He was sentenced to 10 years in the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln. When I visited him there, he was extremely grateful for someone willing to spend time with him. It was a corporal work of mercy. He had gotten involved with a Bible study, which helped him tremendously. He was eventually released and moved to another state. My prayer is that he was comforted by my visits.

Today there are 2 million prisoners held in American jails. There is a need for the work of mercy of visiting them. If you do not feel comfortable visiting someone in prison, you can always pray for them. Or perhaps you could correspond with a prisoner. Prison chaplains can help you write to a prisoner in your local city or county jail, correctional center or state penitentiary.

If you consider visiting with a prisoner, a prison chaplain also can help you know the rules of the prison regarding visitors. You may want to help a prisoner’s family as well. Often they have lost income, which means they are in need of food, clothing and shelter.

When prisoners are released, they find difficult circumstances. They may have no job or family members or friends to rely upon. If you or others can help them make the transition to employment, this will be a great blessing for them and the community.

Often, when we hear of the spiritual work of mercy – bearing wrongs patiently – we think of less tragic circumstances than those just described. What other people have done to us, disparaging of our reputation, accusing us of wrong-doing, or excluding us, is painful.

But how we respond is a measure of mercy. If we know we have not done something wrong, we can bear the injustice with God’s grace. If we have actually done something wrong, we also bear our own wrongs patiently as we seek God’s grace for healing within ourselves. But whatever the wrong that was done, we are called to show mercy and forgiveness.

 

Father Kampschneider is pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Omaha.

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