Rehabilitation and Restoration:
Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice
Sr Suzanne Jabro
Every person has a room with a view of the world. For
twenty-nine years, my vantage point has been from prisons in the United
States.Prisons mirror society.The lives of prisoners reflect all the unmet
social needs of a culture. Globally, the prison industrial complex
is used as the solution to social problems at enormous human and
financial cost. No matter the name of the country, behind prison walls live the
walking wounded; the mentally and
physically ill; the illiterate and undereducated;
the undocumented, addicted, homeless and poor. The suffering found
‘inside’ prison walls is a reflection of the suffering in a society.
In the US alone, there has been a
increase in the number of women in prison in the last decade.
million children have a parent in prison.
youth in detention and foster care tell stories of violence and trauma from
state of California alone has 608 men and 14 women on death row awaiting
Western democracies, the United States stands alone in its use of the death
recent as last week, the US Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics
published a sobering reality. 1 out of every 37 Americans has been incarcerated
at some time in State or Federal prison. Punishment is an American obsession.
the attack on the US World Trade Center and Pentagon, all significant advocacy on behalf of immigrants has halted.
Men, women and children seeking asylum in the US languish in immigration holding
facilities meant for days in detention, not years. The suffering of incarcerated
immigrants and their families is unimaginable.
For 20 years, US prison chaplains and social justice advocates requested,
then pressed the US Bishops to write a pastoral on Crime and Criminal
Finally, in 2000, The US Bishops pastoral letter was
published entitled: “Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration: A
Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice.
of the U.S. global influence, this document is of considerable interest in
countries beyond American shores. Because
we are Catholic Prison Chaplains, representing 55 Countries, it is imperative
this document is recognized for its strengths and weaknesses.
The pastoral has been widely praised in many important American circles and
newspapers and it has many fine features. These features include:
unequivocal condemnation of
of solitary confinement
mandatory sentencing laws.
also promotes respect for every person engaged in criminal justice processes,
including offenders and victims.
highlights the plight of more than 20,000 undocumented immigrants incarcerated
in prison awaiting due process.
reiterates the need for a clear distinction between juvenile offenders and
Pastors, the Bishops oppose limitations on
freedom and roadblocks that inhibit
to prisoners and families.
pastoral letter promotes many positive alternatives to imprisonment including
drug programs, restorative justice programs and victim-offender mediation.
gives a nudge of disapproval to the right to carry handguns and to the issue of
prisons for profit.
pastoral suggests many useful action steps for parish faith-communities,
diocesan leaders and public policy effort.
document has also been criticized.
some say, it lacks the sharp edge that would have moved it
from being a good document to being a great one.
it may be; prophetic it is not.
Father Jim Consedine summarizes the sentiment of many
US prison chaplains, when he states,
“The bishops have missed a tremendous opportunity to
condemn, unequivocally, the use of imprisonment as a weapon against the poor and
the obsession of the American culture
with the failed philosophy of punishment.
All the facts and figures are in the document to prove the point. But the
Bishops have failed to make the connections and
to recognize the sinfulness of this structured injustice.”
In Contrast, the delegates of the International Commission of Catholic Prison
Pastoral Care representing 55
countries, in Mexico, in 1999
made the connection the US Bishops missed and/or avoided.
Listen to the Commission’s 1st of 14
“Facing the real challenge of
violence and delinquency, we recognize the need to react by different means,
including imprisonment, as a last resort. We stress, however that prisons are a
“structure of sin” and, in some countries, part of big industrial complexes,
where the interests of those industries are put before the real needs of
society, thus adding to the poverty of those most at risk of imprisonment: the
homeless, the mentally ill, minorities and people of color, the vulnerable
My brothers and sisters, this is a prophetic
statement!” The connection was made. The evil was named.
international Catholic prison chaplains committed to Restorative Justice
principles, we must ask ourselves:
What is standing in the way of our being a prophetic
voice together, embracing our collective power for mission?
What is standing in the way of our international
Commission addressing the pastoral needs of prison chaplains, for assistance in
networking and organizing Catholic prison chaplains throughout the world and
calling for financial support for meetings, communication and networking?
