For as long as I'm allowed to do prison ministry I am constantly blessed and overwhelmed. Today, on a bright, cool November morning we gathered in the chapel at Rayburn Correctional, some 60 miles north of New Orleans. The event was a mini-retreat with Fr. David Caron, OP and Sister Judy Gomilla. The subject, the Jubilee of Mercy and living a life of mercy and forgiveness.
Wonderful presentations and the celebration of Mass were the highlights of the day. Fr. Caron explained everything about Jubilees and this particular Jubilee of Mercy. Sister Judy gave the men many practical applications for living a life of mercy. Fr. Caron offered Mass and the men received Holy Communion.
As a big treat, the men received lunch of honey-baked ham or sliced turkey breast, pasta salad, tomato & cucumber salad and other goodies. Yes, the men crave salad because it is not offered in the prison.
After lunch the men were given a chance to share their reflections and then received a final blessing.
Did I mention that 161 men were in attendance? Did I mention they were all hungry for the message received? Have I ever mentioned that I love this ministry?
As a Permanent Deacon I have been assigned to this prison for all 8 years of my diaconate. I have had nothing but powerful experiences in prison. From our weekly visits, to the retreats and special events, to walking the grounds on days off, I always love being in service to the men that reside here. And I am always moved how much I feel the men ministering to me, by their example, their humility, their contrite spirit.
I know that my overall ministry as a Deacon is greatly enhanced because I am a prison minister. I cannot imagine being Deacon without having a ministry where others commonly do not go. My own prison ministry affirms for me that we Deacons need to worry less about being Father's little helper at the parish, or a member of the parish Council and instead be a presence for Christ and of Christ wherever Christ must be. Our brothers in diakonia MUST be in prisons, hospitals, nursing homes, food banks, homeless shelters, juvenile detention centers, street ministries, inner cities, rural poor zones, elder care, accompanying those who otherwise are not accompanied!
Today affirms this belief for me again. And if there is a brother Deacon out there only ministering in your assigned parish, consider being Christ where Christ is needed the most!