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Rise!

Rise!

I don’t know what it is, but there is something so powerful about hearing the prayers of the women who are currently incarcerated at the local correctional facility. Their faith strengthens mine, and their reflections enlighten me.

Today we shared our thoughts about Lazarus.

Today’s Gospel read:

“Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” – John 11: 25-27

The faith sharing ended up going in the direction of talking about the times in our lives when we recognized that God said, “Rise!” to us.  And we talked about what it was like to hear that voice and now looking back, seeing what God’s intentions were for us. All for good and all for life.

Today was indeed a grace. These women blessed my life today!

As I walked out of the facility, I saw one of the inmates breastfeed her baby while her other visitor waited outside in the visitors area. I paused and lifted that moment in prayer.

When Eyes [and Hearts] Are Opened…

When Eyes [and Hearts] Are Opened…

My day started off with a Diocesan Youth Retreat planning meeting. How great it is to be in the company of people who are as dedicated and enthusiastic about the faith as you are! And as dedicated to the formation of youth and young adults as you are! In this Lenten season when March Madness has indeed made everything in March, just that – mad…because of the busyness that we all get wrapped up in, it is nice to pause and it is refreshing to be rejuvenated with energy and faithful spirits. Lots of exciting things ahead and my eyes have indeed been open to the number of opportunities available to see God moving in my life.

From moving homilies, to songs with lyrics that tug at my heart strings, to God-centered conversations with friends, to hugs to hanging out at the park under the warm sunshine…God’s hands are all over it all, holding everything together.

When I visited the correctional facility today, my eyes were opened to the great insight that I sometimes forget. I was reminded that when others may treat me in a rude manner or may come off as non-friendly, I must not forget that they may be going through something, or perhaps they are having a bad day. Instead – pray for them. This reminder that came through from one of the women I visited today rolled off her tongue as if it was a mantra she repeated to herself throughout the day. Watching women shepherd and support one another through verbal affirmation as it comes through in our scripture study is absolutely beautiful. It is a gift for me to witness, and my eyes were opened today with a new sense of warmth, compassion, and peace.

Being filled up with energy and enthusiasm from the morning prepared me for my visit that afternoon. And from that visit from the afternoon, I was then ready to start my week. I love how that works out so perfectly! God, you are good!

Lord, Hear Our Prayer

Lord, Hear Our Prayer

Prayers for strength, comfort, wisdom, and guidance resonated in the small room we were all cramped in tonight. I was surrounded by ten beautiful souls who shared with me their names, “roses” and “thorns” from the past week- others simply passed.

As I was prepping for my visit to the correctional facility, I thought immediately about the Gospel reading from Sunday: The Woman at the Well. How perfect. We read the scripture and begun our reflection. Thanks to Creighton University for their Online Ministries website that has wonderful resources throughout the Lenten season!

The woman left her water jug after her encounter with Jesus. What is your water jug that you want to leave behind? The woman had an encounter with Jesus – one that was powerful enough for her to leave her water jug. Have you had an encounter with Jesus? What was that like for you?

Women shared stories about their powerful experiences during prayer, during moments of temptation, during dark, dark moments, and yet regardless of how they reacted to that moment, knew that it was the voice of God leading them towards hope, calm, peace.

We concluded our time together with our prayer intentions. Tears aflowing, Lord, Hear our Prayer bouncing off the walls…God was present.

One of the women prayed that she would have an encounter with Jesus – one that moves her enough to know and recognize that it is the voice of God and Christ working in that moment. The bold prayers that I hear in that space during my visits are unlike any other small group or prayer gathering that I have ever been a part of. It is a gift for me to be invited into this space and I would not want to spend my Monday evenings any other way!

Mercy and Love

Mercy and Love

While my closest friends may be on the other end of the state, technology makes it quite convenient for us all to catch up with one another, and be in the same space together. At least, perhaps not the physical space, but at least operating in real time! My friends and I are doing a “book club” during Lent on the novel, Just Mercy by Bryan Stephenson. Not an easy read, by any means. I’ve started the book, probably about four times now, and yet, each time, I find myself re-reading paragraphs, hesitant to move on from what I had just read. Processing each sentence takes time, and putting myself in the scene, is even more difficult to grasp.

