For the 32nd Week of Ordinary Time, Thursday, 11-10-22, Year C
Readings: Phlm 7-20; Ps 146:7-10; Gospel Lk 17:20-25
Memorial: St. Leo The Great, Pope, Doctor of the Church, +461
Theme: Forgiveness & Reconciliation
Working at the jail ministry, I have learned a few things about forgiveness, reconciliation, and deceit. Although I have only been at this for about six years, I have met many inmates, both male, and female, young and old. Each inmate is as unique as the next. No one inmate is ever the same in their personalities, lifestyles, problems they have experienced, or people that are in their lives, or not. There is, however, one common thread, and that is their desire for freedom.
How they choose to go about attaining their freedom really comes down to two forms. They either recognize their sin, ask for forgiveness, and really desire to change their lives or they look to turn a fast one and work the system to get out and return to the life that put them in prison in the first place. Some even think it is a badge of honor to have been “pinched” and spend time in prison.
I have also found it amazing what you can learn in just 15 minutes of one-on-one talk time. I must admit, early on I was naive about the cunningness of some inmates and how they can con you into believing their version of their innocence just to get you to do something for them without your really knowing. You quickly realize their tactics when they ask you to give a message to a friend outside or when they want you to get something from a friend for them. They are false prophets.
The majority of inmates I have seen, however, really are just good people who made bad choices. Time in prison gives them time to think about what they did and how they became incarcerated. It is a life lesson that most of them will never repeat again, yet, the damage is done, and they now must wear the moniker of “convict.” Do you know how hard it is for an ex-convict to get a simple job after prison? It takes a strong will, good support people, and a kind person who gives them a second chance to make it on the outside, much like St. Paul did for Onesimus.
St. Paul teaches us about seeing the goodness inside someone who made a mistake. Onesimus ran away from his master Philemon. As a slave, leaving the master in search of freedom could mean death or severe punishment. Onesimus realized the error that he made after speaking with St. Paul and committed himself to his service and that of his master, Philemon. St. Paul, in turn, went out of his way to write a letter to Philemon to ask forgiveness for Onesimus and to take him back with love, not anger. St. Paul went even further and asked Philemon to accept Onesimus as a brother instead of a slave, basically making him equivalent to Philemon as a free person. For Onesimus, he found forgiveness, reconciliation, and a chance at a new life.
Christ warned us not to believe those who would want to con us into believing God’s Kingdom has come among us in some form or person other than Jesus. We know the Kingdom of God is already at hand and has come in the person of Jesus Christ. Similarly, Jesus said that He must suffer and die for forgiveness and reconciliation to be possible for all of us, similarly as St. Paul did for Onesimus. Jesus goes on to say that after His death, Resurrection, and Ascension into heaven, do not be deceived by false prophets who say Jesus has returned and that we should follow them.
No one knows when Jesus will triumphantly return to us, but when He does, all humanity will know instantly, like lightning across the sky. Like the inmate who prepares himself for his life after prison, those of us who are still here on this earth would do well to be prepared for that day and a new life with Jesus.