I have two passions, or two ministries, that I find spiritually rewarding and they are the nursing homes and the prison ministries. But, of the two, I probably have favored visiting those in prison. I believe you will find that regardless of what work of Corporal Work of Mercy you perform, it leaves you with such a wonderful feeling inside.
My first experience inside a prison frightened me to death. And even for quite some time intimidated me to a degree.
But, there are so many wonderful heartfelt stories that made every visit for me a gift from God, as I knew God was there and in the hearts of each prisoner in that room.
There was George, a prisoner, who for eight months sat in the back of the room when I conducted a Communion Service at that prison. When it was time to receive the Blessed Sacrament, he would remain in his seat with his chin on his chest, shaking his head from side to side reflecting on where he went wrong. The other inmates in that room were compassionate and knew George was hurting deep inside.
One Wednesday, a priest came to hear confessions and George hurried in first. After his confession George sat in the front, not in his customary back seat in the room. There was a change, a noticeable transformation in George. When it came time to receive the Blessed Sacrament, George came up first and there was peace in his eyes as he received our Lord for the first time in eight months.
He walked to his regular seat in the back and, like a child knowing he is loved by the Father, allowed the tears to flow. “Jesus”, he said, “stay with me”. The other inmates bowed their heads and were filling up as well.
The prison ministry, like any other ministry, has its own rewards, and I have come to realize that through our hands, our words, our shoulder, we are placing Jesus right there in the middle. “Where two or three gather in my name I am with you”. It is an experience, and there is inner peace in the joy of serving God through others.
Yes, I was frightened to death on my first visit to the prison and not everyone would be comfortable in that environment. But, there are many other ways we can still help those in prison, or feel like they are in a prison.
The nursing homes and the prison ministries have a special place in my heart because there is such a great opportunity to bring some light to their darkened world. But, there are other types of prisoners. Many people are prisoners within their own homes, prisoners within their own hearts.
Their home, the room they are confined is likened to a cell. There is no way out. These people need our help as well.
I like to think that every visit I make, whether it be to a nursing home, a prison, a hospital or to a home bound person, there is another George to be found, who will fill my heart with joy.