“When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?”(Matthew 25: 39) During Easter. Alleluia!
A reflection by Art Bennett, President and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington, after attending a recent Mass at Fairfax County Adult Detention Center.
Easter celebrates the nearness and the triumphant power of God’s love and His gift of eternal life. We are called to bring this good news to the hearts of everyone, including those in the peripheries. Jails qualify as peripheral. On Friday, August 6th, during the Octave of Easter, Bishop Michael Burbidge will say Mass and bring the body and blood of Christ to the Arlington County Detention Facility for the inmates.
On Holy Saturday, March 31st, Fr. Paul Berghout, a priest of the Diocese of Arlington who is in residence at Our Lady of Lourdes, said the Easter Vigil Mass for the inmates at Fairfax Adult Detention Center. The inmates who request and are allowed to attend shuffle into the gym initially looking forlorn despite a few polite smiles. Some speak only Spanish and some only English, but Fr. Berghout can address that seamlessly going from one language to another in the liturgy, homily and closing comments. The first reading, in English, from the Acts of the Apostles (10:43) reminds us “that everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.” The guitarist, Christian Perez, and vocalist, C.J. Redeem-Liotta, from George Mason music department, sang the Psalm refrain: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.” The second reading, in Spanish, was St. Paul to The Colossians (3:1-4) reminding us to “seek what is above” and “that our life is hidden with Christ in God.” How comforting these words were to those with no comforts hidden in jail.
Fr. Berghout also baptized and confirmed one of the young male inmates giving further evidence that Christ can penetrate behind prison walls and make all things new. Hallejuah!
In his homily Fr. Berghout reminded us volunteers, the guards, and inmates that Mary Magdalene, she of seven demons, was not only faithfully at the foot of the cross, but that Christ chose her to be the first witness of his Resurrection even though she didn’t understand what it meant. Fr. Berghout hit this hard: she was a grave sinner and confused but she received the good news first. This good news wasn’t just for the perfect, sinners heard the good news first. And in his closing comments he asked us to all reflect on St. John 14:1-2: “Do not let your heart be troubled, have faith in God and in me (Christ).”
The thirty or so men and the one woman sang a spirited rendition of “Shout to the North” and then the inmates left Mass with smiles despite going back to their cells because they were bearing Christ with them. We were privileged to shake their hands and wish them God’s blessing this Easter.
Now we can answer St. Matthew 25? When did we see you in prison? We saw you during Easter. Alleluia.
Thanks to the Chaplain at Fairfax Adult Detention Center,Vic Ransom, and the Director of Catholic Charities prison ministry, Bill Hall, and the volunteers for women inmates, Gina Masterson, Marina Alas and Josefa Lopez. Please keep them in your prayers. For more information or to volunteer for Catholic Charities Prison Ministry contact Bill Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org.