Our First Experience in Prison Ministry
Who is my neighbor? Who is my brother? For the Augustinians our call to a charism of community demands that we reflect deeply on these questions. We are responsible to care not only for the brothers with whom we live in community, but also those in our surrounding cities, especially the ones who suffer from crime and poverty.
In order to serve these members of our community, the Augustinians established the ADEODATUS outreach program in 2007. This program focuses on providing support to "those recently released from prison, those working the 12-steps, those who have been victimized by others, and the family members of these groups." Their in-prison ministry includes a pen pal program, support groups, and a newsletter that shares the voices of the imprisoned and their families.
During their pre-novitiate year, Spencer Thomas and Tom Abbott had the opportunity to engage in the ADEODATUS ministry. In the program's most recent newsletter, they shared some reflections on the experience.
I have had the opportunity to serve in prison ministry and with the Adeodatus program. The Adeodatus program, a spiritual field hospital, seeks to integrate the Gospel into the lives of those who find themselves on the periphery of society. We gather in community the people of the city to reflect upon the readings of Scripture. I am reminded of how our lived experiences, experiences of brokenness and suffering, as well as experiences of joy and beauty, all shape the way in which we approach God.
This is the real fruit of the Adeodatus ministry. In addition to participating in the weekly Adeodatus meetings, I also ministered to God's children who have been incarcerated.
My role is simple, I bring the Eucharist to them. Yet, I believe my ministry is to also be a ministry of presence and of journeying with them. It is not merely my presence however, it is the presence of Christ, in me to them, and in them to me. What I can offer is, through my presence, the presence of God. I had an encounter with a young man in prison, who had suffered three immediate and tragic losses in his life. In one week his brother, mother, and ex girlfriend had all died. Despite being merely a week shy of release, he was unable to attend any of their funerals. He was lost in loss. I knew there was nothing I could say or do that would heal such suffering. But, I could be with him. I wanted him to know that he was not alone in his suffering. More importantly, God was with him.
The presence of God, the presence of the Eucharist he received only moments earlier, was truly with him. The suffering Christ was indeed suffering with him in his darkest hours. Yes, we all suffer, but we never suffer alone.
I do not currently work in prison ministry, but I have occasionally come to the Adeodatus meetings. It is a ministry that spiritually helps men and women who have had past struggles with substance abuse or have spent time in jail.
At Adeodatus I have been surprised and intrigued by the gospel reflections of some of these men and women. They are able to take the message of the Gospel, and apply it to their own lives and personal struggles. I truly think that the Holy Spirit is present in these men and women when they are giving reflections. Their perspective comes from healing in past hurts, or strength and courage in situations of tremendous hardship. They have trusted in God in moments when they have nothing else. In this way Adeodatus has led me to think about working in prison ministry.
Also, I have done Eucharistic ministry in a nursing home every other Sunday for the past two years. I have thought of some of these elderly men and women as being prisoners in the nursing home. Their mental or physical health confines them to the walls of the nursing home. Some of them do not have family or friends that regularly come to visit them, and take them out of the nursing home. Some of these men and women have told me how lonely they are, or how they have lost faith in God because of how they feel abandoned. Thus, some of these men and women in the nursing home are prisoners. This is another reason I have been attracted to prison ministry. To simply be someone who listens to those who feel lonely or abandoned.
have learned from my experience that Jesus is waiting within the walls of the prison and the nursing home, so when we come to visit these people we also visit Christ.