I volunteered at the county jail for 5 years. The first time that I was buzzed through those heavy steel doors, I prayed for God to show me how to help the women who lived beyond them.
The women sat in a small room, each sporting the same uniform, emblazoned with DOC (Department of Corrections) across their backs, waiting quietly. It didn’t occur to me that I was carrying a lot of preconceived notions about them when I entered the room. Subconsciously, I’d been sorting people into ‘good or bad’ categories. I’m ashamed to say that I saw myself as good and them as bad. I thought that I could help them.
I came to know these women over time. I learned that one woman had been sold into sexual slavery as a child. I thought that was something that only happened in big cities. While we live just outside of a city, this was the first time I’d felt the effects of it touching our community.
As a preteen, one woman was sent to live with her mother’s drug dealer after she had been arrested. There was no one else to care for her. Still another woman remembers a day from childhood where the police broke down the front door as her mother ran out the back door, leaving her alone and frightened.
I couldn’t imagine living through the horrors that they’d survived. Each woman was kind to me. I enjoyed their company and looked forward to seeing them each week. As my eyes began to open to the wounds of my students, I realized that I was the one being taught.
On the second Sunday of Advent, the Psalm (Psalm 72) is a prayer for good judgment for the king (Solomon) and justice for the king of kings (Jesus). It asks us to notice the difference between these two things. As a human being, I can make a judgment about something, but I cannot read a soul.
To have peace, we wait for the one who can provide justice that we each long for. We wait for the Savior. He will bring something that no one else can. As human beings, we don’t ever have enough information. The fruit of his wisdom and justice is peace.
The responsorial refrain this week is “Justice shall flourish in his time and fullness of peace forever.” We are waiting for a Savior who can offer justice in his time. This is the hard lesson for me to accept. I get impatient waiting on God’s time. Reckoning with this truth helps me realize that any thoughts of control over a situation are merely an illusion.
The scriptures this week remind me that his justice and peace will flower in his time until the moon is no more. It is a promise that provides hope. When I see a problem through the lens of my abilities, I get anxious. But if I stop myself and remember the source of true justice and rely on God instead of self, then I find peace.
The Psalm continues, prompting us to follow Christ’s lead. Christ shows mercy for the poor, afflicted and lowly. Thomas Aquinas’ said, “Mercy without justice is the mother of dissolution; justice without mercy is cruelty.” Christ’s love of those on the margins is a product of his love.
The last verse of the responsorial psalm reminds us to keep our eyes on Christ as we move forward. Only through him can we judge wisely. The wisdom of our good decisions comes from our efforts to try to see things as Christ does.
Many days, I’d show up at the jail to learn that the women met every night in one cell to pray for my family. The first time that they told me what they’d been doing, I cried. As my eyes began to see these women as Christ does, I realized that my heart was being justified, a little bit at a time.
Read more about prison ministry in this post Women and Men for Others: Behind the Barbed Wire and Beyond.
Being a Contemplative in Action – what does this mean? Read more from Becky in this post Bits of Ignatian Wisdom: Contemplative in Action.
Learn more about social justice by visiting Ignatian Solidarity Network, advocates of social justice animated by the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
Photo by Priscilla DuPreez on Unsplash