Friday, August 26, 2005

Prison Ministry

"God's love for us is not the reason for which we should love him. God's love for us is the reason for us to love ourselves." - Simone Weil

Prison Ministry

A few years ago, as I began having more time in my seventies, I was looking for a ministry that would both satisfy a community need, fit my own priestly energies, I settled on jail or prison ministry. Especially after discovering that the County Jail seldom saw a Catholic priest. I proposed a program, based on many years of Correctional consulting as a psychologist.

We are now soon completing our third year, with five volunteers active and three more soon ready. Each gives one hour per week to the residential pod of 7-10 inmates who are screened for readiness before admitting. Criteria for volunteer selection: one must be living the faith journey a at deep enough level to be motivated to share their journey regularly and persistently. We have had some turn over of volunteers. A remarkable number of good things have come out of this initiative.

The program is "A Fierce Landscape for the Spiritual Warrior," which is deseribed on one of my web logs at We have a workbook of checklists, handouts, prayer study, bible study guides and inventories of some 30 pages. We have a twelve week self-study program leading to the awarding of a Certificate, which is highly valued by inmates. We teach that the Correctional setting is a spiritual "bootcamp" that is needed for conversion and transformation.

What do we do? Lead discussions re the Spiritual Journey and tools usedful and needed. We encourage and develop the group process in that residential pod so they take responsiblity for leading their own groups and develop leadership among themselves. The atmosphere is positive, and caring about and learning from one another.

We emphasize three habits required and regular assessment and group feedback.

A. NURTURED MY INNER SELF: study, meditation, prayer, reading, quiet time,

self discipline, exercise, calisthenics, etc.

B. POSITIVE BEHAVIORS SHOWN, getting along, care of self, care of group, care of pod, demonstrating different behaviors, use checklist.

C. FEEDBACK FROM OTHERS, seeking & getting it regularly, handling it, friendship, mentoring, leadership, personal program, etc.

Example of one of the exercises created for self-discovery and faith development is this one:

We stand at quiet attention for one full minute recognizing that we are already inside the Divinity, inside the Mystery we call God, Who is all around us.. . ..

I give each one an imaginary flower which they receive. The flower represents the Inner Beauty of their souls, which they have neglected but are now discovering. Because we are each God’s images and children, the inner beauty can scarcely be recognized by humans. How would they describe the flower, later in writing, which we will later discuss. I have been using and inspired by the book and audio on Beauty by John O’Donohue (as well as other Celtic Christian writers and sources)

Here are several responses (Note the program is described on one of my web logs at Scroll down right sidebar to Fierce Landscape. p.s. any of these materials are available free on request)

My flower is pale white because my faith is new. I would compare it to a wild flower because it is still unkempt I would say that it is not completely bloomed because my faith is still not whole. Its petals are soft as silk and are easily bruised because my soul is till in transition but I still believe with the right water (God’s word) and the richest soil (Jesus love) it will become a beautiful white rose.


The "rose" you gave me was a wonderful gift. The rose was a life time experience. This Rose is something that is never going to die. Something that I gained here coming to Jail. The rose is God and I will never turn away from God now. I found him.

The experience in coming to jail, I learned new wisom and knowledge from other group members. I know right from wrong now. This rose opened something new in my life! The way to success.

I want to thank you, Paschal for letting me come here to our program. It is going to help me change m life. This Rose you gave me is something that will never die. Thanks so, so very much.
Whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren you do to me. Matthew 25: 36-44

Monday, August 15, 2005

Our Country is NOT safer

Troops are being killed and maimed for life daily in Iraq. There is no timetable for withdrawal of our dedicated and loyal men and women risking their lives daily there.
There is little hope of democratization of a society that is still feudal and tribal which has no experience in political compromise and negotiation or the sharing of leadership.
We know now that Mr. Bush's reasons for going to war were lies, concocted lies, not accidential lies but planned and orchestrated. Just as he lied repeatedly to convince the American poeple in his Social Security privatization efforts, he prefers to live in his protected and syncophantic world.
Something is happening in Crawford, Texas since August 6, just in the past week. The anti-war effort has a very human face: Cindy Sheehan. More and more citizens are awakening to the realization that the Iraqi war is a quagmire and cannot be won. There are no attainable objectives and except to avoid the shame of allowing the country to descend into civil war, there are no good reasons to stay. Still that is a good enough reason, but for how long and at what cost to our military and also our national prestige.

When Mr. Bush was elected, I predicted to a conservative Republican friend that he would exit the presidency in disgrace. Part of my professional work as a psychologist is assessment for hiring, in a number of occupations, fire, police, public school bus drivers, and others. My gut sense of #43 was that he had no integrity, no backbone, and no genuine moral sensibility, that he was a "front," a car salesman, a phony.

What do you think now? How do you think history will judge this Mr. Bush? What was your own estimate then, and has it changed now? Has he made our country safer? Or had he galvanized hatred against our country and the West on the part of Muslim extremists around the world? Is Osama bin Laden winning the "war on terror?"

Comments invited. I am grateful this morning that I live in a society, with hard won freedoms which this President does not really understand or respect, which allows me to say and to proclaim these thoughts.

Such will be the growing disillusionment in the war, as it was in Vietnam, that the Republicans are likely to lose seats in next year's congressional election, and if so, Mr. Bush is in real danger of being impeached for treasonable behavior, far worse than anything Nixon or Clinton did.

These are interesting and challenging times in which to live. The fascinating paradox to me re #43 is how blind has been the religious right to his character. Because he mouths the right words and has a daily prayer service, they seem to support him unconditionally. What shall be their response as his support and popularity continues to decline?