called to care and not run away

after all these years, my time spent “behind bars” in detention ministry can all run together. i can’t exactly remember when and where this experience happened, but i will try to recreate it the best i can. i do believe that occurred in a county jail not a state prison.

we were at bible study. i was one among a few volunteers and several inmates. one the guys locked up was in a bad mood as were sitting before “chapel” as it is often known. he was cranky probably because of one of the guards right . as we were still waiting for some others, he started to grumble about us– the volunteers. he was lumping us in with the jail system/guards (and whatever injustice/abuse he felt at the time.) in his rant, it became apparent that he thought we were part of the staff there and thus part of his current hardship. i offhandedly mentioned that we were not paid staff but came as volunteers.

and then our eyes met. he had a look of incredulous confusion. he asked me, in all sincerity, “you mean you’re not getting paid to be here?” i responded, “that’s right, we’re here because we want to be here!” he was even more confused. after that, we– the volunteers as well as the other inmates– tried to convince him that it was true: we did not get paid for our time and work in the jail. his anger/irritation changed with this new understanding: people will leave their free lives on the outside with family friends and choose to be with inmates in jail. he kept saying, “why would anyone come here it they aren’t getting paid?”

i after several minutes addressing his question, i remember that the mood dramatically changed as the volunteers affirming their choice to be there in jail– without financial compensation! the other inmates present started to give the guy a bad time about his erroneous viewpoint. at the end, he seemed stunned but happy with his newfound knowledge of us.

since the volunteers were not part of the “system” he then viewed us very differently afterwards. we were now not part of that which persecuted him, but were on “his side”– because we were not getting paid. he now trusted us because we freely chose to be there with him and the other inmates.

i suppose that there are many people who would only go into a fail or prison if their livelihood depended on it. there are probably others who wouldn’t step foot in a jail/prison even if they could get paid! i understand. in general, detention facilities are perhaps one of the least happy environments in society. it’s the nature of their being.

but every now and then a ray of light can shine forth even in the darkest of places.

the distinction of those who are paid and those who are not and do the same work can be seen in various ways. in a job, if one is primarily motivated by money, people can seen as secondary; if people are the primary motivation and not money, how the job is done is quite different.

in today’s gospel reading from mass, jesus makes a distinctive point of the hired man who looks after the sheep as opposed to how the “good shepherd” cares for them.

Jesus said:
“I am the good shepherd.
A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
A hired man, who is not a shepherd
and whose sheep are not his own,
sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away,
and the wolf catches and scatters them.
This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep.
I am the good shepherd,
and I know mine and mine know me,
just as the Father knows me and I know the Father;
and I will lay down my life for the sheep.
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.
These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice,
and there will be one flock, one shepherd.
This is why the Father loves me,
because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.
I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again.
This command I have received from my Father.”
John 10: 11-18

ultimately, when there is trouble– the wolf– the hired hand has no concern for the sheep and will leave them our of self preservation. but the good shepherd will not only stay with the sheep in trouble, he will “lay down his life for them.” this is the ultimate care– the greatest love. jesus knows his sheep and they know him thus a unique loving care is shared. sheep cannot save themselves against a wolf attack. but because of jesus’ presence/care/protection and love, the sheep will be fine. jesus will stay with them no matter what danger/problem exists.

do i have this kind of faith in jesus’ promise to be with me and protect and love me? am i really graced in this way?

christians– especially leaders– ought to model this kind of unflappable care for others– especially the least among us. those being attacked by wolves are all around us. will i stand with them? who am i to leave “the sheep” unattended if i believe that jesus will never abandon me?

but we abandon one another all the time without realizing how we are affected, without realizing the consequences from our fear or selfishness. not only will we abandon one anther, but we can be part of the problem: we can aid the wolves in the havoc they wreak on innocent sheep. if we stay silent, the wolves still slaughter the sheep. at worst, we can become wolves ourselves.

but even the apostles ran away and denied jesus when the wolves came to bring him to trial and later to calvary and the cross. it was only after being filled with the Spirit at pentecost that they could effectively speak and witness to the power of the risen Christ. the Spirit enabled them to give their lives because of the powerful, constant self-sacrificial love of jesus. only through the Spirit’s courage, wisdom, and strength could they understand, voice and witness to this love of jesus. the first reading at mass– acts chapter 4: 8-12– exemplifies the apostles’ lives transformed by the Spirit.

may each of us have the transformative grace of the Spirit to live with the risen Lord and stand with and care for our sisters and brothers being ravaged by “wolves”

Prayer to the Good Shepherd

Lord of the 23rd Psalm,
I have known death,
and you have refreshed my soul.
I have known fear,
and you have comforted me.
I have known hunger,
and you have set a feast before me.
In the darkest valley
no calamity of humankind or nature has separated us.

Teach me to walk as you walk
Beside those in mourning
so that they will know joy,
Beside those in fear
that they will know comfort,
Beside those in hunger
that they will feast until their cup overflows.

As your goodness and love follow me,
May mine follow my neighbor
That the threat of the worst terrors
May turn to the knowledge of the comforts of
the house of the Lord,
Where you have invited us to dwell forever.

And so let me strive to help build on earth
What you have promised us in heaven.
In the face of all calamity, present and yet to come,
Let me lead my neighbor beside quiet waters,
The quiet waters of the Good Shepherd. Amen

( from )

1 Comment

  1. beccamac2001 says:

    What a lovely inspirational Sunday message.
    We are so happy to be back in LOM bringing The Eucharist to our home bound.
    The care homes are slowly opening up and requesting us.
    Pray for our new president Bonnie Wolff.
    She is doing a great job, it’s going to get very challenging these next couple of months reworking the schedule for masses with Priests.
    Fr Freddy is still committed to doing four masses a month for the Legion , fr’s Raj and Ralph 2;each and Fr. Vincente does 1.
    We would love to have as many masses as we had when you and Fr. Daryl were our pastor.
    Prayers that it works up to that.
    Mama Mary has managed to bring us 3 new members even in the midst of all of this change.
    She never lets us down!
    We are up to 15 members! Wowza!
    Peace from Ptown
    If you happen to be here May 13 th we are hosting an appreciation lunch at the Hassayampa inn for our Priests and Sr. Ann.


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