Friday, September 17, 2010

Reflecting on prison ministry

It's a Friday night and I'm taking a break from preparations. In the morning I'm leading a reflection on what it means to be a prison minister. Lay Catholics and perhaps a few nuns will be gathering at a Teresian chapel in nearby Covington to pray and reflect on this unique ministry entrusted to us from God.

It may be strange as some of the ministers undoubtably have been at this longer than me. I first was introduced to prison ministry during my formation years during a semester dedicated to clinical pastoral training(CPT). That only lasted for about 6 months. It would be 18 additional months before I would return as their formally assigned Deacon and pastoral care chaplain. I've been serving in this capacity for 20 months now.

My message in the morning will be heavily framed by my realistic experiences of time spent in prayer and services and time spent back in the dorms and the cell blocks. I'll do my best to explain the need to be faithful to this ministry for visiting those in prison is a command from Jesus as explained in Matthew 25. And I hope to convey the clear message of the gift of presence and the gift of treating prisoners as children of God, able to receive forgiveness and mercy from a just and loving Father. Letting those in prison know that we treat them with human dignity and a pastoral concern for thier spiritual well-being is critical in their own faith journey and ability to forgive self.

I hope to borrow liberally from several documents, including those of many Louisiana Bishops, including our own former Archbishop Alfred Hughes. I also am very fond of a book, given to me as a gift by my own Pastor, Fr. Robert Cavalier, entitled Doing Time; Finding Hope at San Quentin by Dennis Burke.

And I am most looking forward to hearing the personal stories of all ministers present; their hopes and joys at serving the prisoners and the challenges and struggles they may face as well.

Hopefully, I will have plenty to report on in the next day or so. In the meantime, pray for those who minister to prisoners and pray for prisoners too. Pray that they may deal honestly and forthrightly with their situation and that the time they spend in prison may be a time of potential spiritual renewal.

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