Saturday, January 8, 2011
I was in prison and you visited me
Since coming to Marquette I have had the opportunity of celebrating Mass and hearing Confessions in the State Prison and of hearing Confessions in the County Jail. The priests here are very generous in the service they render to prisoners. One priest celebrated two prison Masses on Christmas Day.
Prison ministry would not be considered by many as being particularly prestigious. I do not know many priests who have volunteered for this. I was hugely impressed when Fr Richard Hearn of my diocese (Southwark) announced that he had actually applied to be a full-time chaplain to a prison in the diocese and that his application was successful and that the Archbishop had released him for this ministry. I must confess to having at times thought of a priest who decides to dedicate himself to prison ministry as being a little unusual, perhaps unable to hack being a parish pastor.
I have learned what a greatly rewarding and terribly important thing it is to encounter Christ in those who are imprisoned.
The men (I have only experienced male inmates) must deal with great emotional, psychological and spiritual matters. And the time they have with the priest brings them great consolation and hope. Whether they are innocent or guilty of the crimes they have been accused of, all of them face uncertainty as they await trial. And, once they have been sentenced, they must come to terms with incarceration and how their time "inside" can become something fruitful. Here in the US the department responsible for prisons is known as the "Department of Corrections". I don't know how successful the department is at "correcting" its prison population. But by affording the inmates the opportunity of access to the grace of God by means of the Sacraments, hopefully they can, if guilty, be assisted in truly correcting their lives or, if innocent, identify themselves with the suffering innocent Christ.
Jesus came to proclaim liberty to captives. Even if those in prison have lost their civic freedoms, they can regain their spiritual freedom through the help of God's grace. And they can know of God's unconditional forgiveness and mercy in the Sacrament of Confession.