The presentation by Fr. Christian Reuter, OFM, and several of his prison associates is taken from the Easter Proclamation (Exsultet) and loosely models the liturgical structure of the Holy Saturday/Easter Vigil. The theme of the evening of reflection and prayer follows the Processional: Light the Fire!, Words of Wisdom: Tell the Story!, Faith Response: Sign Me Up!, and Recessional: Open the Door! The presentation will help us understand how we got into this “dark night” in criminal justice that our bishops have labeled “a broken system.” Then, following the lead of Pope Francis, we will discern ways that we can “Open the Door of Mercy” during this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy to criminal justice reform.
Light the Fire! Let the the Word of God through the church shine as a strong and clear message of pardon, strength, aid and love. May she never tire of extending mercy, and be ever patient in offering compassion and comfort. The Paschal candle was lighted to symbolize that the light of Christ rising in glory would dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.
Tell the Story! The goal was to allow the participants at the evening reflections to understand how criminal justice, which the U.S. bishops have labeled “a broken system”, got into such a dark night. The song “How I Got Over” was reflective of how each of us made it over to God through are trial and tribulations. The focus was on how society deals with our “Fallen Human Nature” that deals with a social order that is established (Code of Law enacted), order is disturbed (violation occurs), responsibility is determined (judgement is rendered) and social order is restored (remedy is applied). This part covered a look at incarceration through long ages of civil and church history. In America the pendulum of correction (Restoration) and punishment (Retribution) has swung back and forth in about 50 year increments since about the 1770’s. We are at a point in our prison system where prisons do not diminish the crime rate, but cause recidivism, encourages gangs and delinquents, throws inmates “families” into destitution, and in the end crime is a function of poverty. Brian Nelson (Uptown People’s Law Center) presented a picture of his solitary confinement (23 hrs./day for 12 years) at Tamms Correctional which led to sensory deprivation, social isolation, darkness and silence with associated danger and violence.
Sign Me Up! This part of the presentation was based on what Jesus said to the disciples: “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized?” They all said to him, “We are able.” The song is “Sign Me Up” and reflects our call to the Christian Jubilee and how we have been changed and lifted up by Jesus and ready for when He comes. The three demons, Dualism, Sacrifice, and Control which comprise our Ego were renounced through invocation of God’s Holy Spirit that call us to relinquish our own agenda and to place our gifts at the service of the poor and marginalized. These demons were driven out of the room by the sprinkling of blessed Holy Water on the walls and sprinkling the people symbolic of our own renewal of our Baptismal Promises on Holy Saturday. The sprinkling accompanied by the song “Come To The Water” that speaks of coming to the water you who are thirsty with emptiness of heart till you are filled with my Word in goodness and peace in your heart.
Open the Door of Mercy! This part covered the many topics related to Catholic Prison Ministries both inside and outside the prison walls as related to Pastoral Care and Justice Advocacy that have their basis in the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. This was presented by Lou Slapshak who spoke of his calling to prison lay ministry and how that has radically changed his life. Several key areas that were emphasized included Restorative Justice, Prison Privatization (Prison Industrial Complex), and Diocesan/Parish Awareness. There is a great need for lay volunteers, deacons and clergy to serve in prison ministry and leadership training is available through the Theology Department of Lewis University, Romeoville, IL. A major effort for us at this time is to establish reentry homes for returning citizens (reference to Our Brothers’ Keepers of Southern Illinois, www.obkministry.org) as they are released from the prison system. The participants were invited to consider how they might offer themselves in some form of criminal justice ministry in this the Extraordinary Year of Mercy.
The final segment of “Open the Door of Mercy” was presented live by the composers Karen Lundy & MaryBeth Babcock an original composition from Immaculate Conception Parish in Columbia, IL. The participants sang “Open the Door of Mercy” to let the love of God in and live the way of mercy, kindness, truth, forgiveness and peace, and bring serenity, joy and peace so let mercy be your face, hands and feet, and let love shine.
Conclusion of the Evening of Prayer and Reflection:
“Prayer for the Year of Mercy”
God of mercy, as you have forgiven us, so you send us forth to bear your message of mercy to all. Give us willing feet and gentle hands, bless us with listening ears and searching eyes, endow us with understanding hearts and ordain us with compassionate hearts.
In our acts and in our words, make us vessels of your mercy to reach out to the broken on behalf of the Father, who wipes away our debts as lovingly as he wipes away our tears and calls his children home. Help us to lift your people in body and spirit, and so make every year a year of mercy. AMEN
Presentation to the Diocese of Joliet’s Restorative Justice and Prison Ministry Committee and Justice and Peace Ministry at Blanchette Catholic Center, Crest Hill, IL on March 9th, 2016 by Fr. Christian Reuter, OFM, Brian Nelson and Lou Slapshak.