We must ponder: Have we been seduced and domesticated
by the culture and believe there is no value in collective counter-cultural
Is it proximity? Are we so marginalized with our
people that we are powerless too? Have we lost our prophetic edge and passion?Is
it a spiritual crisis, a wounded condition of the soul creating resistance to
doing one more thing?
It isn’t by chance that the poor are getting poorer and the prisons are
expanding. The world is ever so slowly promoting values that are counter to the
Gospel. We live in this world and
absorb its values as a daily diet.
The Bishops pastoral faces the magnitude and
complexity of the causes and problems of crime and the criminal justice system.
and societal conflicting values,
“them and us” mentality:
and the kept,
The Bishops pastoral is an initial attempt to raise
some critical concerns regarding the criminal justice system and to invite
people of good will ( administrators, judges, lawyers, officers, chaplains,
volunteers, parole agents, victims and offenders) to join the dialogue and
participate in the mission of restoration, rehabilitation, and reconciliation
as a Gospel perspective and strategy, for healing a
person, society and world standing in need.
Let us look together at the pastoral in terms of four
dimensions of our faith tradition.
Counter-cultural Gospel Roots
The Church’s Mission
A Revolutionary Spirituality
The Counter-cultural stance of the Gospel calls us to
Commendation and Criticism of the
Bishop’s statement aside, all those who read the pastoral recognize its
of Violence and Murder Victim Family Members are the foci of concern.Victims are
central to every issue, suggestion and action step to be taken by the Church and
criminal justice system. Victims are at the table; they no longer are among the
Doesn’t this sound familiar? Isn’t
this the wisdom of the South African Truth and Reconciliation commission
co-chaired by Bishop Tutu? Serious
about healing and restoring victims and communities and ending violence after
Apartheid, the focus was placed on victims. Victims were invited to the
table. The Commission brought victims to the table to share their pain and to
hear their needs for healing. The Commission asked the restorative justice
Who is hurt and what do you need? One family asked for
the missing hand of their father so that it could be buried with dignity. Others
wanted to know what happened to their family member. They needed to know.
Telling their story in community was a necessary step in their healing
We are a long way from affecting a new paradigm of
restorative justice. But we are on the road when victims of violent crime and
Murder Victim Family Members are at every table where crime and criminal justice
is being addressed. As Catholic Prison Chaplains
Do we know who the victims are in our own communties?
Do we know what they need for healing? Who is attending to those needs? Do we
invite victims to the table? Do we empower them as leaders in the movement
toward their healing?
The Bishops pastoral highlights several “next
steps” that have proved to be effective and
have been embraced by prison chaplains, volunteers and the conference of
Bishops in the US. There are three
that deserve to be highlighted.
dioceses has been encouraged to provide Victim
Ministry. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, CA has secured funding for this
diocesan position. The Victim Ministry Director is a Murder Victim Family
member. One who understands the difficult and necessary survivor journey through
loss and grief. One who realizes how important it is for victims to feel the
support of their church. This victim-director is sensitive to survivor’s
resistance to being told to forgive, to reconcile before they are ready to do
The Director of Victim Ministry
meets with pastors to surface parishioner’s names
and invites them to a gathering with other victims and families.
Networking with Victim organizations, serving on national committees building
relationships toward furthering this ministry is an advocacy component of the
The presence of the Victim Ministry Director at staff
meetings with the Prison Chaplains has proved to be critical in discernment of a
Vision of Restorative Justice that is inclusive.
In California another ‘next step’, in response to
the pastoral, is the annual ritual for Murder Victim Family members and victims
of violent crimes. They are coordinated by the Catholic Conference of Bishops
and this year will be held on Nov. 1 and 2nd.
Some Diocesan events are Catholic faith-centered;
others are ecumenical. Some are
held in church; others in prison. The purpose of the Day of Remembrance is
healing, recognition of lives lost by violence,
of the dead, communion with victims
and their families in community.
Bishop Gabino Zavala, California Catholic Conference of Bishops liaison for
prison ministry and the United States Episcopal Advisor for the American
Catholic Correctional Chaplain Association, was the celebrant of the first event
for Victims in California. 400 people attended. All Catholic prison chaplains
and several television stations were present. This event was held at a local
Each family was invited to bring a picture of their
loved one. As the victims names were read in the opening ritual, one member from
each family brought their loved one’s photo to the altar, lit a small candle
from the paschal candle and placed it beside the photo. To see elderly parents,
spouses, and small children carrying large portraits and small wallet size
photos to a place of honor was so moving.
