1995 Jan 7 Epiphany (Prison Writings)

1995 Jan 7 Epiphany (Prison Writings)


There is a few days lag between my mailing the text of my bulletin letters to St. Patrick’s and Sharon’s able editing hands and your reading them. So, as I write this week’s bulletin letter, you will have already celebrated Christmas, while I am looking forward to its coming. I can only write about the Christmas I am looking forward to.

I have good reason to be looking forward to our Christmas celebrations here at Yankton. We will be celebrating a 7 p.m. Christmas Eve mass Saturday night. Twenty nuns from Mt. Marty College from across town are coming to form a special Christmas choir for the mass. This is something they have been doing every Christmas Eve since the Federal Prison Camp came to Yankton. As a special treat for me, Fr. Kayser is going to let me vest and concelebrate the mass alongside him at the altar. {Something I have not been permitted to do up till now.)

There will also be an Ecumenical Christmas Eve Candlelight service at 11 p.m. for the rest of the camp. Rev. Bailey will be the celebrant and has asked me to do one of the scripture readings, a sign of the ecumenical spirit of the service. So my Christmas Eve here at Yankton should be joyous and memorable.  Still, down deep I’d rather be back in Council Bluffs at St. Patrick’s celebrating mass with all of you in our newly remodeled sanctuary. I’d like to be free to travel to Des Moines on Dec. 26th to celebrate the Cordaro Family Christmas at my brother Rick’s home, surrounded by immediate family, gathered around a nicely decorated Christmas tree laden with lots of beautifully wrapped gifts ready to be opened. And, of course, have my fill of my favorite Italian dishes.

Instead I will be here celebrating the Lord’s birthday with a bunch of strange men, in a cold and colorless institutional setting in which everyone I’ll be celebrating with would prefer not to be here. Most of the men here are also far away from their families and loved ones this Christmas season, being here against their will. I know my disappointment of not being home this Christmas doesn’t even come close to their disappointment and sadness. For most of these guys, this will not be the first Christmas they have had to celebrate in captivity, nor will it be their last.

And I bet there are people at St. Patrick’s who are disappointed I am not with them this Christmas, some even resentful that I’ve been allowed to neglect my parish duties by ‘putting myself’ in this situation in the first place. My ‘Resistance Ways’ have always earned me mixed reviews from friends and foes alike.

Yet, despite the mixed review and my own feelings, I do sense down deep where the Spirit makes known God’s ways, that I am where I am supposed to be this Christmas. For what I had hoped would happen before I got sentenced seems to be taking place. I am developing a kind of ‘in-house’ prison ministry.

Most of the men in this camp now know that I am a Catholic priest. They also know why I am here. For many, my mere presence as one of them is a shot in the arm, a spiritual boost. It is as if my being here, a convicted lawbreaker like themselves, helps to ease the pain and stigma of being here. It also confirms that locking up larger and larger numbers of people like themselves for longer and longer sentences is crazy. It hurts the whole society, it ruins families and it wastes human and material resources for no apparent social good. They know that I support them in these convictions. They see in me somebody from the Church who really cares and understands their situation, someone who is willing to stand with them and take their side.

On a day-to-day basis, I have plenty of opportunities for one-on-one priestly ministry. Not a day goes by that I don’t hear a personal story, console a troubled spirit, or am asked to pray for a family problem. Some of my best priestly ministry is done in these settings.  I guess in some ways this may be one of my best Christmases. Away from the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping, programs, special events, and parties that mark my Christmases on the outside, here at Club Fed Yankton there is just enough poverty of setting, longing for liberation, and searching of troubled spirits to make room for the birth of the Lord. And why not? It was into just such a setting that the Christ child found space to be born some 1,994 years ago. Christmas blessings.

Fr. Frank



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