Year of Mercy - Visiting the Homebound and Imprisoned
Tuesday, 10 May 2016 00:00


 The Year of Mercy


'Visiting the Homebound and Imprisoned'

EDITOR’S NOTE: We offer this series of reflections on the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy in observance of the Year of Mercy, promulgated by Pope Francis. The jubilee year began on Dec. 8, 2015, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and will end on Nov. 20, 2016, the feast of Christ the King.

 By Deacon Tim DeFrange

          On Holy Thursday in March of 2013, Pope Francis visited a youth detention center in Rome and washed the feet of a dozen youthful prisoners, modeling this month's corporal work of mercy – visiting the sick and the imprisoned. When Jesus says to those on his left: "I was sick and in prison and you did not visit me” (Matthew 25: 43), He was saying that serving the incarcerated and homebound is not a suggestion but rather a command. This corporal work usually requires that we leave our comfort zone and seek out the suffering Christ wherever he or she is confined. Fortunately, there are many in our diocesan parishes who already perform this ministry and can help us begin.

Most parishes have ministers to the homebound. Every Tuesday morning my friend Susan brings Holy Communion to a woman who is confined to her home and also caring for her severely handicapped, bedridden son. As Susan brings this saintly mother Communion, she also brings her own compassionate presence, and the affection between them has grown very deep. Other Catholics go in teams to area nursing homes to bring Communion to the people there who suffer from loneliness and isolation. These confined residents look forward all week to the moment that their Eucharistic minister walks into their room and greets them with affection.

One of our Catholic men made a ministry of bringing a homebound widow to Saturday Vigil Mass with him. When he saw 85-year-old Ellen walking two and a half miles just to attend the 5 p.m. Mass, he imagined her collapsing on the way in the summer heat or in the winter wind chill. He called and asked her if she would like him to pick her up each Saturday because it was on his way. She said yes. Whatever inconvenience he experienced from this ministry faded away long ago as the affection between them blossomed into a genuine friendship.  

Throughout our diocese there are a dozen county jails and juvenile detention facilities. Many parishes have teams who visit the Catholics there who got in trouble with the law. They also reach many more unchurched men and women who have never really heard the call of Jesus. When prison ministers speak the words of Christ – that He does not condemn them, that they can start over by not sinning any more – the inmates experience a love for Jesus deeper than we see in Christians who have never been in jail. These inmates love Jesus more than most people, perhaps, because they have been forgiven more than most people. Catholic teams of clergy and laity also visit inmates in the state and federal prisons within the boundaries of our diocese. They bring with them the Word of God and Jesus, the Bread of Life. Deep conversions happen all the time as the seeds of the gospel of mercy take root in the fertile soil of sincere repentance.

Needy people suffering from loneliness and neglect are everywhere. Is there a widow on your street who needs your kindness and attention? Is there a person who suffers from depression who needs your charitable heart to just listen to them unload on the phone and hear you speak words of encouragement? We don't have to go to a jail or a prison to find someone who is suffering from confinement. Very often they are in our neighborhood or even in our own family. The suffering Christ is waiting for you to come to Him. Will you take the chance of being inconvenienced to go to Him?

Deacon Tim DeFrange was ordained for the Diocese of Youngstown in 1998. He serves as a permanent deacon, music minister, and RCIA team member at St. Patrick Parish in Kent and leads the prison ministry teams at the jail and the juvenile detention facility in Portage County.