IN PRISON - I Will Be The Face Of Christ For You

Feast Of Christ The King
I was in prison and you visited me



The book and the movie ‘Dead Man Walking’ tell the true story of  Matthew Poncelet, a  man facing death alone, except for the love of a Catholic sister. He is a castaway, considered untouchable and worthy of death by his society. The nun comforts him and says, "I can't bear the thought that you would die without seeing one loving face. I will be the face of Christ for you." She is Sister Helen Prejean, a Sister of St. Joseph of Medaille. He is one of four convicted of murder whom she has accompanied to the death chamber in Louisiana and he asked her to accompany him spiritually in his journey to death.

In celebrating the feast of Christ the King we honour a King who is a shepherd, one who looks after all His people, with emphasis on the word ALL. Not just SOME  but ALL - each and every one!

“The Lord says this: I am going to look after my flock myself and keep all of it in view. As a shepherd keeps all his flock in view when he stands up in the middle of his scattered sheep, so shall I keep my sheep in view. I shall rescue them from wherever they have been scattered during the mist and darkness. I myself will pasture my sheep, I myself will show them where to rest–it is the Lord who speaks. I shall look for the lost one, bring back the stray, bandage the wounded and make the weak strong. I shall watch over the fat and healthy. I shall be a true shepherd to them.” (Ezekiel 34:11-12,15-17)

As Jesus Himself is, so we are called to be; we who are the Body of Christ in our time. And when it comes to the end of time and our lives are assessed and judged by God then the bottom line will be “whatever you did to one of the least of these you did it to me and whatever you neglected to do to one of the least of these you neglected to do it to me” (Matthew 25:31-46)

He will not be asking how much did you pray but how much did you do for the poor. All our prayers and all the Masses we celebrate are supposed to translate into true service of those most in need. And of course this is what is generally happening. As a people the Irish are very generous in donating to charitable causes; here in Shankill there is great generosity to the St. Vincent de Paul. I myself have always had a love for the men of the road, perhaps because my grand uncle was one of them and died on the streets of London; perhaps I feel that I myself could be one of them. In all my dealings with these men I have found myself to be profoundly blessed.

But there is one group of people that has stirred my conscience from today’s gospel - the prisoners. Jesus says “when I was in prison you visited me!” Sadly, I have never visited a prison and so have never visited Christ in this way. And I’m not suggesting that we all need to go running off to start visiting prisons because there are people called to this ministry  but we are all called to be aware of the prisoner, to be concerned for the prisoner.

The prisoner is the criminal, the wrongdoer, the guilty one who deserves to be punished. And the prisoner is one who needs to be saved, to see the face of Christ, to experience that love that God has for every single person. Jesus the  innocent person died for the guilty, so that he could bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18)

While the world leaves the prisoner in his condemnation, God is saying I will rescue him from his darkness, I will look for him in the place where he is lost. That’s the extent of Christianity’s reach - that we have a heartfelt desire to save the guilty, the criminal, the most detestable of people. That we say with Sr. Helen “I can't bear the thought that you would die without seeing one loving face. I will be the face of Christ for you."

And though most of us cannot do this face to face with the person in prison, we can and must do it for the guilty people we meet in the ordinary course of life. To be the face of Christ so that Christ Himself can transform guilty lives.

It occurs to me that we can't always reveal the smiling, kind face of Christ. Sometimes the true face of Christ is the wounded, hurt face and perhaps the guilty one needs to see this hurt face in order to come to his senses, to be saved, rescued and brought to God.

It’s what Pope Francis is trying to inspire us to do as Church - to be the face of Christ for those who find themselves in difficult situations, whose lives are at odds with the Catholic and Christian teachings, those who are stuck in destructive ways of living.

I suggest that we create a space in our prayer for the prisoner and for his victims. One of the inspiring things is that Sr. Helen prayed with Matthew and later prayed with the family of his victim. Pray for the lost, those who are stuck, those in the wrong, those who are victims. In doing this we are touching Christ himself in a real and meaningful way.

Whatever you do to the least of these you do it to me. We need to do this with urgency as if there were no time to waste.

Prayer of Fr. Slavko of Medugorje,

"Lord, grant
that I may always think as if it were to be my last thought
that I may speak as if it were to be my last word
that I may work as if it were to be my last deed
that I may suffer as if it were to be the last cross I could offer
that I may pray as if it were my last opportunity to speak to You while on Earth!"

(Fr. Slavko Barbaric OFM, Medugorje)

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