Relentless Pursuit: How Prison Ministry Causes Me to Stand in Awe Before the Mercy of God

Relentless Pursuit: How Prison Ministry Causes Me to Stand in Awe Before the Mercy of God

I don’t believe I ever had as much gratitude for the generous mercy of God as when I started volunteering at the prison.

Over the years, I have perhaps struggled with accepting that I cannot disappoint God or realizing the unplumbable depths of God’s particular love for me. But, in many ways, I never felt that I strayed too far from God. I never stopped going to Mass or turned away from the faith. In college, I was delving into my faith when many of my peers were shaking the Church’s dust from their feet. So I never really had to confront the question of “Can God forgive me for this?” and I say that without any pride knowing that I fail in many, many ways.

Standing before men in prison, though, I am encountering some men who have committed truly heinous crimes. There are men in for drug charges or robbery or embezzlement. And then I’m with men who committed crimes against women and children, in a variety of circumstances and situations. I also find myself with men who have murdered others or conspired to murder people or have attempted to murder others. Regardless their crimes, I am able to confidently extend the mercy of God to them.

There are times when I am in the disciplinary unit, talking with the men cell-front with a couple of other volunteers, and I find myself filled with profound awe over the gift of salvation. I don’t have to ask what sins they have committed to know if the Lord desires to be in relationship with them. If I find myself repelled by their sins or crimes, I know the Lord still yearns for their soul and to pour His love generously upon them. It causes me to experience again the immensity of the Lord’s love. There is no question about if He loves any person I meet in prison. That expansiveness causes me to stand there and just be awed by how the Lord never stops pursuing our hearts.

Continue reading “Relentless Pursuit: How Prison Ministry Causes Me to Stand in Awe Before the Mercy of God”

There is a Strength in Faithfulness

There is a Strength in Faithfulness

Only once have I really punched someone in anger.

It was a childish expression of frustration and the reprisal was one that kept that outburst of violence to a one-time event.  In general, I am a fairly patient person, I believe, and while I might get annoyed or angry, I am often slow to act on those emotions.

Yet I’ve always wanted to be viewed as strong.  I’m not tall and I probably don’t look very intimidating.  Despite that, it is a desire of mine to be seen as fiery.  The punch I threw in my youth didn’t end well, but I sought to prove my strength in other areas.  In an elementary school gym class, we were challenged to do as many push-ups as possible.  Due to my slight frame and sheer grit, I completed push-up after push-up until my arms quaked each time I neared the floor.  When I finally stopped, only one other person was still going.

As kids, my dad would challenge us to completely unfair wrestling matches.  Being six or seven and taking on a fully grown man did not present balanced odds.  However, I clearly remember wrestling matches where my dad only needed to use one arm or a leg to pin me down as I relentlessly squirmed to get away.  Finally, I would concede defeat, but only with flushed face and worn out limbs.

This desire to be strong was evident from my youth and yet it found expression in various ways as I got older.  Physical prowess was never going to be my gift and so I exercised strength in witty replies and intellectual knowledge.  But I still wanted to be viewed as strong and I had this indomitable longing to be a soldier.  I have a fight in me that needs to be revealed in some way.  It means that while I “hit like a girl,” I still punch my dad in the shoulder every time I see him.  And while I’m not a fan of conflict, I enjoy a good argument or discussion when I’m in the mood.

At my nephews’ wrestling tournament the other day, I saw a woman in army fatigues.  The strength that her outfit symbolized was something I desired for myself.  Which, naturally, means I went home that night and casually perused the Army National Guard website.  I imagined what it would be like to join the military and how that could impact my life.  I don’t really want to fight someone, but I want to fight for something. Continue reading “There is a Strength in Faithfulness”

A Laity of Saints: How God Uses the Little for Greatness

A Laity of Saints: How God Uses the Little for Greatness

When I mention that my two older sisters are religious sisters, people often wonder what my parents did to make that happen.  In a way, I understand, because it is mildly unusual in today’s world to hear about young women making vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.  Yet I also want to fight against this mentality that holiness is primarily for priests, religious, and consecrated persons.  Sanctity is for everyone and we need to continue to proclaim this good news.  

If you are what you should be, you will set your whole world on fire.

~St. Catherine of Siena

Venerable Jan Tyranowski recently came into my life and he inspires me in the quest for a saintly laity.  He was born at the turn of the twentieth century in Poland.  For over three decades, he led a rather unremarkable life.  But at Mass one day, he heard the priest say that it isn’t difficult to be a saint.  From that day forward, he pursued virtue and holiness with an incredible ardor.

