By: Sr. Joy A. De Vera, RA
I was one of the lay leaders of a charismatic group then, when a priest friend asked me with the other youth leaders if I can accompany them in Tarlac Provincial Jail. He will celebrate the anticipated mass for the prisoners. I don’t have work during weekends, so I drove for them.
It was my first time to go inside the Provincial Jail. I had myself seated at the edge of the front row because that was the place reserved by the server inmates for the guests. I sat silently and prayed while waiting for the mass to begin. I tried to discreetly observe the place and the people there inside. I responded with a smile whenever I received a warm nod from some of them. It’s like their sign of “welcome.”
When the Tagalog Mass started, I was moved at how the prisoners responded with reverence and boldness in the Eucharistic celebration especially in the part of the “Penitential Act.” They have sung all the Mass songs beautifully. I was amazed. I forgot that I was inside the prison. During communion, they queued orderly and with discipline. Some of them would even kneel before receiving Holy Communion. What caught my attention was how they spend a little longer time to pause and touch the image of our Mother Mary before going back to their respective seats.
All their actions made me forget that they were prisoners convicted of a crime. The way they participated in the Mass made me feel their deep longing to be reconciled with God and the remorse from the sins that they had committed. At that moment, I recalled how their reverend actions stirred the same desire in my heart. I am not a literal prisoner like them, but I realized the unfreedoms in my heart. My shadows, familiar comforts, and fears locked me into my prison.
In the Gospel reading today (Luke 7:36-50), I was mesmerized by the act of the repentant woman. She bathed the feet of Jesus with her tears, dried them with her hair, kissed his feet, anoint His head with oil. No uttered words, but an act full of love. An act filled with a desire to be reconciled with her Beloved. It’s like the loving action of the prisoners that I encountered.
Meditating on the question of Jesus to Simon in the Gospel, “Which of them will love more?” and Simon answered, “I suppose the one whom he cancelled the greater debt.” And Jesus said, “You have judged rightly.”
After my vows, I was excited to go back and visit some of the prisoners which became my friends. I rejoiced when I found out that all of them were out of prison. They are newly transformed individuals committed to doing good. I will never forget the lesson that these former prisoners taught me.
Truly, when sins increased, grace abounded all the more! (Romans 5:20)
Do you recognize your unfreedoms?
Lord, grant us the grace to recognize our unfreedoms. Through your merciful love, lead us to freedom just like the repentant woman.
Photo Credit: PBS News Hour