It continues to surprise me how extremely relevant Scripture is to the lives of prisoners. Whether I’m reading an Old Testament prophet or the epistles of St. Paul, the circumstances of the imprisoned are never far from any given page. Listening to the readings in prison, as Paul speaks about the chains he bears for the sake of the Gospel or how many times he found himself imprisoned, adds a whole new depth to the readings.
Earlier this week, as my sister and I drove to prison for a bible study, I read the Gospel passage aloud that we were going to discuss. It was something I’ve heard and read dozens of times and yet my eyes were opening in a new way, something that has happened innumerable times since I started going into the prison. The passage for the upcoming Solemnity of Jesus, King of the Universe, was about Jesus on the cross and the conversation He had with the good and bad thief.
The rulers sneered at Jesus and said, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.” Even the soldiers jeered at him. As they approached to offer him wine they called out,
“If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.” Above him there was an inscription that read, “This is the King of the Jews.”
Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.”
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23: 35-43
I could hardly believe it when I read the passage to my sister. How striking. A passage about how Jesus, the sinless one, who enters into our lives and takes on our sin, dying amongst criminals who were sentenced justly for their crimes. What would it be like to hear this as a prisoner?
Continue reading “Living and Active”
If you don’t often feel uncomfortable when reading the Gospel, you might be reading it wrong.
Between a Monday evening Bible Study and Friday classes, I have the great gift of looking at the upcoming Sunday’s Gospel at least six times during a typical week. Sometimes, I’m a little dense, though. It took until Friday afternoon or Saturday before I genuinely started applying it to me.
This past Sunday the Gospel was about the rich man and Lazarus from Luke’s Gospel. It is clearly a rebuke of the rich man’s lack of compassion for the suffering of Lazarus. Also, it emphasized the finality of death and the subsequent judgement.
At first glance, I felt pretty comfortable. I do not look at the suffering of my fellow man with zero compassion. Yet I was prompted to wonder: perhaps the rich man did see Lazarus, did see his suffering, did feel moved–just not enough. Maybe the idea of reaching out made him feel uncomfortable. Or he didn’t know what to do. Or he was nervous that the suffering of Lazarus would be too disturbing to experience up close.
The Gospel suddenly became something I could apply to my life as I remembered a situation where I saw someone suffering, felt bad for them, and then did nothing. There were about three times when I had witnessed a man sitting in a wheelchair in the middle of the sidewalk, well past a time when he should have been home or in a shelter. It was an arresting scene: the sun had set, it was a bit blustery, and there he sat in a wheelchair on the sidewalk with a blanket stretched over his entire body, from his feet to over his head. I saw it and I kept driving, every single time.
Continue reading “The Rich Man and Lazarus”
I promise, I promise that I will not forever be talking about prison on here. At some point, the students will make an appearance again. It simply seems that the most striking things are happening in prison.
The other night, we were following a winding conversation that started from Sunday’s Gospel. We discussed being the one sheep that wanders away and how the generous love of the Father always seeks us out. One of the inmates reflected on how God’s love sometimes doesn’t seem gentle, as He protects us from worse things. He compared it to an experience he had as a father where he had to stop his child from running into traffic but that action made the child cry. Yet it was necessary in order to save the child from greater danger or even death. It was likened to prison, a place I’ve frequently heard them refer to as a place that saved them while also grumbling against it.
Another inmate listened to this and then quoted from memory, “The Father disciplines the one He loves.”
And that other inmate just nodded his head and said, “Thank God.”
Continue reading “He Disciplines the One He Loves”
I like teaching and I like going into prison. Sometimes, they aren’t as different as one would think.
I’m not in charge of anything at the prison bible study, so I am able to just sit back and observe what is happening. One of my favorite takeaways from last time was how so many of them have experienced the difference Christ makes in their lives. When they follow Him, they live differently. But then they run into situations in life that shake their resolve and make them revert back to their old ways. It was a beautiful grace to watch them speak of how they are better when they follow Christ and His Scriptures but yet how hard it is to persevere in that life.