Seeing the magnitude of death and suffering mirrored
back to all of us from a sanctuary filled with faces and light stirred sacred
The power of the service was experienced in community;
all felt the grief and shared the burden of pain
our brothers and sisters carry.
The survivors of violence arrived heavy with grief; they left lighter. The load
was lifted by others. The pain expressed and released was important.
The transformative power of love was
tangible in community that night.
This annual event for Murder Victims family members is
meeting one of many unmeet needs of victims of crime. Victim Ministry is
spreading across the country in the US. Faith-communities who are serious about
restorative justice are including victim ministry in their parish. Chaplains
embracing restorative justice are creatively finding ways to include victims in
their pastoral Chaplaincy programs.
The third ‘next step’ is taken by prison
chaplains. In California, prison chaplains no longer give talks about prison
ministry. Well, we no longer do it alone. When
asked to present at a parish, school, organization, we form a panel.
Our role is to introduce the panel and set the tone. There are four
persons on a panel.
a Murder Victim Family Member,
formerly incarcerated person,
a parent of a prisoner and
a child with a parent in prison.
their stories of pain and their journey of hope. They reflect to all those
gathered that we all want healing.
That violence affects many people in a family. That
pain has many faces. That there really is no ‘them and us’. There is ‘just
The power is in seeing a murder victim family member and a formerly incarcerated
offender stand side by side,
acknowledge sorrow, pain, repentance and forgiveness and then hug one another.
The power is in hearing a parent express shame and
loss of the dream they had for their child, whom they love, and lost to prison.
The power is in receiving the tears of the child of an incarcerated parent, a
hidden victim of crime, asking adults to help them, to attend to their need.
They speak on behalf of all the children of the
incarcerated who often lie to their peers about where their mother or father is.
They tell of their feeling abandoned and how
that emotion escalates in their teenage years.
The child shares her/his need to see and to talk with their parents and
the pain suffered from an inability to get to the prisons to see them. They ask
the faith community to help them.
Prison chaplains empower those affected Victims,
offenders, parents and children…. to speak their truth and share their
These are real people; stereotypes are erased when
distance is dissolved. It is counter-cultural to allow those on the margins to
speak for themselves. We no longer speak for them.
These are three ‘next steps’ we have taken on the
road of restoration of our community. This is counter to our culture that wants
to divide and separate people into camps, feed the anger between people, and
build pyramids of power-a few on top and many on the bottom. We, set an
inclusive table where all are welcome.
These ‘Three next steps’ have proved to be doable
for chaplains and volunteers. What has been experienced is real change in the
hearts of people who no longer can speak as if the solutions are simple,
are monsters, and victims, children
and families do not exist.
This is roundtable ministry where there is no
preferential seating. And victims are now at the table. This is the heart and
sole of restorative justice and it must be the heart and soul of prison
chaplaincy if it claims to be about restorative justice.
second founding initiative of our tradition is the preferential love of the poor
The Church’s Mission is central in the pastoral
statement. The Bishops ground the pastoral in Jesus’ mission. “His mission
began with proclaiming good news to the poor and release to captives.”
A preferential love for the poor and vulnerable
is a principle of Catholic Social teaching which recognizes that every
public policy must be assessed by how it will affect the poorest and most
vulnerable people in society. Jesus’
life witnessed a radical alternative way of being and living in his culture. He
crossed-over, broke down barriers and claimed
that each person and all people matter. He proclaimed by his life that unity and
reconciliation are the way to peace and healing and restoration.
The Gospel tells us where Jesus is found.
Jesus dwells in solidarity with suffering people.
Our vocation is to stand with any person, on any
cross, without distinction having no concern as to whether the person deserves
to be healed.
This is the significance and meaning of our Church’s
Mission of active and inclusive love. The community of Jesus stands at the foot
of many crosses.
