Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Going where God already is

There has already been a lot of blogging about Bono's sermon (it was more than just a talk or "remarks") at last week's National Prayer Breakfast. If you have not yet read it all, then you should -- right now, if possible. There are all sorts of things to quote from it, but I would like to focus in on one bit that expresses the experience I have had in detention ministry. He sets out the simple fact that God has a special place for the poor, or in Bono's words, "In fact, the poor are where God lives. Check Judaism. Check Islam. Check pretty much anyone."

After an eloquent passage reviewing just where God is, and how different faiths witness to that, he brings up his own experience:

A number of years ago, I met a wise man who changed my life. In countless ways, large and small, I was always seeking the Lord's blessing. I was saying, you know, I have a new song, look after it…. I have a family, please look after them…. I have this crazy idea...

And this wise man said: stop.

He said, stop asking God to bless what you're doing.

Get involved in what God is doing - because it's already blessed.

Well, God, as I said, is with the poor. That, I believe, is what God is doing.

And that is what he's calling us to do.

Several years ago, after a bout with chronic illness, I started to feel the pull toward social ministry, to the kinds of action mentioned in Matthew 25. (Before that, the idea scared me silly.) Unbeknownst to me, my wife was feeling the same pull. Detention ministry is an obvious choice where I live -- the Diocese of Fresno encompasses more prisoners than any other American diocese, perhaps any Catholic diocese in the world. We live near the largest women's prison complex on earth. When an invitation came to attend a presentation on jail and prison work, we went. Diocesan training followed, and not too long after that, we found ourselves helping in a prison chapel at least twice a month. That was more than three years ago.

I have run into a number of Christians who are admiring of our choice, but will not consider doing something like it themselves. It's hard to explain that we are being very selfish indeed. From the first day, we found God's presence in a strong and special way in that chapel, with those inmates. We are not sacrificing to do some unpleasant task -- we are going to where we know we need to be. It's a hassle in some ways, and an extra Sunday off from time to time is rather nice, but we feel the lack if we are away too long. We are going to where God already is, and we get to take some of the blessing home with us.

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