Listen & Watch 2016 Religious Education Congress –"Be Fearless for Me: Courage and the Gospel of the Marginalized"
(We continue our series touching on "Corporal” works of mercy. These works are known to concern the material needs or tending to bodily needs of others, as well directed towards relieving any suffering. I have added some prayerful reflective questions at the end of this post for you.)
While I have been blessed to work in many ministries over my lifetime touching on all these works, I would like to take the time to focus on one of my favorite experiences that had left permanent life learning lessons that I carry with me daily; Prison Ministry.
I have been blessed in many ways along my journey as I have had mentors who guided me when I was the most lost in my spiritual and emotional life from the time of my early youth to my young adulthood. I unexpectedly found spiritual guides when I wasn’t even looking, but more so I found new life. I found life in taking the focus off of myself and putting it to better use in helping others. Whatever trials or pains in my own suffering, such is the old adage, there is always someone who is going through something worse. It is a powerful truth that to this day helps me get through darker moments along my journey. Mercy.
In my early 20’s, a few years into a very intense illness and addiction called Anorexia, I found myself turning to my faith in ways I never trusted before. I turned to prayer and ministry, then forced to listen. When I listened deeply at the time, I heard a most unrealistic call to religious life that really threw me down to my knees in prayers for understanding. It took a great deal of time, spiritual direction, trust and patience to come to the direction in which my path would take at that time of discernment. Along the way I was encouraged to stretch my mind and faith through ministries I never thought of participating in before. These gifts were the greatest blessings I had ever received.
At the guidance of my spiritual director this took the form of Youth Prison Ministry with the amazing Fr. Greg Boyle from Homeboy Industries. It was early on in his rising and I found him to be so different than the traditional priests I had known up until this point. He didn’t always wear the traditional priestly attire, he swore, he was alive with energy and he challenged the mass and gospels through the ministry to these young men.
We would gather at the Church, St. Monica’s in Santa Monica, then drive together to the camps. At first you never knew what would come before you that day with eager anticipation and often fear if we are being really honest. After all we were going into a prison. We were all assigned to one person and truly instructed to simply listen, be a mentor in ways to someone who often came from the poorest of poor neighborhoods, gangs, violence and had seen more pain and suffering that a young person should see in their young life. At the end we all gathered for an even more nontraditional mass which I felt God’s love probably deeper than I ever had in any traditional setting, as many of the young men were rival gang members, but for those 45 minutes were all one family.
Some days when we reached the time of Eucharist one was still truly sitting with what they had been a part of moments before. That was me…I sat with a young man, 13, who was in this detention facility for murder. You read correctly, 13 and murder. He seemed humble if you can imagine. He was a boy. He was unsure of who he was wanting to talk of the simplest of things. And when it came to it…remorseful. He found himself there that day by following what he knew was his life. No one had taught him better. Sadly, he did indeed take a life, but it was clear the magnitude of this act didn’t register. So in my humble role I just sat, listening engaged conversation offering as much hope and faith as I could that day. In the end he changed my life more than I ever changed his. I have prayed for him my entire life, over 20 years now. I wonder if he is alive, if he took a different path. Looking back, I tried to offer him a bit of Mercy, not judgement. Love, not fear. Hope, not despair. I only ever prayed for him to know, to feel and to embrace the faith that I knew.
It is as easy as that for you too. Offering Mercy is something we can all do daily, to every person you meet. For truly, everyone is facing a battle you know nothing about.
While you discern these works in your own life seek out a Mentor, seek out a spiritual guide or director.
Allow for someone to see within your path and help guide you towards this beautiful Mercy.
- To feed the hungry. Have you ever experienced the feeling of hunger when you just had enough to cover the monthly bills, feed your children and finding there was nothing left for you?
- To give drink to the thirsty. Have you ever stopped to marvel at the fact one can never go thirsty in our country, water is simply available at all times? In many countries clean water is something children and adults have never known, as well have to travel miles on foot to simply retrieve what they could praying it would be enough.
- To clothe the naked. Have you ever been in a position where your child has desperately needed a new pair of shoes or winter coat to keep warm, but there was nothing you could do until another job would come along?
- To shelter the Homeless. Have you ever found yourself living in one room with your children or have been one paycheck away from being on the street or in a shelter because you simply could not get ahead?
- To visit the sick. Have you ever taken time to minister to the sick albeit in a Holy site, a nursing home or a hospital to those who have had no one?
- To visit the Imprisoned. Have you ever sat before a person who had committed murder and simply listened without judgement, been an ear they didn’t have in their time of despair?
- To bury the dead. Have you ever had to bury a loved one too young, too soon knowing the pain of having to say goodbye?