We know it matters where we stand while reading the
Gospel. We know it matters with whom we are standing. We know it really matters
that we meet the one the poor know and that we see the world from their side and
learn from them; we know if we do not, we will not see what Jesus saw. We will
not grasp the radical Gospel message. We will not be able to sustain works for
justice necessary for transforming systems because we will not have the face of
the poor one with us inspiring us, giving us strength and courage not to tire in
our effort, because their life depends on it. Our worldview concerning the poor
dear neighbor depends on neighboring them.
The Bishop’s pastoral recommends many actions we
might take as a community concerned with restorative justice. These action
challenge us to find ways to
crossover and bring our people with us,
to dissolve social distance that breeds
The pastoral urges ongoing insertion process,
experience, reflection, action, listening to and learning from those on the
margins? Those farthest from
the seats of power will challenge presuppositions.
issues with them will vitalize communion and community, conversion and
This is the best place to be situated to discern
mission. It is all about nearness,
one of the fundamental themes in Scripture. Communion with the poor holds
transformative power. Accompanying them changes lives, world views expand and
conversion is abundant in seeing, hearing and believing in the God they know.
Passion follows, it does not lead.
The mission of unity and reconciliation and our
vocation as prison chaplains situates us uniquely. It places us in the middle of
a growing chasm between the rich and the poor. In this place we use our
imagination and creativity to help others cross over, to connect people and
close the chasm
help the rich dissolve the fear of pain and unknown territory and their
resistance to the burden of knowing. We help them let down their guard and open
help the poor discover their grief, provide support and help them find their
voice, their life.
give strength and courage to all, accompanying all to the slums, prisons, inner
cities, the board rooms, city hall and the capitol.
We give our lives to unite and reconcile people. This
is who we are call to be personally, pastorally, publicly and prophetically.
Diocesan delegations deserve acknowledgement as one
successful way of crossing-over.
In California, in response to a suggestion in the pastoral, the Bishops
convened Catholic and interfaith leaders
to participate in delegation visits to local prisons.
The purpose is to meet with prisoners, to listen and
learn from them how the Church might be more effective in their pastoral care.
The purpose is to accompany local pastors, parish leaders, into
“the world within a world”, the prison in their
The California Catholic Conference of Bishops built a relationship with the
department of correction leadership. They advocated for visits and the criminal
justice director approved them and notified all Wardens to open their facilities
to Catholic Pastoral Delegations.
Naturally, the prison officials wanted to take delegates on tours of the
institution. This is understandable since this is what most outside groups want
to do. But, the Bishop leading the
delegation, took the time to be explicit with the administrators. The delegates
were NOT interested in touring the facility.
NOT how they wanted to use the time.
The system administrators are not our enemies. They recognize and respect the
pastoral role to provide what is
core to pastoral care: A VISIT.
Truly, the delegation visit with prisoners, women,
youth or men, on death rows, in solitary confinement units or prison hospitals,
have been successful.
Delegates usually underestimate the welcome and trust
the prisoners placed in them as representative of CHURCH.
Prisoners always reflect amazement that “Church officials” have actually
shown up to listen to what they have to say.
Always, prisoners share feelings of hope and thankfulness, that the
Church, people with power and authority, care
enough about them, to come and spend the day with them.
Prisoners are given voice, a name, dignity and compassion. They are the
teachers, delegates are the learners. Delegates are
given a worldview not seen until they crossed-over and view the world
from the side of the prisoner. Delegates heard of pastoral failures and received
prisoners instructions as to what faith communities might do to be more
Delegates also learned about the failures of the
system and these were always shared with the administrators at a closing
session. Many, many changes have
been effected as a result of the delegations.
Personal attitudes of church leaders are among the
most important of these.
Relationships with prisoners and administrators have
proved to be critical.
Advocacy for institution policy change has been
implemented and these have changed the plight of the prisoners.
And to think, it all happens in one pastoral visit.
At one prison, the delegates learned from the women
there, that they never got to see their children. This prison complex, detains
8,000 women and is located hundreds of miles from most major cities. It is the
largest prison complex for women prisoners in the world.
