All posts by Glenn Smith

St. Paul Visits Prison

 

As Maeve and I approached the prison carrying our supplies for my one-man performance, “A Visit with St. Paul,” we wondered; “What’s it like for a person serving a long sentence?” The imagined prospect of having our own freedom taken from us was enough to chill our hearts. The canopy of large coiled razor wire surrounding us only served to underline the gravity of incarceration.

The lay chaplain greeted us at the entrance and together with the corrections officer, she helped us get through security. The staff was friendly, even if the many locked corridors were forbidding.

Men who regularly come to the weekly Bible study were scheduled to attend the event. They were eagerly expecting the performance, the chaplain told us. The same could be said of me, who had been looking forward to this night for months.

The team of volunteers showed up just before the inmates. We could easily see that these were five highly motivated people. How else could they come weekly to a place that most of us don’t even want to think about? When the inmates arrived in the chapel, the exchange of greetings between them and the team was warm and enthusiastic. Any fear that my audience was going to be a “tough crowd” melted away as joy filled the room.

The premise for my performance is that as St. Paul, I’m under house arrest under the emperor Nero, as reported by Luke at the end of the Acts. My audience is a group of “visitors” who have come to hear my stories and share in the lessons learned from my life as a missionary. For the inmates that night, it must have been ironic that they were my “visitors” and I, their “imprisoned” friend.

For the next ninety minutes, I had the unique privilege of dramatizing the life of the Great Apostle for this diverse group of men. Clothed in prison garb, I could not forget that they were convicted criminals. But I treated them as I would any audience. In fact, I gave them what was perhaps my best performance. As the Holy Spirit worked in each of us, the Risen Jesus, with His joy, peace, and healing love was once more present.

“When two or more gather together in my name, there I am.”

                                                                       -Matt. 18:20.

Jesus was there in their affirming nods, their frequent smiles and the occasional, hearty “amens!” When I finished, their standing ovation was so long and spirited that the chaplain had to stop it because of time constraints… but not before my heart was aglow with gratitude.

As we drove home, processing our experience, Maeve and I marveled at what the Lord had done. The “Joy of the Gospel” is what Pope Francis calls it. It was this joy that had broken into the lives of these brothers! Men whose days are most likely lived out in boredom, frustration, and loneliness, were for that evening, infused with the mercy, beauty, and radiance of the living God.

The morning after the performance, I opened my Bible to Psalm 34. The first two verses said it all;

“I will praise the Lord at all times, his praise ever in my mouth. Let my soul glory in the Lord; the lowly will hear me and be glad.”

They – the “lowly” - were made glad as the Word of God was brought to life for them. As Jesus promised, he “proclaims freedom to captives.” -Luke 4:18

We – who are “lowly” whether we acknowledge it or not - have only to open our hearts to receive the joy of the Gospel. We can grow in the freedom that God so lovingly and faithfully offers to us.

 

 

 

The Joy of Repentance

How can joy follow repentance? Most of us think of shame when we think of repentance. Yet, Scripture often gives examples of how joy follows a sincere change of heart.

Today’s readings (Nov. 18, 2014) from daily Mass are a case in point. In the first reading from the book of Revelation(Chap. 3:1-6,14-22), both messages to the communities of Sardis and Laodicea are sharp rebukes from the Lord Jesus. To the latter church, Jesus offers a challenge. He shatters their complacency and their self-reliance, with shocking words;

I know your works, I know that you are neither cold nor hot… because you are lukewarm… I will spit you out of my mouth.” -Rev. 3:15-16

Stark imagery! Later, he comforts them with these words;

Those whom I love, I reprove and chastise. Be earnest therefore and repent.” -Rev. 3:19

What makes these words of challenge and comfort all the more significant, is that they set up one of the most beautiful and important passages in all the New Testament.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him and he with me.” –Rev. 3:20

These words have resounded through the ages and brought countless souls into communion with Christ and His Church.

In ancient Israel, to dine with someone was to invite them into friendship and intimacy. We’re being invited into a deeper relationship with Jesus and it must start with an honest acknowledgement of our failings and weaknesses. Jesus is knocking at the door of our hearts, our very lives.

The Gospel reading for today, taken from Luke 19:1-10, is the story of Zacchaeus. Many of us know this tale of the Jewish tax collector, shunned by his contemporaries for his collaboration with the Roman empire and his subsequent ill-gotten gain. Zacchaeus is part of a crowd that has gathered in Jericho to see this famous holy man. The trouble is, he is too short to see Jesus! Running ahead, he finds a sycamore tree, climbs it and to his amazement, gets Jesus to notice him. When Jesus announces that he will eat at his house that day, the tree climber returns to earth, and soon after proclaims in what must have been a moment of ecstasy, that he will give half of his money to the poor as a sign of his… repentance. We can only assume that a wonderful meal followed.

Eating together. In Revelation 3:20, it’s everyone who “opens the door” to Jesus that’s invited to the table. In Luke, it’s the transformed Zacchaeus. At every Mass, this is what we do who receive Jesus in the Eucharist. We acknowledge our sins at the beginning of the liturgy, as Zacchaeus did his. We listen to the Word of God as did the Jewish tax collector. Lastly, like our ‘short brother,’ we’re invited to partake of His sacred meal. A greater and more beautiful intimacy than this, you cannot find in all the world.

At one point in my one-man performance, “A Visit With St. Paul,” I address my audience;   {click on green to go to St Paul website}

Brothers and sisters, do you realize how much you are loved? Your   Creator loves you and wants to remove every obstacle that stands between you and the truth. That’s why I preach the gospel of repentance, echoing the words of Jesus himself, who at the beginning of his mission proclaimed, ‘Repent and believe the good news!’ ”

Whether you’re unhappy with yourself or the circumstances of your life, or you know that you’re not the person you want to be; if you’re ‘lukewarm’ and in danger of being spat out of your Savior’s mouth; if you’re “too short” to see Jesus and you need to “climb a tree,” then the Word of God invites you today to enter into the joy of repentance… which might even lead you to the sacrament of Reconciliation.

May we open the door of our hearts to the Jesus who knocks! If we let him enter, then like Zacchaeus, we too will enter into His joy.