Twice a month I go to a prison fifteen miles from this monastery and there I administer the Sacrament of Penance and celebrate Mass for those who wish to attend. Yesterday afternoon, as I was returning to the monastery, I was struck by the seeming incongruity of my two jobs: chaplain to a group of contemplative nuns, and to another group of men who are in prison for this or that crime of which they have been convicted. It’s enough to make one schizophrenic!
However, one of the truths that experiences like this teach is that human nature is basically the same, regardless of the circumstances. Very devout women who do their best to love God and neighbor and rough, unrefined men who have spent much of their lives in crime and sin—these two groups share some elements in common. Both are capable of good; both can suffer hurts; both can be discouraged and feel the sting of ingratitude or injustice on the part of others. Both can be tempted to ask God: Why me? Why must I suffer this or that? Why do people misjudge me and accuse me falsely of things of which I am not guilty. You and I know what this is all about, for we, too, are humans, and experience these things.
On June 4 in our Dominican calendar we celebrate the feast of our first canonized Dominican martyr. He is Saint Peter of Verona who was ambushed along the road in north Italy and killed. He had been given the unenviable job of being an inquisitor—a churchman who sought out people who were teaching the Albigensian heresy and alienating people from the Church by means of it. Naturally, they hated him and eventually brought about his death. One day, as he was praying before a crucifix, and feeling sorry for himself because of the hatred of some people directed against him, he said to Our Lord, “What have I done, Lord, to deserve this kind of treatment?” The answer came from the image of the Lord, nailed to the cross, “And what have I done, Peter, to deserve THIS?” We must be careful when complaining to Jesus about how people treat us; no one has nailed us to a cross yet!
I would like to commend to your prayers “my” prisoners and all those men, women, and even children who are imprisoned throughout the world, either justly or unjustly. The temptations to discouragement, despair, and depression are great in jails and prisons. The boredom, the malice and hostility that many of them feel, is almost unbearable. We need to pray for them, that by God’s grace they will have the prudence to turn the misery of their imprisonment into a power for good in their lives. To offer it for the remission of their sins, to allow it to be a purgatory on earth that will save them from purgatory—or worse—after their deaths. They are our brothers and sisters under the fatherhood of God. Let us be concerned for them. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.