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"For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them." Matthew 18:20


Filtering by Tag: jail ministry

The jail (at Christmas time)

Laura DeMaria

Tonight there was no jail ministry, though we didn't know that until we got there. Programs being canceled is not unusual; this is actually the third week in the row where for a variety of reasons the prison either goes on lock down, something is being fixed or cleaned, an inmate is being taken elsewhere, there is a staff shortage, etc. and we are not allowed up. Typically when this happens, we arrive at the front desk and they simply tell us we can't go upstairs (sometimes telling us why, sometimes not). Tonight was unique, however, in that we didn't know things were off until making it through the first two deputy/security check points, signing in, gathering our cart o' Catholic stuff (hymn books, a few images for the room, the table cloth and candles - never lit) and walking to the multipurpose room when we realized something was up and, indeed, our program was canceled.

I stood outside the hallway looking through the glass windows at a room that normally would be empty. It is bland; light gray cinder block walls, dark plastic chairs, fluorescent lights, a few tables and a white board. Tonight, though, there was an entirely new scene: young mothers, all inmates, surrounded by their children. The tables were covered in gingerbread houses, tubes of cake frosting, bowls of candy, green and red table cloths and Christmas decorations. The little room was alive, lively, with the activity of these little broken families celebrating Christmas together as best they could. As I walked by, separated only by a pane of glass running along the hallway, none of them looked up, so caught up in the moment were they and their children.

I can't stress enough how odd a scene this is to see. For one thing, I rarely see female inmates. This detention center has only one floor for women, and they don't often make it to our meeting, for whatever reason. And of course, one does not see children in jail, either. Aside from those surface issues, though, is the bizarre disparity between the physical circumstances in which this was happening, and the bigger picture of these women drawing their children to them at Christmas time. I couldn't help but wonder how these women, in their matching blue jumpsuit uniforms, felt. Were they embarrassed? Did they feel they had failed their kids? Or simply happy to have them there, accepting that time as better than nothing? How would they cope when it was time for the children to leave? And for those kids, sucking on peppermints in their mothers' laps, making gingerbread houses in a county facility - were they scared? Used to it? Just happy to be there?

And yet the biggest thing was the joy. Everyone was smiling. There was laughter, hugging and kissing, and that is really what suffused the bland little room and made it different. It was a little hard for me to understand how that kind of love can show itself in a physical way beyond the gestures of everyone involved, to the actual aura of the room, but there it was.

I stayed for just a moment to double check with the deputy that there would be no program. She was apologetic that we were not notified earlier, and as I left I glanced one more time at the little scene in front of me. In that moment, things were happening too quickly and I was distracted by the thought that by the time I see our regular inmates next it will have been five weeks total. Just a self-serving moment of "Ah, poor me." Then one more fleeting thought came and went as I buzzed out: although I was too distracted in that moment to show any real emotion, I think one day there will come a time, maybe after I have had children of my own and celebrated Christmas with them, that I will remember that scene and cry in hopelessness. That is all I feel I can offer them aside from prayers, but sometimes I think you just have to see the reality of human suffering and accept it, and in that way, share in it. What else is there to do?

But then, there was real joy in that room, and that is probably more important. It is the same love and joy that exists everywhere in the world, but somehow it managed to exist under these circumstances. This is God at work. And perhaps this is why, although our plans did not come to fruition, He called us to the jail all the same tonight, to see what He was doing.

Corpus Christi

Laura DeMaria

Every Monday night during jail ministry we have a Mass, or do a liturgical service, based on the previous day's (Sunday's) readings. Yesterday was the feast of Corpus Christi, which is of course all about the very real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. 

I don't know what it is about Mondays this summer, but if there is a torrential downpour to  be had, it happens Monday night. Tonight was no different - the little Accuweather app on my phone popped up with a tornado warning (pshaw) as I left work and while it stopped for the drive to the detention center, we sat in the multi-purpose room with the winds and rain howling around the building again. Rain is always nice, though, especially during summer, and especially when you are in a place so clinically, purposefully cold. It reminds you of what's outside - the fact that there is an outside.

There was just three of us tonight: two volunteers and one inmate. He is our regular, and we always marvel at the way these discussions help us all gain a deeper understanding of scripture. We covered a lot of ground, and I shared my own feelings on how the Eucharist is not the "easy" part of being, or becoming, Catholic. Some of the first Apostles left Jesus when he began speaking about his body and and blood because it is such a radical idea. For me, it has been much easier to think "God is love" and leave it at that, rather than get into really examining the sacrifice and the reality found in the Host. If that is how you come to the Church, that is fine, but eventually you must see Jesus there in the Communion. I say "must," because otherwise you are cheating yourself - you get this pinch of reality, when there is so much there that God is offering you.

A few weeks ago I did adoration, really and truly, for the first time. I have had other, brief experiences which were parts of some greater activity, so I don't feel they count. It was one of the nights when we arrived at the jail to learn programs were canceled for lock down, and it was of course another rainy Monday, with the rain water gushing in the streets. Cajethan had the brilliant idea to spend that hour, instead of just turning around and going home, to visit the Eucharist for perpetual adoration at St. Agnes. I was secretly thrilled at his suggestion because it had been on my heart for some time. I relished the opportunity to just sit with Christ - not even have to pray the Rosary or anything else, not attempt a grand and deep meditation practice, not read some holy person's words - just be. Look to the monstrance, feel peace and just be. 

And that's exactly what happened. There in that little chapel, with the floods soaking the earth outside, the devoted beside me adoring in their own ways - I looked at Jesus inside the monstrance and let go. How and why does that happen? Why does it work? Is it the beauty of the monstrance and the altar? The prayers of the faithful suffused into the very air of the room? Is it because there is no wrong way to adore? Of course there are appropriate and inappropriate ways, but sitting vs. kneeling vs. praying vs. reading - Jesus is just happy you're there with Him. I think that must be it. And if you are open to it and faithful, you feel it.

What a wonderful gift we have as Catholics. This is why we kneel before the pew; this is why a church without the Sacrament on Good Friday feels so horribly empty. Jesus gave us the gift of himself on the cross long ago, yet he also gave us the gift us his person in the Eucharist to be seen and met every day. If it seems too good to be true, just sit with Him for a while.  Ask to understand, and allow his Presence to enter your heart. What you feel may be impossible to explain to any other person, and that's fine. After all, that speaks to the very nature of our personal relationship with God. He is waiting for you, and He already knows you.