Although Catholic cultures have punished crime severely including by torture and death, there has been, especially in Hispanic cultures, a curious cult of the criminal as saint. Mexico has its holy banditos and narcotraficantes.

Miguel Mañana was a Counter-Reformation Spanish noble. He had been violent and lascivious, and underwent a complete conversion. He served the poor and especially criminals.

Most people then and now would understand the identification of Christ and the suffering poor, but Mañana went further.

Timothy Mitchell in Passional Culture explores the confradías that Mañana founded. The brothers provided assistance to criminals condemned to death.

They collected alms on the way to the gallows, prayed for his soul, provided for his widows or children, and gathered up the limbs of those who had been drawn and quartered. Not everyone approved of such consideration for criminals.

For Mañana Christ was the original “criminal,” condemned to death by the law, whose execution was/is a never-ending source of grace to humanity.

To those who dared to doubt that the hanged felon could represent Christ, Manana replied  that “there are two considerations in a man put to death: one, that of punished delinquent; the other, that of the helpless poor man. And since in the second our Lord is represented, any demonstration that is made in this respect falls short.”

Mañana’s generosity was unending, and the poor wept when he died. His penances were astonishing and disgusting; he may have been neurotic, but if so, he was a saintly neurotic – and perhaps the world needs more of them.

“I was in prison and you visited me” applies not just to Christians  imprisoned for their faith. The only group that does extensive hands-on work in prisons is Prison Fellowship International, mostly evangelical Christians. Chuck Colson was a neighbor in Florida, as is Michael Timmis, the current head. They have gone into some of the most dangerous prisons in the world to help prisoners and to bring the Gospel.

A few times when I was a Federal investigator I occasionally had to visit maximum security prisons and prisons for the criminally insane. When that iron door slams behind you, you feel a certain dread. I would not do it again willingly, but there are those who do it all the time, seeing in the convicts not just the justly punished criminal, but the face of the scourged and executed Man. I wish I could do that.

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