Fourteen days ago volunteers, including a number of St JP2 parishioners and I, completed a weekend retreat with about 42 incarcerated men at Collins correctional prison. Collins Christian Ministry (CCM) is a ecumenical prison ministry where we meet with the inmates and have a long weekend retreat of fellowship, learning, and growing closer to God through Piety, Study, and Action. After the weekend a number of the volunteers spend a couple hours each Friday to reinforce what the participants learned during the weekend and how they are incorporating it into their lives as they continue their faith journey. The volunteers are richly blessed as they witness God's healing first hand and they usually get much more out of it than they put into it.
The volunteers were supported by many prayers and an additional 14 incarcerated stewards who had participated in past CCM retreats and wanted to share their journey towards Christ with the new participants.
The volunteers have been planning for months and entered the prison Thursday late afternoon until early Sunday evening, only leaving to get a few hours of sleep each night.
When we went in Thursday night the world was normal, Sunday night we emerged to a whole different world.
The lock-down of New York State had begun. The seclusion and confinement those inside the prison suffer everyday had begun outside the prison. We all have now been given a little taste of what those incarcerated feel -- the lack of toilet paper which we would have laughed off a few weeks ago has become reality. Keeping distance from others in the prison to stay safe, had materialized on the outside where we keep our distance from others to stay safe. And many of us are confined alone and cannot visit or be visited by the ones we love. yes, we are getting a small taste of what our brothers and sisters who are in the prison system deal with for months, years, decades, and maybe for a lifetime.
But just as we can find Christ in our freedoms, we can find Christ in lack of Freedom. we can find God's creative hand in the many small gifts He provides us everyday.
It's only been 14 days, but in those few days I've seen the last of our snow piles melt away, and it seems each day a new wildflower or perennial planted long ago begins to bloom.
I feel God's hand in those who have reached out to me or accepted calls or emails from me as I reach out. I see Jesus' love and presence in the passing stranger who smiles and says hi - even from across the self imposed chasm that currently separates us. And I see Jesus in the strangers at BJ's who shared one of their two packs of toilet paper with us... yep it's the little things that keep us connected and there encounter Christ.
Rejoice in hope, persevere in trial, pray always.
Pelagius commentary on Romans: "Bear everything for the sake of the joy of the hope to come."