I asked a prisoner at one of the correctional facilities within our diocese to give a witness. I told him that the basic framework of the answer should be: “I was, Jesus did, and now I am”. That’s a framework within which we should each be able to share our story. The specific question I asked of him was: What does having Catholic clergy and lay people visit him in prison for worship and religious education mean to him? Below is his response:
First allow me to briefly describe myself and just how I got here. I was a dysfunctional man for many years. I maintained an image for the world to see (father/provider, real estate investor/businessman, academic), but in my spare time I ran and rode with outlaws and forced myself through drugs, sex, and illusions to feel comfortable.
God never allowed my heart to be comfortable with my actions and as a result my spirit was always fighting my flesh. Even in the darkest of days something always told me I was beautiful, special, good, and had a reason for living for God. But, although I hated living a lie, I simply could not quit.
I had fallen away from the Catholic Church, the church of my youth, and completely stopped listening to reason. Now, through guidance, forgiveness, faith, and wisdom I am becoming closer to what I now know is the Holy Spirit. Today I receive messages of great warmth that I wish to share with you.
The two priests, a deacon, and several lay people who visit bring inspiration and wisdom into this prison world of an otherwise uninspired existence. They understand that many of us did not like who we had become, so through scripture, the Holy Spirit, and the gift of their time, they help me (us) cultivate some of the dignity that I (we) lost as a result of my godless lifestyle.
Catholic clergy and lay people bring us Godly wisdom. I will never forget one of the priests quotes to me during a personal visit. He said, “We will respect those who have made a positive difference in our lives.” At the time, he and I were having a conversation concerning decision making. One does not need to be in prison to understand what a profit and help clergy and people who care are.
So it is that I find myself being welcomed home. I am more spiritually aware, and more joyful -- even in prison-- as a result of the Catholic clergy and lay people’s influences here in this prison.
Thank you for the visits of worship, material (rosaries) and religious educational material. I will not forget. May God continue to bless the Catholic Church with special blessings on those devout brothers of whom I speak who visit me (us) regularly. May the joy of the Lord God be with all of you who read these words. Amen!
Okay, this is Deacon Mark again. Our diocesan prison ministry could sure use some help. First and foremost, can you remember those incarcerated in your prayers? These are men and women -- like you and me – are children of God. They’ve made mistakes, serious mistakes. Yet, except for the grace of God, maybe you and I could find ourselves in the same circumstances.
Secondly, we could use more lay prison ministers. I suggest finding a friend and tag teaming this ministry. Jesus sent the apostles out in pairs!
Lastly, we who help in this ministry could use a number of “tools” like Catholic bibles, sacramentals, catechisms, religious books, subscriptions to monthly devotionals, subscriptions to the Register, etc., to help catechize these prisoners. You can contact Fr. Steve Heina for information at 785-472-3136.
Most of these inmates will ultimately be released. Let’s help them heal in Christ first.
We’ve been focusing on personal witnesses in the column. Today’s article is from a recovered alcoholic and drug addict. Quite a story!
I was one of 11 children, my mom was an incredibly prayerful person. My dad was also very faithful. All my brothers and sisters are still Catholics, most are quite active in the faith, do weekly Eucharistic adoration hours, pray the Rosary regularly, etc.
As a young adult, I became interested in worldly thing, fleshly things. So, I stopped going to Mass and Confession. Before I came back to Christ, I had probably gone to Mass only for weddings and funerals over the past 20 years. During that time I married, began a business, and had three children. I had been drinking and taking drugs since before I was married. Eventually, my wife realized this and confronted me. When I admitted it, she told me she considered this every bit as bad as being unfaithful. I was miffed by that statement. I had never been unfaithful. She gave me one chance. I failed. She divorced me.
The next ten years were even crazier. Being single, in my forties, on alcohol and drugs, and having money, was a very dangerous combination. I saw a number of women, thinking we had mutually caring relationships. In retrospect, although I really didn’t realize it at the time, they were using me for drugs, and I was using them for sex.
When I was 49, I was thrown in jail twice for 60 days. I decided maybe I should read the Bible, and did so…cover to cover. While in jail, I learned I was going to be evicted from my apartment. My sister invited me to live with her family, to give me the opportunity to straighten-out. I attended Mass with them every Sunday. At the same time, although I had stopped using drugs, I found different drinking buddies.
I began to feel guilty about going to Communion while sinning gravely. So, I went to Confession for the first time in many, many years…then again, and again. After probably ten confessions, I told the priest that, “Today, is my last Confession; I can’t stop sinning. I don’t want to face you anymore, and I don’t think I’m forgivable.” The priest responded, “What a minute, are you saying your paltry sins are greater than the Almighty God’s ability to forgive?” That struck me like a hammer. I realized I could always turn to Jesus.
During this time, I had several temporary jobs until I found myself unemployed. While working those jobs, I began to tithe. On January 3, 1911, when I found myself unemployed for an extended period, I promised God I would not drink until he got me a job. Ten days later, I got a very good, well paying- job.
Now, I had to find a reason outside myself, not to drink. The next day, I began reading a book on Purgatory which provided 30 different daily intentions about which to pray and meditate. Each day, I offer my struggles up for that given daily intention. The five daily prayers I prefer most are: 1) for those in Purgatory who suffer the most, 2) for those who are in Purgatory for the longest, 3) for those who have no one to pray for them, 4) for those who died suddenly without preparation, and 5) for those suffering in Purgatory on my account.
I now spend a minimum of three hours daily in prayer and worship, including Mass, bi-weekly Confession, all 20 decades of the Rosary, the Stations of the Cross, and other prayers and meditation.
Praise God, I’m home. I’ve never been this happy in my whole life.
