Recently I was speaking with a retired prison officer who was perplexed by society’s enthusiasm, yet at the same time lack of value, for material things. The example in question was the latest Samsung Galaxy mobile phone, costing over £1,500. He predicted that this would not only be on the wish list of wealthy businesspeople, but that within a matter of weeks it will be the aspiration of teenagers to have one in their hands.
The direction which Jesus gives in today’s gospel, ‘go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven’, flies in the face of what has become the norms of our day. However, the reaction of the wealthy young man to Jesus’ challenge speaks volumes. It would appear that nothing much has changed in 2000 years and for many, wealth, possessions and status remain the overriding principles in their lives.
It is not surprising that Jesus’ further direction, ‘come, follow me’ is also a hard pill to swallow. To ‘follow him’ is to embrace all that he taught and to put it into practice in our lives. A hard pill to swallow, because all that Jesus taught is so often in contrast to common and popular practice in our world. It is not just selling our possessions and giving money to the poor that is a challenging directive; speaking up for and having compassion for the outcast and sinner, visiting and caring for those who are sick, giving shelter to those who are homeless and spending time in prayer with God are also gospel imperatives. In addition to these, one of the clearest directives of Jesus, one that is conveniently overlooked, was to ‘visit the prisoner’.
On this day each year, ‘Prisoners’ Sunday’, the Catholic Church in England and Wales responds
to Jesus’ invitation to visit the prisoner. The Church embraces that which challenges society’s
norms and demonstrates, as Jesus did, compassion for those who are imprisoned. The invitation to ‘visit’ the prisoner can be responded to in so many ways. Today as a Church we are invited to reflect on the many opportunities around us that enable us to live out that which Jesus asked of his followers. We are invited to reflect on how we can ‘follow him’.
Whilst today is an opportunity to highlight the work of our National Catholic Prison Charity, Pact, and a means by which we can contribute financially to its work, it is also an opportunity to explore other ways in which we can respond to Jesus’
invitation to ‘follow him’; by praying for prisoners, their families, all who have been affected by crime and for those who care for them, especially Prison Chaplains. Or by volunteering in the many works that are associated with prisons and prisoners, either directly at your local prison, or through the works of Pact.
Today’s gospel challenges us to put aside the attractions of the world and in a real and tangible way respond to the teachings of Christ. Are you ready and willing to take up the challenge and ‘follow him’?
Very Rev. Canon Paul Douthwaite,
National Catholic Chaplain for Prisons