Evan, a prisoner I am writing to
Many in prison really do have a profound conversion while incarcerated. There are some who have doubts about this, as if when one goes to prison they become something other than human. That is the danger of stereotyping. I have never met another human being who fits into any narrow stereotype. All one needs to do is to listen. The same goes for prisoners. Those who are seeking a deeper connection with God, also desire to have someone that they can relate to outside of prison. I have found it humbling to write such men, and have come to have a deep respect for them. True, a few I had to stop writing because they were ‘cons’, but from my experience, as a monk, this is not by any means the majority.
For many prisoners, being in a confined environment leads to a deeper interior freedom and saves them from being pulled into the more destructive aspects of prison life. Evan is one of these men. He is highly intelligent and is truly seeking to develop a deep, enduring relationship with Christ Jesus. Through personal experience, many prisoners learn that the joy they receive from seeking a deeper loving relationship with God, far outweighs the escapes they sought after in their past.
Prisoners will often ask me about how they should relate to others from different faith traditions, or to those who are Christian, but rabidly anti-Catholic. Below is something I wrote to Evan about that. I have also written about how to relate with men who follow a non-Christian path. One thing I have shared with them is that any true seeker after the truth is a friend, not an enemy. Seekers truly want truth, so it is good to listen to those on another path, and good for them to listen to us. A deeply prayerful Muslim can be a support of any Christian, as long as they do not seek to change one another……an impossible task and only leads to isolation.
Below is part of a letter that I wrote to him. Again, I am only sharing this to not only encourage others to write prisoners if they feel a pull in that direction, because they are human, lonely, and need someone to encourage them. Yes, one must use discernment, for some men in prison, can fall more-or-less into the stereotypical thinking about how prisoners are. Stereotypes are based on some truth, but does not ever apply to everyone, not even to the worst of them on all levels. Each human being has their history, and it can be very difficult to break away from.
About relationships with others on the faith level. When I am with other Christians from other faith traditions, I focus on what we have in common, which is, of course, our trustful, loving, relationship with Jesus Christ. When I have to deal with Christians who are rabidly anti-Catholic, I simply refuse to argue, and ask them to study on their own what the Catholic Church really teaches……I also tell them, not to convert them, but to give them insight into what the Catholic faith is all about. If they refuse, I let it go, and simply love them. Arguing does no good.
For those who are not anti-Catholic, I accept that we share the same faith in Jesus Christ, and that is enough to develop a deep spiritual relationship. I also know that many have been hurt by those who were supposed to lead them deeper into the mystery of their faith. That goes for both Catholic, as well as Protestant. Yet, they follow Jesus.
I will often tell those who have ‘issues’ with their faith tradition because of the weakness of our human nature, to really study what their faith tradition has to offer and then make a decision. Why should any of us allow the failures of others to dictate our faith? What also helps me is knowing that I can’t change anyone, nor can anyone change me, but we all influence each other deeply, if often on an unconscious level. I do know, that each human is deeply loved by the Lord, no matter their path, for he bore upon himself all of our sufferings, and yes, sins. Such a love is beyond comprehension, we can get into trouble when we forget that.
When you are in prayer, it is then that you are most in touch with those who are there with you. As you deepen your relationship with Christ Jesus, allowing his grace to heal and transform you, your love of those around you will grow, and yes, your heart will suffer for them. This is all a part of God’s plan for each of us, to see the suffering Christ Jesus in those around us, for he lives in each of us. The more deeply we understand that the more he can ‘incarnate’ in us, leading us often to help others, even when we are unaware.
People know when they are loved. The more deeply we love, the deeper we are able to see others without judging, but only loving. God sees all of us deeply, completely, so his mercy and compassion are total. That is why we are told never to judge the worth of another human being…..we can’t, we do not see deeply enough. Yet the more we allow Christ to love in us, the deeper we will see into the heart, of those around us. Why? Because prayer leads to self-knowledge, which brings us to our need for grace, and our knowledge that without grace, we would be consumed by our inner chaos.
The Lord is at work in your life in a powerful way Evan, so even if from time to time, you might lose a battle (as we all do), the war will be won by the grace of Jesus Christ. Continue to deepen your love of the sacraments, for they are true avenues of grace. Don’t worry if non-Catholics don’t understand. It takes Catholics many years to come to a deep love and appreciation of the sacraments. People of all faith paths will talk to me about how the Eucharist affects them, even if they do not understand. I try to explain the presence of Christ in a special way in the bread kept in our tabernacles. This does bring some into the church. Even those who don’t, still spend time in our church just being in the presence of Christ Jesus in our Eucharist.
I will close with a quote from the book “He and I’.
June 23—Holy Hour. “You and I. Together we make only one. “It is time to see Me in a new light—the powerful light of reality. “Even when you are doing the most ordinary things I am with you, because while I am the greatest, I am also the humblest, and nothing is ever deadly dull to Me. What is most obscure and despised only attracts Me more. So don’t be afraid that I’ll leave you at certain moments, for I love you all the time. Tell Me that at last you do believe in the faithful company of My love. Keep strengthening your belief by the little words of your heart; they are like the wood that you throw on the fire. And I quicken. “You realize now, don’t you, that without Me, your End, your life is empty. So meet Me more often. Enter more joyfully into your Savior-God. Oh, if only you could remain there forever! This solitude of ours is such wealth that even the angels envy it—they who have never received Holy Communion. Your entire being is saturated with Me. Consecrate yourself in your heart’s outpouring and I’ll bind you the more closely to Me—even to unity. “Why shouldn’t you come to Me as gaily as you go to meet a very dear friend?” June 28—From the
Bossis, Gabrielle. He and I (Kindle Locations 3891-3896). Pauline Books and Media. Kindle Edition.
If you do not feel called to write prisoners, please pray for them. Many are actually afraid that when they get out they will fall back into old habits. Many know that they have deep issues that they will have to continue to work on when they are released. Yet, many are successful and their faith is a big help for them when they get out. Faith for some is considered as a copout and weak, I disagree, it gives us deep roots and a way to face reality without seeking to escape, or self-medicate.—Br.MD