This coming week is one of prayer for prisoners & their families.
Our reflections are in some different loose ways related to that theme. There are two pieces connected to the story of the Prodigal Son & the all-forgiving father. One of these is from Henri Nouwen’s writings, & there is another Nouwen excerpt on receiving forgiveness.
There is a description of Pope Francis’s visit to a prison in Rome on Maundy Thursday a few years ago. And there is also a prayer for prisoners.
Our blessing is John Glynn’s ‘Song of Blessing’. Let’s extend it to all prisoners everywhere & their families, & very particularly for those unjustly imprisoned.
Refrain: May the Lord bless you, may he lay his hand upon you,
& keep you as the apple of his eye.
May his love protect you, may he guard you from all evil,
& Jesus be the way you travel by.
He will not let the night be master of your fears,
cause you not to stumble on a stone,
but with mighty hand & with outstretched arms
he will claim you as his own.
Through your land & your heights the flame of terror prowls;
you will feel abandoned in the fight.
But beneath the shadow of his wings
is the armour of his light.
He has clothed you with gold, & knows you by your name;
sees your joy & hears your silent sign.
And if ever you are in need of him,
he will answer when you cry.
We hope life is treating you well & send our love
From The Return of the Prodigal Son – Henri Nouwen.
I vividly remember talking with a young man loved & admired by everyone who knew him. He told me how a small critical remark from one of his friends had thrown him into an abyss of depression. As he spoke, tears streamed from his eyes, & his body twisted in anguish. He felt that his friend had broken through his wall of defences & had seen him as he really was: an ugly hypocrite, a despicable man beneath his gleaming armour. As I heard his story I realised what an unhappy life he had lived, even though the people around him had envied him for his gifts. For years he had walked around with inner questions: ‘Does anyone really love me?’ ‘Does anyone really care?’ And every time he had climbed a little higher on the ladder of success, he had thought ‘This is not who I really am; one day everything will come crashing down & then people will see that I am no good’.
This encounter illustrates the way that many people live their lives – never fully sure that they are loved as they are. The parable of the Prodigal Son is a story that speaks about a love that existed before any rejection was possible & that will be there after all the rejections have taken place. It is the first & everlasting love of a God who is Father as well as Mother. It is the fountain of all true human love, even the most limited. Jesus’s whole life had only one aim: to reveal this inexhaustible, unlimited love of God & to show the way to let that love guide every part of our daily lives.
The Younger Son’s Song
by Steve Garnaas-Holmes
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you;
I am no longer worthy to be called your son;
treat me like one of your hired hands.”
Empty hollow husks and crusts.
Treasure spent and spoiled.
Sorrow, mess and brokenness.
That’s what I have to offer you.
Hunger drove me then and draws me home.
Oh, I confess I have not come for you,
to heal your broken heart or give you thanks,
but only beg another scrap.
And yet you see me not as beggar
or as thief but your Beloved,
lost and found, and dear,
a cause for your rejoicing.
How do I bear this grace’s weight,
this love around my neck, this gift?
I don’t. I let it lift me up beyond myself,
amazed, where all there is is you.
by Henri Nouwen
There are two sides to forgiveness: giving and receiving. Although at first sight giving seems to be harder, it often appears that we are not able to offer forgiveness to others because we have not been able fully to receive it. Only as people who have accepted forgiveness can we find the inner freedom to give it. Why is receiving forgiveness so difficult? It is very hard to say, “Without your forgiveness I am still bound to what happened between us. Only you can set me free.” That requires not only a confession that we have hurt somebody but also the humility to acknowledge our dependency on others. Only when we can receive forgiveness can we give it.
Pope Francis washes the feet of prisoners on Maundy Thursday.
In his brief, off-the-cuff homily, the pope explained the meaning of the Lord’s Supper and the significance of Jesus washing his Apostles’ feet.
Back in Jesus’ era, he said, when people came to visit, their feet would be dirty from wearing sandals on dusty roads.
Instead of having a slave wash the Apostles’ feet, Jesus performed the ritual himself to the Apostles’ shock and incomprehension, the pope said. ‘Jesus loved people so much’, he said, that “he became a slave in order to serve us, heal us, cleanse us”.
But in order to draw authentic meaning from the ceremony, everyone must “have the certainty in our hearts, we must be sure that when the Lord washes our foot, he washes away everything, he purifies us, he makes us feel his love once more”.
The pope then said that he, too, needed to be cleansed by the Lord, and asked that everyone pray that “the Lord also wash away my filth so that I become more of your servant, more of a servant in the service of the people, like Jesus was”. Jesus washes the feet of the Apostles. ‘Are we ready to serve others like this?’
After his homily, the pope removed his vestments and put on a large white garment tied over his alb. He kneeled before each of the 12 detainees: most were Italian, others came from Nigeria, Congo, Ecuador and Brazil. Two aides assisted the 78-year-old pope in kneeling and pulling him back up.
The pope poured water from a white plastic pitcher over each person’s foot, scrubbed it slowly with a white towel, bent low to kiss it and then looked up into the eyes of each person with a broad smile. The gentle and caring gestures brought many of the inmates to tears.
Before washing the foot of a mother from Nigeria, the pope washed the tiny foot of her small boy, who calmly watched the proceedings from his mother’s lap.
She was one of many female detainees who live in the prison’s maternity section, which houses incarcerated mothers with their children who are younger than three.
When the Mass ended, the pope patiently and happily made his way down the centre aisle that had now become chocked with inmates eager for a hug and blessing.
Heavenly Father, life in prison is very hard, especially for those who have gone there for the very first time. Lord, please comfort them, and give them the strength to face one day at a time. See them through these tough times and let them come to know you as the God that comforts them. Lord, even though they have sinned against you, I know that you have forgiven them and you’re going to turn their lives around if only they can believe in you. Instead of looking for comfort in other things, please help them to turn to you. Remind them of how much you love them. In Jesus’ name, I believe and pray. Amen.