“ACTS” of Mercy
I want to share with you an act of mercy I witnessed on February 10. The ACTS Retreats are becoming very popular across the south. It reaches out ecumenically to brothers and sisters of all faiths! It is bringing our lapsed Catholic brothers and sisters & many others into the Catholic Church!
On this particular evening at the wake service of a Catholic “ACTS” brother who passed away after a long illness, I was very moved to witness his ACTS brothers gathered around his casket lifting him up through their prayerful song of Forgiveness!!! I am an ACTS Sister & felt compelled to share my experience of this beautiful Act of Mercy that I recorded with my phone. Please pray for the repose of the soul of Alfred. God bless & give you Peace.
reflection from Cherryl Fruge, O.F.S.
A CORPORAL WORK OF MERCY
“I was . . . in prison and you visited me” Matthew 25:35-36.
I have been active at the Alexandria Detention Center in Alexandria, Virginia since 1987. Because of its proximity to Washington, DC and the federal court system, this facility has housed, among many others, the reputed “20th 9/11 terrorist” Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh and Judith Miller, the New York Times reporter who chose to go to jail rather than reveal her sources.
The Alexandria Detention Center has never had an escape.
I have had many blessed memories at the jail: many prisoners who have shared their stories, their prayers; one man whom we baptized and brought into the church; prison personnel who have received Holy Communion with us.
One favorite moment was the time Bishop Paul Loverde came to celebrate Christmas Mass with the prisoners, and it was my honor to assist him.
When the Bishop started his homily, he said, “I came to see Jesus. Where is Jesus?”
The prisoners looked shocked. What is he talking about?
The Bishop explained that in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25, Jesus said “I was . . . in prison and you visited Me” (verse 35-36). He went on to make them feel that they were like Jesus and that they should be Jesus to one another. He gave them both greater dignity and a sense of mission.
Although we didn’t have the Bishop, much the same happened a few days ago with Father Drew Haissig, newly ordained in 2015 and assigned as Parochial Vicar at the Church of Saint Mary in Alexandria.
I cannot put into words how dark, dreary and drab the facility felt where Father celebrated Mass, but I will tell you that I took a shower as soon as I got home.
It didn’t matter.
The good authorities at the Detention Center had permitted our attendance, and because the Mass the week before had been cancelled because of a lock-down (All prisoners must stay where they are.), we were permitted to celebrate a Christmas Mass.
I read the Gospel of the angels and the shepherds from Luke (2:1-14). Father sang beautifully as did the cantor, an Alexandria lawyer, and we even had one pianist and one cellist, vastly talented sisters who played beautifully. Father gave a thoughtful homily to the prisoners about giving thanks to God even when we don’t get exactly what we want, like spending Christmas behind bars. The prisoners seemed moved by his words.
At the Consecration of the Blessed Sacrament in these humble surroundings, I felt for the first time this Christmas Season a bit of what it must have been like to be born in a cave, with a manger for a bed. It was truly a gift from God for me, and I felt others around me touched in special ways by this beautiful Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
No matter what, Jesus is Emmanuel, Christ with us, in every situation, even behind bars. I had gone to try to do some good, but God vastly out-rewarded my meager attempt at a corporal work of mercy.
For me, it really was Christmas morning, and Jesus had really again come among us in the Blessed Sacrament. At that very Consecration, oh, how needed and wanted He was by all of us!
Deacon Tom Bello, O.F.S.
P.S. I do not say that prison ministry is for everybody. I still get a little nervous every time those big metal prison doors clang behind me, and I have been “panhandled” by one or two “hustlers” even when vested as a deacon within the walls of the facility! Still, Pope Francis has called us to ministry at the margins by his words and example. St. Francis certainly did likewise. And prayer itself is a positive ministry. Do your Secular Franciscan fraternities, do you, regularly pray for prisoners? Has anyone in your local Secular Franciscan fraternity (including you) ever participated in prison ministry either by consistent prayer or physical presence? Is the Lord calling you and your fraternity in some way to this ministry?
Christmas Peace, Love and Joy to all,
NAFRA Guidelines on Prison Ministry (adopted 2013)
Please share your works of mercy. Your works of mercy help inspire others to help bring the mercy and love of Jesus Christ to the world. We will be featuring the great stories about acts of mercy in your community throughout the Jubilee Year of Mercy. You can submit your stories at MercyCorner here. Check back often to get inspired!