When Nazis invaded Poland, they deported several of the priests in parish, leaving behind only a couple elderly priests.  Knowing of his deep faithfulness, the priests ask Jan to minister to the young of the parish.  Despite his introverted nature and little formal education, Jan began this ministry even though he considered himself incapable.  He formed prayer groups comprised of fifteen young men each.  Each man was responsible for daily praying a decade of the rosary and striving to live out particular virtues.  The groups were called “Living Rosaries” and Jan chose a leader for each group, investing time to spiritually form each leader.

Venerable Jan Tyranowski never married and never became a priest, yet his life of holiness impacts us today.  The Second Vatican Council called for the laity to live more fully the mission of the Church.  This call was anticipated in the life of Jan and he did this in the midst of a Nazi occupation.  One of the young men who was in his prayer group and was spiritually formed by this simple tailor was Karol Wojtyla, better known as Pope St. John Paul II. Continue reading “A Laity of Saints: How God Uses the Little for Greatness”

Entering the Mission Field

I never realized how controversial the simple truth could be until I stepped foot into my classroom.  Prior to this I knew in theory that some truths people didn’t like but I was awakened to a whole new realm of this in one of my classes.  The truth is offensive.  I told my students that the Catholic Church had the fullness of the Truth and I didn’t expect the firestorm that would follow.  It wasn’t always a verbal defense that they provided but I could tell that they were mad at me or mad at the Church.  And I’m not certain if I ever really solved the problem.  Because I am realizing more fully that I cannot make anyone believe.  If only I could pray them into accepting the truth.  Yet all I can do is pray for them and strive to present the Truth in the best possible way.  I find myself desiring to protect the Church against any assaults they might hurl at Her.  In the midst of the moment I forget that the Church can defend Herself adequately and I need have no concerns about Her being found lacking.  I look at their lack of love for the Church and I am bewildered.  It takes a while for me to remind myself that I did not always harbor this love for the Church that I do now.

I desired a mission and the Lord has placed me in the missionary field of a classroom in a Catholic high school.  My idealistic view of teaching is not completely gone, although the past couple months has tempered it.  How do I give the love I have to them?  How do I take their skepticism and help it become belief?  It is not because of me that any of their hearts will be converted.  I am convinced of this.  My beautiful lessons seem to be less than impressive to them.  The very things that fill me with joy can put them to sleep.  Despite the resistance that some of them put up to the Church, to the Truth, to me, I know that these hours that they spend in my classroom will impact them in some way unforseen to anyone.  Initially, I was glad to see them write the correct answers on the paper, knowing that even if they didn’t believe the answer they had to memorize it for the test.  Now, I want much more from them.  I find myself desiring rebuttal rather than the perfectly formulated answer that they could care less about.  I want them to care deeply one way or the other.  In some ways it is hard to rouse this generation to action or to convince them to be totally committed to something even though in their core that is what they desire.  But then again my own heart is so slow to be awakened and called to action.

How the heart of Our Lord must ache for us, His beloved ones!  My desire for them to accept the truth is not as firmly rooted as is the Lord’s desire for them to become what they are called to be.  My love for them wavers and changes based on the day.  But the Lord’s love remains firm and unyielding.  I pray to have His heart for them so that I may love them as I ought.  How far I have to go.  Where I see battle lines to be drawn, Our Lord sees lost sheep to find and craddle in His arms.  Where I see rebellion, Our Lord sees the pain and hurt that they have experienced.  Teaching one of my classes about David I was struck again by the call to be a woman after God’s own heart.  I am called to become more and more like God and by doing so to become the saint that He desires me to be, that He needs me to be.  Because only a saint can fulfill the call that the Lord has placed upon my heart, upon the heart of each person.

While my title may be “teacher” I am striving to embrace more fully the title of “missionary” so that I may remember that every place needs to be evangelized and that this is not my home.  For now, my mission field is the classroom and my students are the ones who need to hear the Gospel proclaimed to them.  Regardless of how small or large the task appears to me, I must remember that because the Lord wills this of me in this present moment, this task is the most important thing for me.  This is my mission, this is my street, this is my life.

“Do not be afraid to go out onto the streets and into public places like the first apostles who preached Christ and the Good News of salvation in the squares of cities, towns, and villages.”   Bl. Pope John Paul II (WYD 1993)