The fifth Corporal Work of Mercy is “Visit the Imprisoned.” This work of mercy is important, and often neglected.
When I was in college, I had the privilege of being involved in the Legion of Mary, a Catholic lay apostolate that began in Ireland, that involves a commitment of two hours of apostolic work done each week, always with a partner (which is great, so that you are never alone on an assignment). One of the works that we did was that a group of the young men would visit a local state prison every week. While there, we would visit with the prisoners in the dining hall, talk to them about the Bible and our Catholic Faith, answer their questions, and, sometimes, help them with preparation for the sacraments. One of my greatest joys was to see a man who I had worked with for several months when he came out from making his first confession since early childhood — he could have leaped through the roof of the prison, he was so filled with joy!
Not all of us can visit prisons, at least not “prisons” as we normally think of them. But do we have a family member or an old friend who might be in jail or prison? Could we visit that person, or at least write to them, so that they know that they are not forgotten?
In addition to normal prisons, there are many people who are “prisoners” to addictions: could we reach out to them with the Love of the Lord Jesus Christ? Could we help them to know that Freedom is available, if they will seek out the help that they need? What about elderly or disabled persons who are “prisoners” in their own homes — could we visit and comfort them? Find some way to serve them in their time of need, and let them know that they are still remembered and loved?
When it comes to “visit the imprisoned,” maybe the most important thing to remember is that we do not approach them out of purely human (“humanitarian”) feelings. No, as Christians, we approach the imprisoned (of whatever kind of prison it might be) with the Love of Jesus in our hearts, to love and serve Jesus who is suffering in that person. That is the spirit of loving service that we saw in Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and that is the spirit in which we should approach the imprisoned.