I’ll admit it: I’m a bit of a wimp. And there’s something about visiting men inside a maximum security prison which tends to remind me of that fact.
After an hour or two on the inside, I’m always more than ready to leave – a feeling that’s enough to convince me I’d find the prospect of doing ‘hard time’ nearly overwhelming.
So why do I keep going back?
At least part of the answer is this: I know I’m going to encounter Christ there. I’m going to experience his real presence in ways that cannot be explained by logic or reason.
And so it was this past weekend, when I served as a member of the Kairos Prison Ministry team who presented a weekend retreat to about two dozen inmates at Menard Correctional Center in Chester, IL.
In keeping with our Kairos “riverbanks,” we never ask the men what they’re in for…or how long they’ve been incarcerated. But we also know—by virtue of their presence at this particular prison—that most of the men we meet are doing hard time. They’re going to be locked up for decades, barring any unforeseen circumstances.
And yet, many of these men have remarkable spiritual gifts to share. The God-spark has not been extinguished in them, despite the drudgery and oppressiveness of their living conditions.
It takes only a little encouragement from us as team members—a slight scrape of the trowel—to set a remarkable transformation in motion: The seed of Good News (planted in their hearts long before we ever got there) starts to germinate and flower, right before our eyes.
I thought about what I saw this weekend at Menard…when I heard a certain miracle story recounted in the Gospel passage at Mass today:
Jesus was teaching in a synagogue on the sabbath.
And a woman was there who for eighteen years
had been crippled by a spirit;
she was bent over, completely incapable of standing erect.
When Jesus saw her, he called to her and said,
“Woman, you are set free of your infirmity.”
He laid his hands on her,
and she at once stood up straight and glorified God.
This is what Jesus does, I realized. He did it then – in Luke’s day. He’s doing it now, in my own experience. Jesus reaches out to those who are incapable of standing erect – who find it impossible to see something other than the mud and muck at their feet. And Jesus heals them. He sets them (and us) free, whenever and wherever we find ourselves doing ‘hard time.’
Good reason, indeed, for glorifying God…and for never ceasing to raise our voices in praise.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy One.