A couple times a year I visit the ACI, our state prison. I always welcome the opportunity to do so, although the visits are as emotionally challenging as they are spiritually rewarding.
During one of my recent visits to the ACI, while I was greeting inmates after Mass, as a “thank-you” the prisoners presented me with a book, the classic “Life of Christ” by Fulton J. Sheen. (An especially timely gift in light of the current brouhaha surrounding Sheen’s beatification.) But more important was that the men signed the book and sometimes included a brief inscription. I was genuinely moved.
One of the inscriptions said, simply, “Thank you for not forgetting us.” And I suspect that’s a common fear of the inmates – that because they’re locked away and out of sight, sometimes for a very long time, that no one on the outside ever thinks of them or cares about them. “Out of sight, out of mind,” the popular saying goes.
“Thank you for not forgetting us.” That saying has been on my heart and mind ever since I saw it. And in fact, it also highlights one of the keys of the Christian spiritual life.
As we go about our normal day-to-day existence, we shouldn’t forget the prisoners at the ACI. Nor should we forget the many other people in our society who are experiencing difficult situations in their lives – the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the unemployed, the mentally ill, the immigrant, the refugee, the addicted, the abused – among others.
Now you might argue that some of these folks are experiencing hard times because of their own personal decisions or bad behaviors; that their plights are self-inflicted. But that’s not a concern of this reflection. Nor is it a distinction that Jesus ever made. He simply said, “I was hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.” (Mt 25: 31- 46)
So, why should we remember and respond to our brothers and sisters in need? Because Jesus told us to. And because in so doing we encounter Jesus himself: “What you did for one of these least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Something to think about: In your prayers each day, be sure to “remember” all those in our community who are in difficult situations.