In part, it was beautiful because I could relate and I could tell by the numerous bobbing heads that so many of them did, too.
Continue reading “He Changes Things”
Have you ever heard a passage in Scripture and been convinced that it was crafted specifically for you in that moment?
Or have you heard a story or verse again but you are really hearing it for the first time with new ears?
Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord?Psalm 24
Who shall stand in his holy place?
After a college semester in Austria, I spent a week in Ireland with my aunt. One day, I climbed Croagh Patrick, the mountain said to be the place where St. Patrick drove the snakes from Ireland. I’m a plains girl, through and through, but I was excited to have a mini-retreat as I ascended the mountain on my own.
For several months after, I was reminded of this small pilgrimage when I would read Scripture passages that spoke of climbing mountains. Transported, the verses were enriched with the memory of my own mountain climbing experience. The view I had from the rocky summit was striking, reminding me why mountain-top experiences are so formative.
The Lord is king, let the earth rejoice,Psalm 97
Let all the coastlands be glad.
In college, I went on a mission trip that brought the sacraments to people living along the Honduran coast. We hiked to towns that had no roads and met with people who had almost nothing. My Spanish was limited, but my heart overflowed when I encountered their simplicity and their joy. Returning to campus, I longed to be in Honduras, a place abundant in beauty and where I encountered the tangible presence of the Lord.
Continue reading “Old Words, New Meaning”
Kids can get away with so much.
Whether it is because they are adorable or because we can chalk it up to their innocence, they are able to do things that are unthinkable to adults. The small child that escapes the proper place in the church pew and scampers toward the front of the church is often met with smiles, even if the bishop is offering Mass. A few weeks ago, a child at an audience with Pope Francis ran to the front and when the Swiss Guards tried to block him, the pope welcomed him forward.
They also seem to have the freedom to just ask for things. My nephew once saw some money sitting on my parents’ counter and, after clarifying that it was indeed money, asked if he could have $40. Children are quick to ask for food (even if it is the food you are eating), a drink from your water bottle, and anything else that might be slightly weird for an adult to request.
Yet there is such freedom in their general disposition. A freedom that is nearly enviable when one considers how they present their needs and desires to those capable of actualizing them. It made me consider how freeing it would be to approach God the Father in that way. What would it be like to truly be His child, with all of the fidelity and trust found in the hearts of the little ones? Continue reading “Childlike Trust”
Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
A friend once told me that his dad gave him really good advice one time. His dad said, “The worst thing they can say is no.” For my friend, it made sense and it gave him the motivation to just ask for things, realizing that no was as bad as it would get.
You see, for me, hearing no seems pretty bad. I don’t want to hear that my request is denied. So I would prefer to not ask for things because I would rather not know than be turned away empty-handed. It means that the few days I did phone banking in college during election season were nearly torturous. I’ve hated any sales I had to do in elementary and high school because I didn’t want people to tell me they were uninterested in buying something from me. In most situations, I would rather not ask if I think the answer might be no.
Due to circumstances, in the past couple years I’ve been forced to ask for more things. With a slightly new position at work last year, I recognized that unless I asked for things, I wouldn’t get them. The few times I made big petitions for situations I already deemed highly unlikely or impossible were rewarded with a surprising affirmative. Fulfilled requests emboldened me to keep asking, but I still worry that my pleas will be dismissed.
Yet Jesus commands us to ask. He wants us to petition Him for the things we desire. Earlier this week in prayer, I received the passage above, slightly jumbled and incomplete in my brain. The part that stood out was where Jesus compares our heavenly Father to our earthly fathers. Good dads know not to give their children stones or serpents when they are desiring food. Our heavenly Father knows us best and desires the most to fulfill our longings. How much more will He desire to meet our needs when we ask Him, because He is perfect and good. Continue reading “Jesus Said Ask”
Nearly every Tuesday, I have “contemplative time” for my classes. Do they actually reach contemplation? Probably not, but I like to provide intentional time for silence and prayer. It is ten minutes where the only thing that is required of them is to be still. In a world overflowing with noise, arguments, ideas, and busyness, I try to offer them a brief respite from the long list of things they must do.
