Saturday, March 15, 2008

disclaimer-do not worry about grammar and other issues in my blog. It is all on the whim-done with frantic typing so i do not forget anything.

I have been blessed enough to experience G-d’s radical grace a few times in my life. I would like to share my last experience, as it was the most powerful.

I presented a paper on the injustice of the current American prison system and the ways in which the police/government authorities target the minority, marginalized and the poor. My professor/advisor is a Jesuit Priest: Father Shubeck, he is a radical man that pursues justice with fervor unmatched. I encourage all to pick up his new book A Love That Does Justice. He encouraged me to participate in some prison work, I have experience with prisoners in the past and at this moment I am hungry to actually work with the destitute. I currently work at a private middle school that costs 30,000 dollars a year to attend and the youth are arrogant, rude and spiteful. We do not mix well.

So, anyways he put me in contact with Father Jim O’Donnell who is an older priest and the head of an intentional community in one of the most violent areas of Cleveland, The Little Brothers and Sisters of the Eucharist. They consist of rag tag radicals who practice a life of prayer, non-violence and voluntary poverty. Father O’Donnell and I talked over the phone, he asked me to tag along the upcoming Friday. It would be Father O’ Donnell, two nuns (one would turn out to be the most radical person I have ever come across) and my self, an awkward, Protestant red head.

I arrived at the prison first; I was met at the prison by the Chaplin an older, blind, black man. This was right before brunt of the snow storm; the Chaplin suggested that they would not be able to attend since one of the nuns was 82 years old. However, they made it. The 82 year old nun was the speaker. They referred to her simply as Mother, so this is what I did. She came up to me, pulled my head down to her face, grinned at me and kissed my forehead. It was awkward. She then proceeded to kiss everyone in the waiting room and put her tiny hands on the blind Chaplin’s eyes and prayed he would regain his sight, smiled at us and we headed out.

It turns out this Nun, known as Mother, was recently featured in People magazine, just had a book published on her life and has been living voluntarily in a Mexican prison cell for the last 30 years, living with murders, rapists, child molesters, con-men, pimps, hookers and what ever else you can think of. Her reasoning behind this was simply, “Because this is where Jesus could be found”.

We were put in a room with the most violent offenders. They were all from inner city Cleveland, tagged with their gang names, either tattooed onto their necks or hands. They were awaiting our arrival in uncomfortable chairs. As soon as we walked into the room Mother went straight to the front the 45 incarcerated outcasts and begin to spill her beans about how much she loved them and how sorry she was that they had been hurt their entire lives. She tattooed them with love, opening her heart and apologizing for the lack of justice they have experienced in their lives, she cried and pleaded for them to understand that G-D was wild about them and G-d’s son desired them to live a life of non-violence and love. She told them that she was their mother, that she considered each one of them her sons. She went onto explain how she was in several prison riots, was humiliated and violated several times while living voluntarily in prison but continued to love the destitute. She shared stories of redemptions that ripped everyone in the cell blocks hearts open.

At the end of her message she stood, exhausted, teary eyed and explained how she desired to hug and kiss one of them, that she would not be able to do this to everyone because of time restrictions. She the proceeded to stand in front of the largest inmate and asked him if he would be willing to receive the hug and kiss for his brothers. He was timid and fearful, like he had never been embraced before. His eyes began to water and so did hers. She took his hand and he stood up, towering over her 4’10 frame and she wrapped her tiny arms around his massive body, buried her head in his chest, hugging him for all she is worth. The flood gates opened and he embraced her in the same manner, this went on for what seemed like eternity. G-d’s presence was everywhere; I was in the midst of 45 Jesus’. She pulled his head down and kissed him on the face and I am not sure how this happened, but I had not noticed that while she loved this man all of the other inmates lined up behind him and eagerly waited to be loved by this 82 year old Prison Angel. She proceeded to do the same for the rest of the Jesus’ and I proceeded to have my world turned upside down.

We left the room and she was so tired, so frail. She asked Father O’Donnell to take her home and he told her he would. The prison Chaplin, the blind one, who had been working at prison for the last twenty years, was crying like a small child. He told her that in all his time at the prison he had never experienced anything like that. While he was talking to her I caught her eyes looking behind him at the solitary confinement cell, a young black men was in their staring at her through the tiny window. She walked up to his window and put her hands on the glass where his face was pressed and whispered over and over how much she loved him.

We took the elevator downstairs and all went separate ways, but not without a kiss and a hug from the Mother. Justice is beautiful, Jesus is beautiful and in the eyes of the destitute. Matthew 25.

1 comment:

steve said...

awesome story john...amazing things really do happen when we are open to God's presence. I think Mother Teresa called it something like "seeing Jesus in disguise" in the poor and marginalized and forgotten.