I’m grateful for my friends, and that tonight on my drive home from my cousin’s house, I had time to catch up with my friends and laugh and catch up with one another. What started off as a joking, “Where did you see Christ in your life lately?” question (yeah…we do that), we ended up talking about it. And conversing about it. Our realities are all so different! From working in a high school, to another getting his PhD in Economics, to another working at a university, to another being a Vice Principal at a high school, we are all doing very different things, but the foundation for all of us are forever rooted in the same soil. Pretty awesome that we will forever have that to share with one another.

God has been working in these close friendships of mine – no matter the distance. Friendships that have lasted for over 10 years? Yes please. Thank you God, that I have friends that I can continually look to for support, guidance, love, and laughs!

Holy Week Beginnings…

Holy Week Beginnings…

Yesterday, I hurried off to mass to secure 8 consecrated hosts, so that I could bring them with me to the prayer service I was leading at the correctional facility that afternoon. Success! It was Palm Sunday, and I made sure to make a couple of palm crosses too, so I could place them on the makeshift altar that I set up for every visit. Got there right on time, and just as I was signing in, the officer stopped me and said, “We’re actually on facility lockdown right now…all day.” Major bummer.

Walked right back to my car, and sure enough, it started raining. Yeah, like, “gray cloud, sad day” raining. Since I had all of that Jesus with me, I decided to have a mini prayer service in my car, in the jail parking lot – I figured, this was meant for them, so I’d might as well maintain the prayers by proximity (if that’s possible?). Such a bummer. Feeling uninspired, I opened the Bible to a random page, and it opened to Psalm 27. It read:

“The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” – Psalm 27:1

I consumed the hosts, and was grateful for an uplifting and reassuring mantra to guide me through the rest of the day. I figured, well, I’m visiting again, so hopefully tomorrow will be a better day and I’ll get to share Passion Sunday with the women. Just a day late!

Flash forward to this evening. As I drove over to the facility and walked on in, I kept thinking to myself: “I hope it’s a go…I hope it’s a go…” Welp, sure enough, the officer stopped me just as I was slipping my ID into the tray, and she said it would be another 30 minutes. Could I wait? I thought to myself for 15 seconds…and did an external processing situation with the officer as to whether or not I should wait it out (she was super nice and kind in listening to me…laughed a bunch too!)…and I decided to stay. I went to my car, decided to bust out the Bible again and get some inspiration for the evening. Read through Psalm 27 again…

“The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?” – Psalm 27:1

I walked back in (def did not wait the entire 30 minutes), got the OK, gathered my materials, and I was in the unit. I set up my altar off to the side, and after 25 minutes, some of the women were released for their free time…no. one. came. I greeted a few of them, but no one came. “Oh well,” I thought to myself. “I’m here in case any one wants to join – no problem.” The officer notified the unit, “The chaplain is here – Catholic.” Still, no one. I said to myself, OK, if no one comes, I’m leaving in 10 minutes. After 5 minutes, one woman came, then four others.

We went through the “positive” experiences from the past week, and they went something like this: “Grateful to no longer be homeless,” “My son finally got affordable housing and we don’t have to be on the streets anymore,” “I repented.” There is so much pain here in this place. I wish I could describe it better, but I truly believe there is lots of space for gratitude too.

In terms of the readings, the Gospel was long this week. It made me nervous because I was like, uh oh…they’re gonna start zoning out! But yet they were so engaged in following the story of Jesus that led to his crucifixion. It was truly inspiring to have them contribute their thoughts and weave in their personal experiences, as they relate to the Stations.

After 40 minutes, it was already late and I had some one-on-ones, so I was packing up ready to go. But before that, I had the chance to pray with a couple of women at their cells. “OK, here we go…,” I thought to myself. Walking through the center of the unit was quite the experience in itself.

I prayed with one of the women at her door and our hands touched the glass between us. We prayed for her intentions and she was gracious. Another woman was going to be released shortly, and so we took time to pray with one another at her door. This will hopefully be the last time I see her here. With emotions running high, it was a blessed time and we got to chat a little bit about the transition that is to come for her and her family. Indeed, what a Holy Week this has started out to be.

Let me tell you…prayer is powerful. A unit which was usually muddled with shouting, loud noises, and unrest was so quiet in that span of prayer time spent at their doors. Wow.  This experience was by far one of the most powerful experiences I have ever had, and it is truly a gift to be able to enter into these spaces and see Jesus within these walls.

“I believe I shall see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living” – Psalm 27:13