Jail Ministry

I am trying to come to a place where a new essay is posted every month. February is missing in action as far as publishing some new material. I did write an essay about the Blessed Virgin Mary, mostly writing in February. Writing is hard work. Next to going to the jail to minister to inmates, writing is the hardest thing I’ve done that I do on a regular basis.

The jail ministry is very different from anything I’ve ever done – and I’ve done a lot of different things in the last fifty years. It seems there is always a group of inmates who want to hear the Word of God. But when the Word requires them to change their lives, such change is not acceptable on a personal level. An inmate who makes a spiritual change in his or her life becomes vulnerable while that change is being integrated into their personality. A person who demonstrates vulnerably in the jail will be assaulted one way or another. All the inmates have found a way to exhibit an external toughness that defends them against attack.

My ministry partner is a very charismatic preacher. He has a spiritual way of getting around the inmates’ defenses. There is no doubt in my mind we are providing spiritual food for the inmates.

For myself, there are yet more strange events going on in my spiritual life. I’ve had some kind of ‘Yes’ about every ten days since beginning this ministry. I’m used to special coincidences that raise my level of spiritual consciousness. I see these coincidences as evidences of God working in my life. These coincidences usually happen about once every six months — not every ten days. I asked The Virgin what was going on with the special coincidences and She said that these were meant as encouragement.
The jail ministry has taught me things about prayer that I didn’t know. Since I’ve been serious about my prayer life for almost fifty years I was surprised that I had new things to learn. Such new knowledge is a fact of life for anyone who seriously takes up teaching.

I gave my inmate brothers a very simple prayer.

Bless the Lord my soul
And bless God’s Holy Name
Bless the Lord my soul
Who leads me into life

I pointed out that there are no bars on the vertical, holy dimension. I told them they didn’t have to say this prayer out loud. It works perfectly well as a quiet soul-prayer.

And then I realized that while I use this soul-prayer all the time, I’m just saying the words, I haven’t been connecting on that vertical dimension. The words have served me well. They are powerful words. But now I say the words and connect. It’s a very different prayer.

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