This is Deacon Mark, now. This is a powerful witness. What struck me most, personally, is #5 for those suffering in Purgatory on my account…both those who are presently in Purgatory and those whom I have influenced who have not yet died. No sin is individual. They are all communal. My sin affects everyone. So does yours. As our anonymous witness said to me, I can’t believe God’s patience!
The national bishops recently put out an exciting new document called Disciples Called to Witness. Simply telling our story, how God has touched our lives, is one of the best ways to evangelize. The formula is simple. I was. Jesus did. Now, I am…. Often, God’s touch comes through another person.
Here is an anonymous parishioner story: Christmas morning, 2007, is etched in my heart forever. While deep in prayer giving thanks after Mass, I heard the rustle of movement next to me. I turned my head. All I could see were cascading vestments with stretched out arms coming together to encircle me in a huge hug. As this was happening, I felt a lifting of my spirit and the word “Jesus” sounded from within. It was so very clear, yet not as one hears with the ears. This was a profound turning point in the course of my life. It opened the door for the Lord's healing mercy to come in.
There were many wounds within me to be healed, going back as far as a little girl. Most of my pain I couldn’t talk about, let alone to a man. That’s part of the reason I stayed away from confession for many, many, years. I would just go to God myself.
As my prayer life deepened, the Lord allowed me to see that I needed to come back to this awesome gift of the Church. Still feeling very uncomfortable with it, I went very infrequently, and never to my parish priest. That Christmas morning hug changed all that. It allowed me to look at Father not so much as a man, but In Persona Christi (the person of Christ). This deepened my love -- even more -- for the gift of the holy priesthood. And because of that, the Lord continued to change me through His holy shepherd.
Two years later, during Christmas season 2009, a wound surfaced from my past. I was having a very hard time dealing with the pain, because it kept coming back. Shortly after, I lost my family rosary. I searched for it for several weeks, almost giving up hope of finding it.
One afternoon, before backing my car out of the garage, I was moved, once more, to search for it. Turning to check the floor behind me, I saw a beam of light shining in the back window. Sensing something different with this light, I followed it. Where it ended, I saw rays of light shooting back out from under the seat. It was my Rosary!
There was a feeling that came over me in that moment. It’s hard to explain. I had checked this area more than once. I have prayerfully reflected over all that happened from that Christmas morning hug until I found my rosary. It seems as though God was trying to tell me “You are in the dark now, but My light will show you the way; all you need to do is reach out and ask for it.”
Amazingly with God's grace I did do just that. The next day, I found the strength to call Father and set up a time to speak with him about my pain. Soon after this meeting, the Holy Spirit led me to go to confession face- to- face with this holy man of God. I now go every two weeks.
I give all the glory to God for these changes He made within me. But I'm also grateful for His priest son. Had Father not lived and loved his vocation, my life would be much different today. Through Father, the Holy Spirit has brought me, in a deeper way, to love the mystery and the beauty of my faith… most especially Mass and Reconciliation.
Years ago, I taught the CCD Confirmation class in my parish outside Seattle. It was there I learned an extremely important facet of teen and early adult ministry… most young people are more interested in experiencing their faith than they are in studying religion books and the Catechism. They need to get their senses involved. They want action, not theology.
This is an important principle. It’s not that the theology isn’t important; it is. Lord knows our catechesis over the last 50 years could have used some study and memorization of the essentials. But without a hands-on living of the faith, without acts of Christian charity, our kids never get to “touch” God, to get to know him personally by serving our fellow man.
Today’s article is pulled from an email from an adult participant in the summer’s Prayer and Action program. I’ve often said that adults are just grown up children. One has to wonder what her faith life today would have been had she been able to experience Prayer and Action as a teen. Here goes:
My experience with Prayer and Action was so much more than I expected. Did I like sleeping on an air mattress that went down every night, the heat, no showers in the morning, having little time for fixing my hair and make-up, broken fingernails or again the heat and sweating? NO!
However, I forgot about all of that after the first few days. It was the way it was and either I accepted it or I could have allowed it to take over…and I didn’t. The experience truly made me rethink so many things in my life.
They warned us about a high from this, and I understand that could happen. As I write this, a week later, I’m still on a high. However, there is a reason I was there and the emotions and feelings I have are real.
The faces of the people we helped, everyone I worked with, and the friends I made, will stay with me forever. I have never prayed in the same manner – or so close – with anyone. I admit, it was scary at times. I felt so inadequate at first. But, even though I may not have said all the right words, God was with me.
I cannot say enough about how great the prayer and action team is and the fantastic job they do. I have been Catholic all my life, but I feel closer to God now than before. I am talking with Him in ways I have never done.
I still know that I will struggle with many things, but I think this week will help me with life as it is. I wonder why I waited to experience this week; but I guess there is a reason. I can’t remember when I have laughed so hard that my stomach hurt so many times. It felt good!
Okay, this is Deacon Mark again. This Catholic woman’s “high” will wear-off. But if she chooses, and that is the operative word -- chooses -- then she can rekindle that high anytime she wants. It’s all in the “loving your neighbor as yourself” part of the greatest Commandment.
Helping others is laced throughout the Catechism. But there is no “high” in reading it. The “high” is in doing it. It is when we live our faith that it brings us joy. It is when we live our faith that we come face-to-face with the person of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
My experience is similar to this lady’s. I found Jesus in Sudan and Honduras. I found him among the poor and the destitute. My CCD training was good. The sisters drilled me. I could recite the Commandments, the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, and the Precepts of the Church. But it’s not there that we find him. It’s on the flat mattresses and in the heat and sweating. We find Jesus in the face of those less fortunate.