Jesus is as present behind bars as he is in a sanctuary tabernacle. He is with those imprisoned, just as he is with the victims of crime and those who work in criminal justice and law enforcement. God does not play favorites.
There was a song we used to sing, back in the days when praise and worship among Catholics was more popular and more common. It went, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus in the morning, Jesus in the noontime. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus when the sun goes down." Sung to a lively African American folk tune, it was a great reminder that everything really is about Jesus -- or should be -- morning, noon, and night.
Now that the pandemic has mostly receded and things are back to "normal," I've been getting more involved in things. It's likely I will never learn to stop trying to fill my schedule to the brim. But when you move to another place, it does take a while to figure out what you really want to do -- and ought to do.
Andrew's candidacy for the permanent diaconate keeps us both busy. But it's also brought into focus how much I've missed engaging in active ministry and singing in church. So, last spring, when one of the deacons asked for a few volunteers to provide Catholic church services to the women incarcerated at our parish (government, not church) jail, I jumped on it. So did one of the other candidate's wives. And over the summer, when Andrew told the cathedral music director that I had a history of music ministry, I took her up on her invitation to join the choir.
It's a joy to sing at Mass again. Of course, the sung responses are different from those commonly used in Boston, and the spiral staircase up to the loft at one of the oldest cathedrals in the country isn't for the faint of heart. But I can't even begin to express my excitement when handed a copy of the Mozart "Ave Verum" at a Wednesday night rehearsal. The blue cassocks with surplices are an added bonus.
The women Rachel and I visit on Monday evenings are in difficult situations. While some are awaiting transfer to a state penitentiary, most are being held before trial or conviction. In fact, a few of them are eventually acquitted and sent home -- after they've already spent months (and sometimes even years) in jail without a conviction. COVID-19 did a real number on the justice system, by the way, and caused numerous and unconscionable delays for incarcerated people. Some are just now having their cases resolved.
Over the past several months, Rachel and I have ministered to a couple dozen ladies. Most have been in jail before. Almost all have struggled with addiction, abusive relationships, or both. But the joy on their faces as we talk and pray with them, share a faith-oriented video, or give them Holy Communion is what keeps us going back. We always feel like we receive more than we have to give them. To me, the very best thing is a sure and certain knowledge that God cannot be kept out. Jesus is as present behind bars as he is in a sanctuary tabernacle. He is with those imprisoned, just as he is with the victims of crime and those who work in criminal justice and law enforcement. God does not play favorites.
That point was emphasized a few weeks ago, when I found myself singing in the choir for the annual Red Mass on a Monday morning and ministering at the Jefferson Parish Jail later that evening. The hundreds of lawyers and judges, politicians and law enforcement leaders gathered at Mass to integrate their faith with their work. It was a bit strange, though, to think that some of the incarcerated women we've been working with have probably stood in their courtrooms, and been prosecuted, defended, or judged by them.
And yet, there is something deeply beautiful about that, too. God loves us all where we are: in judges' chambers or in jail and on both sides of the law. When we choose Christ, we no longer have to choose sides. It's Jesus, in every place, in every situation, with every person, at every time of day -- morning, noon, and when the sun goes down.
- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and provides freelance editorial services to numerous publishers and authors as the principal of One More Basket. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.