By Richard Ho Lung
Lent, which begins tomorrow, is the time when you and I prepare for the greatest event that ever happened to the human race.
We were saved by the love of God, by the greatest act of love by His Son, crucified, rejected, wounded, whipped, laughed at, mocked, speared, murdered to redeem us from our sins with His redeeming words, "Father forgive them, they know not what they do."
The Missionaries of the Poor brothers visited the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre, better known as General Penitentiary, and were welcomed by the supervisors, who were most accommodating. There is high security at this prison. It has to be.
"Father, I am sentenced to 50 years, I murdered a man in the act of robbery"; "Father, I killed my brother. We were fighting over a plate of food;" "I don't know what got into me. I was in a bar. Suddenly, I was angry. I shot my girlfriend."
"Please, bless me Father, pray over me, please, bless me. I deserve my sentence. I'm not fighting anybody about my sentence. I pray to God to forgive me. They bowed their heads in reverence. Each man accepting his wrong without self-defence, murmuring contrition.
A deep experience
Grace Washington, Steve DeBaun, John and Maureen Scarpati, Mary Prendergast, Conor and Kevin Gallagher, the brothers and I visited the prison. Seventeen hundred men, hungry for love, for the human touch and understanding, sharing their deep human feelings and experiences.
We simply brought them each a tuna sandwich and a rosary. We ran out of rosaries. Conor has promised 1,700 Bibles. They were so grateful. We sat in a small open hall. They came and sat with us and simply talked as fellow human beings, lovingly, kindly and gently.
After a while, moved by a desire to pray, we gave thanks to God for life and for forgiveness. We sang songs. They sang from the depths of their hearts. They were just other human beings who have lost their way. But for God's mercies, we could have also lost our way.
So many give thanks that they are being punished. "Now I have a chance to change," many said in different ways.
We are all so vulnerable. We are all so weak. We fall time and again. We fall, we get up, we fall again. None of us can do without the mercies of the Lord. He loves us so much. There is no weakness, no sin, no evil that He can't forgive. Why can't we forgive each other? Why? Why? Why?
We can't escape it, brothers and sisters; we are just sinners, vulnerable to selfish, worldly desires, passions, temptations, pride and self-righteousness. At the same time, there is this inner yearning, this desperate desire to be pure and holy and pleasing to God. "Love me, Lord! Forgive me, Lord! Take me by the hand, Lord! Lead me, guide me, protect me. Let me be your friend."
"Welcome the stranger," the Lord tells us. "Visit the sick. Visit the imprisoned. Feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty. Clothe the naked. Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you."
This is the age of the beatitudes. I can't think of anything else to do with my life. I can't think of anything else for the brothers to do. It's what Jesus did with his own life. To love unto death the most forgotten ones, and be loved by Christ.
And after this loving on earth, to enter into heaven to be loved by God.
Fr Richard Ho Lung is founder and superior general of Missionaries of the Poor. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.