In response to their cries, the nuns on the
delegation, initiated the Get On The Bus Program, a Mother’s Day free
transportation program for children and their guardians. All expenses are paid
through donations from generous volunteers. The first year there was one bus
from one city. Today, there are 10 buses from 10 cities. The scripture passage
that reflects the wisdom of pastoral planning is “Follow the tracks of the
flock (listen to the people) and they will lead you to the shepherds field ( Let
you know what needs to be done).” Its true! It is really true.
The Jesuit provincial, at the invitation of the California Catholic Conference
of Bishops, invited his brother Jesuits to be delegates to the famous San
Quentin Prison in San Francisco, the home of death row for men. Two university
presidents, the president of the Theological Union at Berkeley, several other
Jesuit pastors and the social justice provincial for the Jesuits attended. They
went cell to cell on death row and then, into the death chamber. When the
killing distance does not exist and you
are standing in the room where scores of men and women have been killed by the
state, you are faced with the
horror of what we are doing as a state government and people.
Following this delegation, the Jesuits and Sisters of St. Joseph became publicly
and politically involved in the Governors NO PAROLE POLICY FOR LIFERS.
One delegation went to the famous Pelican Bay Prison housing 6000 men in general
population and 1200 in solitary confinement for up to 6 years before a review.
Several months after this delegation, we heard the 900 prisoners were planning
to go on a hunger strike. One day we received a call asking if Bishop Zavala and
I would come up and meet with the leaders of the strike. We obtain clearance for
the visit and flew there. I will never forget the first young man coming into
the room shackled hands and feet. I took his hand in mine and he jumped back.
Then, he took my hands, apologized and explained he had not been touched in 3
years. We returned to LA, Bishop Zavala and the Senator in charge of prisons had
a conference call, the Senator faxed the prisoners via administrators explaining
he would convene a hearing of the situation and their concerns. The prisoners
went off the hunger strike.
Crossing-over is a Jesus strategy. We are doing it here at
broadening our perspective,
expanding our vision of ministry and
being inspired by the Spirit who is alive within and
Acting on behalf of greater peace and justice.
third dimension of our tradition is prophetic witness. The prophetic dimension
of the Gospel is clear and yet difficult to embrace. It does evolve; people live
their way into a prophetic stance.
The US Bishops hoped the pastoral would open windows
for dialogue.They consulted many experts in the field of criminal and
Restorative Justice. All agreed on one thing: The status quo is not working. The
system is broken. New alternatives are needed.
were writing a pastoral that would be acceptable to all concerned people wanting
the common good. The Bishops felt the community of the faithful needed to hear
other views and to step into difficult and challenging questions and actions for
learning and discerning. They are encouraging each of us to “take the next
step”, whatever that next step is for us.
The Cardinal and Bishops of California are very involved in prison ministry.
They each go into a prison several times a year. Prisons and juvenile detention
facilities are where they celebrate Christmas and Easter liturgy. Each of them
went to 1-4 prisons on the Day of the Jubilee in the Prisons of the World.
They embrace the jubilee vision of a justice system where victims are made
whole, offenders take responsibility for their actions and the larger society rejects revenge as a social policy.
Pastoral and the Jubilee spurred conversation among prison ministers, diocesan
California Catholic Conference of Bishops. It was decided, by courageous men and
take the Bishops’ call for dialogue a step further. They planned a statewide
Crime, Punishment and the Common Good in California based on the pastoral.
This was not a conference for the usual suspects. It was not a gathering solely
for the department of correction administrators and staff. Nor was it a gathering of those directly affected by the
system: Formerly incarcerated, victims, their families, prison chaplain and
volunteers. It was not a convocation for those directly concerned with crime on
the streets or the in the courts, such as, police officers, judges and lawyers.
No, it was a symposium for All of those mentioned above and more.
2000 people attended the Symposium at Loyola-Marymount University in Los
Angeles, on March 15th. They came in cars and on chartered buses. Some flew
across the country to be there. All were participating in an event, set for a
community of men, women and youth concerned
about our shared future in community. Each
participant was willing to invest time, energy and talent in being, sharing and
The opening ritual was particularly moving as youth from a local detention
center blessed Church and civic leaders: Cardinal
Mahony and the sheriff of Los Angeles, a warden, a police officer, a lawyer and
a parole agent. To see the ‘important dignitaries’ being blessed by young
incarcerated gang members from a detention center was humbling.
