1990 May 20 – 6th Sun Easter (Prison Writings)

1990 May 20 – 6th Sun Easter (Prison Writings)

6th Sun of Easter Cycle A

Acts 8:5-8,14-17

1 Peter 3: 15-18

John 14: 15- 21


Dear Friends,


In this week’s Gospel, we continue with Jesus’ Last Supper discourse in John. Jesus tells his disciples that if they keep his commands, he will send them the “paracletic”, the Holy Spirit to sustain and support them until his return. The command they must obey is his new law of love, to love God and to love thy Neighbor.

During this Easter season, we too are looking forward to the coming of the Holy Spirit, on Pentecost Sunday, 50 days after Easter. Yet the Gospels are not as well laid out as our Liturgical Calendar. In fact, there are several different versions of Pentecost in the New Testament. St. Mark, the first Gospel written, records no Pentecost account at all. St. Mark ends his Gospel with the empty tomb on Easter Sunday morning. An Angel tells the women at the tomb to tell the disciples to meet the Risen Lord in Galilee. St. Matthew ends his Gospel with the disciples meeting the Risen Lord in Galilee immediately after the resurrection where Jesus gave the disciples authority to preach and baptize to all nations in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

St. John has a very explicit Pentecost moment. It happens Easter Sunday night when the disciples are locked up in the upper room, the Risen Lord appears to them and breathes on them the power of the Holy Spirit. Even St. Luke, from whom our Liturgical Calendar takes its outline, has more than one

Pentecost experience. The second volume of the Book of Acts begins where his Gospel story ended, in Jerusalem. From Jerusalem, the church grows and extends into the entire world, even to the Imperial Capitol of Rome. Its growth can be divided into three different stages, each with its own Pentecost experience. The 1st Pentecost account is the one we will celebrate on Pentecost Sunday. It is the best-known account when in the Upper Room, in Jerusalem 10 days after the Ascension, and 50 days after Easter, the Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples in tongues of fire (2:1-4). It could be called the Jewish Pentecost.

Acts 2nd Pentecost account takes place in this week’s 1st reading. The newly ordained deacon, Philip goes to the town of Samaria to proclaim the Risen Lord. The Samaritans were neither Jew or Gentile but a cross between the two. Philip’s mission to this Samaritan town represents the first stage of the Church’s growth beyond Judaism. Philips mission was a great success. When word of Philips success reached the Apostles in Jerusalem, Peter and John were sent to check it out. Once there, they saw the good fruits of Philips preaching and laid their hands on the newly baptized and they received the Holy Spirit, the Samaritan Pentecost.  The 3rd Pentecost account in Acts, the Gentile Pentecost takes place with the conversion of Cornelius and his household (10: 44-48). With this 3rd and last Pentecost the scene is set for the mission of St. Paul to the Gentiles and on to Rome.



There is a lesson in these multiple accounts of the Pentecost experience. There’s no controlling the movement of the Holy Spirit. She moves in the world freely and expectantly. She is God’s Life Force in Creation, drawing the world closer and closer to perfection and wholeness. It is the mission of the Church, throughout the centuries and to the end of time, to keep up with the surprising Spirit. Sometimes the church has done well in this mission, sometimes the Church has not done so well and sometimes the Church has even been at odds with God’s Holy Spirit. In any case, it is the Spirit that brings creation to the fullness of God’s Kingdom. Its best to be with her. There is no other way.

90 05 20 Prison Writings


Jails and prisons are not good places. Anytime you lock up human beings against their wills, it’s not a good environment. Once locked up, there are degrees of negative environments. Some prisons constitute a gross human rights violation in and of themselves. The main prison in Marion, Illinois is a good example. It is the disciplinary prison for the Federal Prison system. As an institution, it has been in a continuous lockdown since the fall of 1983. Amnesty International has declared the Marion Prison lockdown a systematic human rights violation.

Yet any prison experience is both an external and internal affair. There is a saying among prisoners, “Everyone does their own time.” We may be sharing the same physical space, wearing the same clothes, eating the same food, even serving the same time but each and every prisoner is experiencing their own, unique and separate imprisonment.

There is much that separates me from my fellow cellmates. The first and primary difference is the reasons for our being locked up. I’m in jail because I believe I’m doing the right thing. The actions that landed me in this jail cell are the results of my being Faithful to the Gospel. In essence, I have been convicted for my faith, for following Jesus. The suffering I endure here has a dimension of Spiritual Joy that sets me apart. Much like poverty, when it is freely chosen, it becomes a freeing and liberating experience. Yet when it is placed upon a person against their will, poverty becomes degrading and spiritually repressive. Involuntary poverty is destitution, voluntary poverty is freeing and liberating. I also have the love and support of many, many people. I am grateful and empowered by both for being found guilty for following the Gospel and for all the love that has followed me into this jail cell.  It is not the same for my fellow cellmates.  This county jail is not unlike other county jails in and around major metropolitan areas.

There are not as many blacks or other minorities here as there are in the Douglas County Jail (Omaha).  Yet there are still a disproportionate number of minorities compared to the overall population of Sarpy County. Almost every man in my unit is here because of drugs, alcohol, poverty, or personal violence. There are few rich people in this County Jail. Almost all the men here were victims first of broken homes and dysfunctional families before they started breaking laws. The relationship between dysfunctional families, drug and alcohol abuse and poverty and the people who occupy this jail is almost absolute.

I believe people must be held accountable for their personal actions, yet one can hardly miss the social and economic conditions that help create the typical prison population. Locking a person up in this “warehouse” fashion with no programs or efforts to help rehabilitate and improve the individual is no real answer; in fact it is a negative answer. Once they have done their time, they are back on the streets more likely to repeat the behavior that landed them in jail in the first place. This is not good for the person or for the community at large. Just in sheer economic terms, the community keeps paying a great deal of money in police, judicial and prison costs for a system that only makes things worse.

Such conditions pose a particular challenge to the Christian, for we are called to “go the extra mile”. If everyone should be accountable for his or her own personal behavior, the Christian is called to go even further. Jesus commands that we be personally accountable for the behavior of our fellow human beings. Personal responsibility for the other is the practical application of Jesus’ Law of Love. When it comes to the imprisoned, this command of love has been abdicated to the state.  And the state is doing a very bad job of it




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