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The Seven Corporal Works of Mercy by David Teniers the Younger

Prison Ministry for Traditional Catholics: “I was in prison, and you came to Me”

(ABOVE: The Seven Corporal Works of Mercy by David Teniers the Younger)

Catholic Apologetics #3

As Catholics, we have all heard the words of Our Lord, “I was in prison, and you came to me” (Matthew 25:36) throughout our lives.  Whether it was in the context of the corporal works of mercy in catechism class or during a sermon, most of us can in all likelihood recall these words of Our Lord. 

As Catholics today in the midst of a great confusion not only in the modern world but also in the Church, it’s important to re-focus ourselves on the basics of the Faith.  Whereas some churchmen have the propensity to add many complicating layers to the Faith, much of the Faith is straightforward.  Think of the simplicity and clarity of the Baltimore Catechism. Spend time re-grounding yourself in this treasure of the Faith.  And that re-grounding starts now. 

The Baltimore Catechism succinctly summarizes the corporal works of mercy: “The chief corporal works of mercy are seven: 1.To feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to ransom the captive, to harbor the harborless, to visit the sick, and to bury the dead” (Baltimore Catechism #3, Q. 819).  And for completeness, the spiritual works of mercy are also summarized a few paragraphs earlier: “The chief spiritual works of mercy are seven: To admonish the sinner, to instruct the ignorant, to counsel the doubtful, to comfort the sorrowful, to bear wrongs patiently, to forgive all injuries, and to pray for the living and the dead” (Baltimore Catechism #3, Q. 813). 

In the modern world, it would be rather unusual for us to be able to, strictly speaking, “ransom captives,” since the modern justice system does not permit ransoming in the way in which our ancestors in the Faith did.  In times past, our fathers in the Faith joined in both spiritual support and financial support orders like the Mercedarians, or the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy, which was founded in 1218 in Spain by St. Peter Nolasco to redeem Christian captives from their Muslim captors. 

But what are we to do?  Is the Lord’s command to visit those in prison defunct? Far from it!  The words of the Lord as recorded in the Holy Gospels remain for all times: “Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in: Naked, and you covered me: sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me. Then shall the just answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, and fed thee; thirsty, and gave thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and covered thee? Or when did we see thee sick or in prison, and came to thee? And the king answering, shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:34-40).

Whereas in times past, it was more commonplace to ransom or physically visit strangers in prison, it is still possible today to observe Our Lord’s command through Catholic prison ministry.  Prison ministry is an often forgotten manner of observing the works of mercy.  Yet, prison ministry offers a truly unique opportunity to intersect both the corporal and the spiritual works of mercy.  Through effective prison ministry, we can both provide for the physical needs and human interaction that prisoners need and for the spiritual needs of their souls. 

Thankfully, the Society of St. Pius X has an effective – though unfortunately not well publicized – prison ministry initiative.  In the October and November 2015 Regina Caeli Report[1], the Angelus Press interviewed Mr. Michael Banschbach, who has started a prison apostolate with the blessings of the Society’s priests.  Commenting to Angelus Press on his ministry, Mr. Banschbach stated: “The apostolate brings the Sacrifice of the Mass and personal instruction in the Catholic Faith and the study of Sacred Scripture to two West Texas prisons. The apostolate also mails books (Douay Rheims Bible, The Imitation of Christ, 1962 Missal, Christian Warfare, Rosary Warfare, etc.) to offenders in more than 40 Texas prisons. We have in the past sent a couple of newsletters, written primarily by offenders, which resulted in a huge increase in interest. Fr. Katzaroff, based in El Paso at Jesus and Mary Chapel, is the unofficial chaplain who offers the Mass and writes many response letters.”

Writing of the prisoners, Mr. Banschbach continues: “Most, but not all, are sincere in their desire to learn about the Faith and make up for lost time. They soak up the information.”  Indeed, these souls – like the souls of our children – are in need of the Divine Word and the life-giving Sacraments. 

Angelus Press echoes these sentiments and the grave need these imprisoned souls need today.[2]  How can our hearts not be heavy when we hear their call for help: “Never has the call to visit the sick and imprisoned and to instruct the ignorant been so important. These are the forgotten souls of society and desperately need help. Many of these men and women desire to spend their time reconciling with Christ and His Church, and in helping those souls around them find the truth. They are surrounded by the enemy and have no means to fight, and often not even the tools to defend themselves” (Angelus Press: Our Apostolate).

While we cannot help them from their physical prison, we can free them from the more serious spiritual prison that is forged by their sins.  And whereas only a priest may absolve them, baptize them, or administer the Lord’s Body and Blood to them, we can still have a hand in this war against the devil to save these souls.

But how can we help?  If Our Lord’s words are still true and if the call to help these prisoners is of paramount concern now, we should all be asking ourselves what we can do to help them lest we hear those words, “Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels….I was a stranger, and you took me not in: naked, and you covered me not: sick and in prison, and you did not visit me…Amen I say to you, as long as you did it not to one of these least, neither did you do it to me” (Matthew 25:41,43,45).

Thankfully, there is a way for those of us who live lives in the world to help.  First and foremost, these imprisoned souls need our prayers.  Once a month offer a spiritual Communion for the souls in prison.  And once a month, offer one of your Rosaries for the souls in the prison system to know the One True Faith and to ultimately preserve in grace until death.  And finally, let us add these souls to our daily prayers.  As we pray for the souls in purgatory, for our friends and family, and our other concerns in our morning prayers, let us just add an invocation for these souls each day.

Secondly, let us assist these souls in their spiritual formation.  Angelus Press has a prison ministry program whereby they donate their books at cost to the prisoners who need them.  The work is entirely for the souls of those in prison and the organization does not make any money off of the donations.  Please join me in visiting ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­the Angelus Press website (https://angeluspress.org/pages/donate) and making a donation for this most noble cause.  Also, you may make donations of books, pamphlets, holy cards, or religious pictures directly to Mr. Banschbach at St. Michael’s Catholic Church, Prison Apostolate, c/o Michael Banschbach, 1703 W. Storey, Midland, Texas 79701.

And finally, let us do what we can to prevent these crimes from occurring.  Many of the souls in prison today are there due to bad choices they made.  Yet, many of these souls had a poor family life – many of the young men in today’s prison system did not have a father figure in their lives.  Doing what we can to pray for and support the youth in our communities will help reduce the number of souls that make it to the criminal justice system.

Above all, let us place our work in this work of mercy under the intercession of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Daniel of Padua, St. Maximillian Kolbe, and St. Peter Nolasco.  May they pray for us and for all the souls who are in prison today who need sanctifying grace.

[1] http://sspx.org/en/publications/newsletters/regina-coeli-report-oct-nov-2015-12973

[2] https://angeluspress.org/pages/our-apostolate


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