Six victims of violence and murder victim family members shared their journey
and choice for reconciliation rather than revenge. One man told of the night his
young son was murdered. The next man to speak was the grandfather of the young
man who killed him. When they finished sharing, there was not a dry eye in the
The opening ritual set the tone for a day of dialogue and building relationships
between people who for the most part had never shared space.
The richness of diversity was prevalent. It was ecumenical and racially diverse.
It had two language tracks…English and Spanish.
The youth had their own forum. The
unity of purpose was prevalent as well. We
all want greater peace and justice and we know we must find our way together. We
believe the answers are within us and among us.
No one will be able to adequately measure the effects of the Symposium. However
the energy and passion of the crowd is an indicator that something tangible and
fruitful is stirring.
The Symposium is the beginning of something new. Strangers once deemed enemies
became neighbors.All participants had the opportunity to experience to the
height and breath of the criminal justice system, and the scope of the people
involved in it. Everyone was privileged to pull over to the vista point and see
the big picture.
There are four programs highlighted at the Symposium that are worthy of mention.
and Gangs Anonymous. A 12 step program of juvenile and adult. It was founded by
a gang member who believes gang members are actually triple addicted: to the
gang, criminal thinking and to one or two substances. This program is
faciliatated in prison and in the community by former gang members.
Prayer and guided meditations: Two forms of prayer that are spreading like a
wild-fire. These are also function in prison and in the community.
Courts: an alternative to prison.
in Prison: Dogs are brought into the prison to live with and be trained by
female prisoners. Special trainers help the women tend to the dogs and prepare
them to help the elderly and blind. The dogs are transforming the lives of the
women and the prison.
Prisoner One Parish. This is one model of many springing up across the country.
All the programs seem intent on forming a team of mentors/support circle for the
prisoner transitioning back to society. He/she will have people who are in their
corner, are willing to assist them when the transition gets difficult, and
people to call in an emergency.
The US Bishops are calling for dialogue. In this room
are 125 prison chaplains from 55 countries. We are not novices. This is a ripe
group for serious conversation.
Believing what we know,preaching what we believe and living what we preach
brings us to the prophetic dimension of dialogue concerning the Gospel mission
Are we willing to use our collective power for
mission: To be intentional about dialogue with our Bishops, pastoral leaders and
friend in the Vatican, the Pontifical Council, to call for greater support and
commitment for prison ministry and ministers, to be intentional when we gather
to bear witness, stand together, promoting justice in various regions of the
world who cry out for our intervention?
We have to ask ourselves, first if we are willing
To be the stranger in our own land
stand where we do not fit,
To be committed to say what is not welcome,
To speak a prophetic voice despite the real possibility of exile.
The proverb that comes to mind is: Those who risk
nothing, risk much more. Isn’t it true that we never live so fully as when we
are gambling with our lives so that others may have life?
We are a small and diverse group gathered here. Let us not take smallness
lightly. It was a small group who followed Jesus as disciples. It was a small
group at the foot of the cross who bore the message.
Is it time for us to become A NEW PEOPLE, carrying the charism of restoration
and living the Gospel in radical new ways? Is it time to move out of our comfort
zones into Christian commitment? Out of the upper room and back to the foot of
the Cross, knowing that we will not thrive until we go there together.
Prophetic calling is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Maybe the Spirit is calling each
of us and all of us.
And maybe, just maybe, the voice we are waiting for
is our own.
We have the Gospel
We have the people
We have the network
The question is: Do we have the will to take
The ‘next step’ toward becoming a prophetic commission,
the ‘next step’ toward becoming a commission of Catholic chaplains with a
for restorative justice?
There is one dimension of our faith tradition
noticeably absent from the pastoral; it must be highlighted in this assembly.
That dimension is the power of the dream in the revolutionary spirituality of
Yes, everyone has a room with a view of the criminal justice system. Prison
Chaplains have a unique vantage point. We know it is going to take a lot more
than dialogue to effect transformation of the criminal justice system and
conversion of peoples attitudes. We know this because we are up close and
personal to the criminal justice system. In our countries, we are the voice,
change agent, initiator and church leader with others of the paradigm shift
toward Restorative Justice. We
do this as we attend to the life and death issues of our people every day. This
is not easy!
