During first theology, I enjoyed a pastoral assignment at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Norfolk, a medium-security prison with over 1500 inmates and with an impressive group of Catholic men. I was blessed to join them for liturgies and presentations, but the best times were when I could just talk with them. To summarize this formation experience is difficult, but let it be enough to say that His mercy endures forever.
At the very first Mass I attended in the prison, we heard these words of Our Lord from Matthew’s Gospel: If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life maimed or crippled than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into eternal fire. In meeting the men and hearing their stories, that Gospel passage came alive over the course of the year. For these men, it is better to enter into eternal life because of having served a life sentence rather than to have lived life outside of prison only to suffer the pains of hell. True mercy provides for a man’s ultimate good, the goal of eternal life. God's mercy works in many ways, including the paradox that a loss of earthly freedom actually results in greater interior freedom to know and love God now and forever. The fruits of divine mercy are so apparent in these holy men. If a prison sentence is what it takes for this to happen, then blessed be God forever.
In The Name of God is Mercy, Pope Francis addresses prison ministry thus: “This could very easily have been me behind bars.” Indeed, just because I am not in prison does not make me any better or holier than these men. I need God's mercy like any other poor sinner, and this universal need only makes me want to be a priest, God’s chosen instrument of mercy, all the more. I truly believe that there are many future saints within the confines of that prison in Norfolk. I am so grateful to have met them, to have prayed with them, and to know that we are still praying for each other. I will never forget these men and how they shared divine mercy with me.
Mr. Derek Mobilio, Diocese of Worcester