How to Visit the Imprisoned and Bury the Dead

Visit the Imprisoned

The next corporal work of mercy is often titled, “visiting the imprisoned” and focuses on being a beacon of hope and mercy to those who are tempted to go deeper into despair.

A pre-requisite of this corporal work of mercy is a sincere desire for the eternal salvation of all souls, even the imprisoned. God does not delight in the death of a sinner, but would rather have someone turn around and embrace a life of virtue. That should be our desire as well.

We should look at prisoners with the heart of God and while we certainly condemn their past actions, we need to do what we can to help them reunite with Christ and His Church. Prison ministry in particular is a great way to encounter Christ in jail, but there is another way to "visit" the imprisoned without physically being there.

Another way that we can participate in this work of mercy is to imitate Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. Before she entered the convent Saint Thérèse learned about a criminal sentenced to death and decided to fervently pray for his conversion. Here is how she describes it in Story of a Soul:

“Just then I heard much talk of a notorious criminal, Pranzini, who was sentenced to death for several shocking murders, and, as he was quite impenitent…How I longed to avert this irreparable calamity! In order to do so I employed all the spiritual means I could think of, and, knowing that my own efforts were unavailing, I offered for his pardon the infinite merits of Our Savior and the treasures of Holy Church…I said in all simplicity: ‘My God, I am quite sure that Thou wilt pardon this unhappy Pranzini. I should still think so if he did not confess his sins or give any sign of sorrow, because I have such confidence in Thy unbounded Mercy; but this is my first sinner, and therefore I beg for just one sign of repentance to reassure me.’ My prayer was granted to the letter…The day after his execution I hastily opened the paper, La Croix, and what did I see? … Pranzini had mounted the scaffold without confessing or receiving absolution, and the executioners were already dragging him towards the fatal block, when all at once, apparently in answer to a sudden inspiration, he turned round, seized the crucifix which the Priest was offering to him, and kissed Our Lord's Sacred Wounds three times.”

We must not forget the imprisoned or treat them like refuse to be thrown away. God loves them and He desires their salvation. We must all discern how we can practice this much needed corporal work of mercy.

Bury the Dead

The Catechism exhorts us to respect the bodies of the dead and to bury them with dignity:
2300 The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection. The burial of the dead is a corporal work of mercy; it honors the children of God, who are temples of the Holy Spirit.
That is why we must do what we can to bury our beloved family members, wether they are cremated or placed in a casket.  Burying the dead is a sacred event, one which should never be taken lightly.

It is because of the sacred character of burying the dead that the Church does not allow the scattering of ashes nor is it proper to keep the cremated remains in the home:
"The cremated remains of a body should be treated with the same respect given to the human body from which they come. This includes the use of a worthy vessel to contain the ashes, the manner in which they are carried, and the care and attention to appropriate placement and transport, and the final disposition. The cremated remains should be buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium. The practice of scattering cremated remains on the sea, from the air, or on the ground, or keeping cremated remains on the home of a relative or friend of the deceased are not the reverent disposition that the Church requires." (no. 417) (USCCB, emphasis added)
Our loved ones deserve better and we need to treat their remains with dignity and honor. It is a corporal work of mercy to bury the dead and so we need to practice this with our own family members.

That concludes the series on the Spiritual & Corporal Works of Mercy. Let us go forward in this Jubilee Year ready to show the world the beauty of God's Mercy lived out in our lives.

Read the Entire Series

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