We look to good men and women who work tirelessly for peace and justice, always
trying to learn how they are able to sustain energy, to stay the course, to
maintain integrity and not lose passion and hope in the struggle for justice.
We know from the life of Jesus and all prophetic men and women throughout the
world and history how they grounded themselves. They embraced a revolutionary
spirituality and passed it on to
common wellspring, is a contemplative life stance issuing in compassion.
They draw courage and wisdom from withdrawing from the hectic pace and crowds.
They create sacred time and space for listening
to the Spirit present, active, alive
with imagination and creativity.
They understand compassion as a radical announcement
that the hurt is to be taken seriously.
A contemplative life stance issuing in compassion is the way of life and love
for the minister who is called to be in solidarity with the marginalized
and who is called to bear witness to injustice and to evil.
We know contemplation and ministry on the margins dislodges.
It moves from heart, to head, to feet and its reverse order.
Contemplation and accompanying the poor relocates.
Right relationship is embedded in the spirituality of contemplation and
action. It is the spirituality grounding the Mission of Jesus.
Jesus did enormous good during his public ministry, healing, teaching, feeding,
building community.. But the crowning event of his life was the crucifixion.
It is not the performance of good that distinguishes
the followers of Jesus. It is the
struggle against evil. We know how easy it is to be swept away by the magnitude
of the issues and the struggles we
face in a global culture embracing
values counter to the Gospel.
We know the cycle of destruction from accompanying the
suffering poor and marginalized. When a person lives too long with oppression
and isolation, they experience an
intense pain and exhaustion. After a while, the pain turns to despair.
In time, the despair turns to a violence expressed toward self or others.
We minister in prisons and jails that breed the evil of isolation and injustice.
It is dangerous. These evils can shut down a person’s affect, instill anger
and resentment in one’s being, and
it can cause one to become hopeless in the struggle for true justice.
have watched colleagues succumb to effects of this evil.
Maybe we have embodied the symptoms.
It is very frightening.
The most common effects of these evils on good people are indifference to human
need or injustice
of people and critical issues, resignation to it all. Nothing can be done!
These are dangerous sentiments for prison chaplains.
When a prison chaplain embodies these sentiments
they are incapable of seeing the light, beauty and love in the world. and
being light, beauty and love in the world.
Grounding ourselves in the founding grace of our tradition: a revolutionary
spirituality of contemplation and compassion is necessary for anyone who is
serious about accompanying the marginalized poor, confronting injustices and
We have to ask: Are we creating sacred, silent space for listening to the Spirit
present, active, alive with new lessons to learn?
Are we attending to the heart and soul of our being? Are we embodying the
Great Love of God?
Or have we been seduced by a culture that just loves meetings and information
when we hunger for Spirit inspiration, imagination and vision? Have we been
seduced by a culture that loves fast food and fast lane living When we are
starved for ‘real food’…the beauty of creation; silence for reflective
being and passion for life and love, justice and peace?
We look to lovers to teach us the way.
Lovers can be together in silence.
Being loved, they look out at the world and see love. They are
spontaneous and free to be who they are because they know they are loved, just
We recognize lovers.
There is energy, a passion, a presence in their presence.
They go out from there and return to that space. When Love is birthed in
a person, people know it. When Love is birthed in a community, the power of love
is released for all to see. Everyone
is drawn into the power of love living
in a welcoming community where something mysteriously
tangible is evident for all to connect with.
The dream is within us and among us, it is why we do
what we do and why we have gathered here…the power of the dream is love.
It seems appropriate to end with Jesuit Pedro
Arrupe’s reflection on Love. Pedro was the Superior General of the Society of
Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is,
than falling in love In a quite
absolute, final way.
What you are in love with, What seizes your
imagination Will affect everything.
It will decide what will get you out of bed In the
morning, What you do with your evenings, How you spend your weekends, What you
read, who you know, What breaks your heart, And what amazes you with
Joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love And it
will decide everything.
Let us ask for the grace to be loved into becoming the
dream. Let us remember the promise of the covenant in the book of Jeremiah
“Deep within you, I will plant my love. Write it on
your hearts. Then, I will be your God and you will be my people.”