March 19, 2015, Thursday — Letter from a Prisoner

I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” —Gospel of Matthew, 25:36, the words Christ tells us he will speak at the end of time.

Happy Feast Day!

Today, March 19, is the Feast of St. Joseph.

Two years ago today, at a Mass in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis was officially installed as Pope.

And today, at about noon, as one of his papal “acts” on the 2nd anniversary of his Petrine office, Francis telephoned to the quiet convent in the Vatican Gardens where Emeritus Pope Benedict is living.

Since today is the Feast of St. Joseph, Francis was calling Benedict to wish him a “Happy Name Day” (Benedict’s given name is “Joseph” — Joseph Ratzinger; in Italy, one’s name day or “onomastico” is celebrated much like one’s birthday).

Benedict thanked Francis for the good wishes, and, for his part, wished Francis well on the 2nd anniversary of his pontificate.

In a certain sense, since the Pope is a type of “Father” to the whole Church, and a successor of the Fathers of the Church in the early years of the Faith, today’s Feast of St. Joseph — Joseph, the father of Jesus, who protected Jesus when Herod sought to kill him, and fled with Jesus into Egypt, and then brought Jesus back safely again to the Holy Land — is an appropriate feast day for all Popes.

And so we wish every blessing both to Pope Francis, on this anniversary of his papacy, and to Emeritus Pope Benedict, on this his name day.


Reflecting on this day on what the two years of this papacy have meant, and on what Pope Francis has been trying to convey to us, it seemed fitting to try to connect that reflection to St. Joseph.

And in this process, a letter arrived in our offices, written on March 14. It was from a prisoner, held in a Colorado jail. The prisoner wrote:

To The Editor:

I was moved to write your magazine given last month’s letter “From A Prisoner.” I wish to inform you and your readership about the outreach you folks do by your publication.

A year ago you sent me a subscription and as a result of that resource, we now have a Rosary Prayer Group and a thriving Catholic community here at this prison. This is due in part to your kindness, as your magazine provides solid information and topics for discussion. There is so much misinformation about Catholicism that your magazine is a breath of fresh air amidst this tumult.

Prisoners often feel abandoned by the Church while incarcerated. Your efforts show that we are not.

I would also like to let you know about The Oblates of St. Benedict. This is a prison outreach ministry, nationwide, for men and women. For Catholic support while incarcerated, or free, this oblate program is tremendous. Information can be obtained by writing Director of Oblates, St. Benedict’s Abbey, 1020 North 2nd Street, Atchison, KS, 66002. There is no cost for this.

Lastly, I would like to praise two of your advertisers: Loreto Publications and St. Joseph’s Universal Prison Ministry (pgs. 10 and 11 of March 2015 issue). Samantha from Loreto Publications and Joe from St. Joseph’s Universal Prison Ministry are both wonderful and supportive people. You can be proud that they reflect your values and mirror your outreach.

Please keep up the great work as all of the above mentioned are living exemplars of Matthew 25:36. May God bless and keep you all!

Gaudium cum pace,

Brian O’Connell, Oblate, O.S.B.


So, reading this letter, I said to myself, “Hmmmm… Matthew 25:36 — that’s where Jesus is speaking of the final judgment. But what did he say, exactly, in that verse?”

So I went back to re-read that verse: “I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you cared for me, I was in prison and you came to me.

It struck me that I was receiving more from this prisoner at a correctional facility in Colorado than he was receiving from me.

And it struck me that this was the answer to the question I was ruminating on this day: what is the main thrust of the message of Pope Francis, for these two years now?

I read the prior verses, and it became clearer still:

(Verse 31) “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory.

(32) “All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.

(33) “And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.

(34) “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

(35) for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in;

(36) I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.

(37) “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?

(38) When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You?

(39) Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’

(40) And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me’…”

This is what Pope Francis has been saying since his election. And it isn’t wrong to say that his words are truly “apocalyptic,” because they refer directly to the last things, the things that we will be judged on at the time when the Lord comes in glory.

So on this day, I would like to thank a prisoner in Colorado, Brian O’Connell, for writing to me, in a certain sense a “fellow-prisoner” in this world, one prisoner to another…

And I particularly appreciated the fact that the letter reached me on the Feast of St. Joseph, to help guide my reflection…

If you would like to help support sending free subscriptions to prisoners like Brian O’Connell, your help would be greatly appreciated. The cost is $40 per subscription. Please click here, or call our offices at 202.536.4555 for more information.

Note: For those who would like to travel with us on pilgrimage:

(1) In mid-July 2015 (and again in 2016, God willing), we will travel with a small group of Inside the Vatican readers on our annual “Urbi et Orbi” pilgrimage to Russia, Turkey and the Vatican, to visit eastern Orthodox leaders, shrines and monasteries, and to talk with Vatican officials about ecumenical relations between Catholics and Orthodox;

(2) In December, we will be gathering in Rome to be present when Pope Francis opens the Holy Door to begin his Special Jubilee of Mercy. If you would like to join us on either of these pilgrimages, email now for more information;

(3) In November, 2016, we will be in Rome with a small group of pilgrims for the closing of the Holy Door and the end of the Jubilee of Mercy.

We keep all of these pilgrimages small, so please contact us if you would like your name to be placed on a waiting list, to hold your spot.

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What is the glory of God?

The glory of God is man alive; but the life of man is the vision of God.” —St. Irenaeus of Lyons, in the territory of France, in his great work Against All Heresies, written c. 180 A.D.

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