Saturday, March 3, 2018

Still Kickin'

It's been a while since I've updated the blog, and that's because I've been undergoing a period of spiritual dryness and temptation dating back to before Advent.  It's not pleasant to be purified by our Lord, to have every dark nook and cranny of your soul exposed to yourself, but it's certainly necessary.  During the worst moments I think, "Sheesh, I wouldn't wish this on any one!"  But we know it's actually a blessing.  Nevertheless, the last thing you feel like doing is writing about spiritual things, if for no other reason than you feel like a complete phony.  I certainly didn't know myself as well as I thought.  Just before the worst of it I was telling Shawn that by God's grace He had made me solid as a rock and able to handle anything that came my way.  Ha ha, what arrogance!  God did remove His grace, and I found myself as pliable as Jello.  He even took away my faith for a while (I don't mean to say I doubted that Jesus was Lord, or that demons existed--of course not).  If God means to strip you down, He can really do a thorough job!

All of this purification was necessary because this is a very difficult apostolate.  We walk amidst the Devil's handiwork, and we witness a tremendous amount of human suffering.  We also witness tremendous grounds for hope, as this blog has catalogued over the years.  Jesus' point in all of this is that we have to completely surrender to Him.  We have to make Him our rock, and to expose our hearts to compassionate suffering as He exposes His Sacred Heart.  Our strength then comes through our weakness to Him, by surrendering to Him.  The last thing he wants is for me to walk the streets in the same tough way I used to walk around prison cellblocks.  I've been guilty of that lately.

Speaking of prison, I gave a talk today at a prison ministry conference at Mt. Angel Abbey.  Archbishop Sample spoke as well, and I was very gratified by his authenticity and balance.  He's just "real" in every sense, and has a deep and wide-ranging worldview.

The conference was an unqualified hit.  I was extremely gratified and humbled to meet the hidden saints of the Church, those men and women who have done prison ministry for decades with little or no reward or acclaim.  So many of them have those clear, luminescent eyes that reveal the temple of the Holy Spirit.

I also made many new contacts, and probably met at least five permanent deacons.  Some of the seminarians expressed interest in walking the streets with us in Portland.  Some of their training consists in hands-on ministries like our own, and hopefully we will hear from their coordinator soon. I also spoke to a deacon who asked if we would help the new Salem chapter of St. Paul Street Evangelization once they are ready to hit the streets.  I am happy to drive down and provide moral support.  Whatever gets them over the hump and on to the streets!

Finally, I met a woman at the conference who just happened to have three-hundred pairs of thick socks from Costco that she was looking to give away.  The children at her parish, St. Michael's in Olympia, Washington, had collected more than she could distribute, and she was happy to give them to us.  It was a clear work of grace--we had even parked right next to each other without knowing it.

We are almost out of socks, and the socks I had been buying are no longer in season at Costco.  Now we have a fresh supply for Spring.  The woman also put me in contact with a recently re-leased ex-con who misses being in prison.  That may sound crazy to most people, but I had a few prison buddies who felt that way once they were released.  This young man, Gerald, came of age in prison, much like I did, and he misses his prison buddies and the stability and status of being a "solid con" in "the joint".  I did a brief stretch in the prison where he did nine years (Shelton).  Hopefully we will make a connection and I will be of some use to him.

As soon as I get clearance, I will be spending one Sunday a month at Oregon State Penitentiary, and a couple of the guys might join me.  We won't be able to walk the streets that day, but it's a worthy use of our time.  I will be honored to witness the Holy Sacrifice and receive the Eucharist at a "hard time" prison.  While such prisons seem God-forsaken in so far as they are stripped of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful (this was actually the subject of my talk), we know that Jesus is actually uniquely present amidst the most desolate situations.  In fact, this is the test of our faith, whether we truly believe and then see Christ at work in the most painful situations.