To help direct their prayer, I display a Scripture passage, a quote from a saint, or an excerpt from a spiritual read for the students to use as a starting point. A few weeks ago, near All Saints’ Day, I had them focus on Hebrews 12:1-2 for their time of prayer.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”
I had fifty minutes that day to reflect on these verses. Different portions stood out to me at various points in the day. Yet by the afternoon, one phrase continued to stir my heart. So much so that I wrote it out on a note card and affixed it to my desk organizer so I could continue to ponder it in the days to come.
For the sake of the joy… Continue reading “For the Sake of the Joy”
Tastes and preferences change over time, for which I am grateful. When I was younger, I didn’t like spicy food like hot sauce or horseradish sauce. Over the past couple years, I’ve started to enjoy sprinkling (sparingly) some fiery sauce over my eggs or potatoes or whatever might seem good. The surprising craving for horseradish came as a result of an encounter with a Blue Apron recipe I tried. After roasting broccoli and potatoes, the recipe called for a creamy horseradish sauce to coat the vegetables. Since then, I’ve been randomly working the interesting flavor into different meals.
As taste buds change, so also personal preferences change. What used to be unattractive, has changed over time into something which draws my heart. St. Mary Magdalene is one person who fits into this category. I’ve met several people over the years who have loved her and for many of those years, I was a bit confused. The people seemed to have nothing in common with this well-known sinner-saint, yet they were attracted to her life and witness. I can now number myself among those who love St. Mary Magdalene. While I don’t identify very closely with the particulars of her life, I identify very much with her heart.
She was a woman who was forgiven much and loved much. In an act of total self-surrender, she broke her jar of precious ointment and poured it on the feet of Jesus. Wiping His feet with her hair, she laid her entire life before Our Lord. In exchange, she was one of His closest followers, one who sat at His feet to listen to His stories and who was driven by grief to weep at His tomb after the crucifixion. In her need to be close to Him, she was sent as “the apostle to the Apostles” and was the first to witness the resurrected Christ.
St. Mary Magdalene loved with a love that was all-encompassing. That need, that desire to be a total gift for the Lord is something that resonates within my own heart. Earlier this summer while on retreat, I prayed with that passage of Mary anointing the feet of Jesus. In a way that it hadn’t before, the words of the Gospel moved my heart and invited me to share more deeply in the relationship Mary had with Our Lord. Continue reading “A Heart Like St. Mary Magdalene”
Lent seemed to be forty days of falling on my face.
As Easter approached, I found myself holding back, wishing the days would reverse and I would have the gift of more Lent. I was annoyed with myself because I knew better. The Lents that are the most intense and where I am the most faithful yield the best Easters. After forty days of extra prayer and penance, I burst with joy into an Easter that truly finds me resurrected and renewed.
This time, I wanted an extra long Lent. I wanted more time to make up for the ways I failed day after day. I wanted more time to get it right.
I walked into Holy Week and then into the Triduum with a bittersweet feeling. After such a pitiful Lent, it didn’t seem as though I deserved to rejoice in the Resurrection. At some point between Holy Thursday and the Easter Vigil I became convinced of one thing: I am in incredible need of a Savior.
On Ash Wednesday, I had great hopes of competing well and running this sacrificial race for Our Lord. I wanted to do great things and to show how much I love the Lord. When I arrived at the altar of repose on Holy Thursday evening, I had to acknowledge that the Lord was the only one professing the depths of His faithful love. I desire to be a follower of Jesus and yet I quickly become like the disciples in that night of testing. I run away, I hide, and I wonder what Jesus will do with someone so small and pitiful. Continue reading “I Need Easter Because I Failed at Lent”