What I Have Seen and Heard
Published: August 16, 2012
Many of our communities have adopted the custom of providing a book of prayer intentions in the church where people can write down the things for which they are praying and invite others to join them in offering prayers for a special need or person.
We have such a book of prayers at the Chancery chapel. Sometimes parishes include the prayer intentions written in those books as one of their prayers of the faithful at Mass. Occasionally parishioners will carry the book in the offertory presentation of the gifts as a way of reminding the assembly to remember the special needs that people have written down in those books.
The presence of these books of prayers is a growing tradition throughout the Church. We can and should support one another’s spiritual and personal needs by sharing in their prayers for a sister who is facing cancer surgery, a son who has fallen away from the practice of our faith, or a young couple trying to conceive a child.
The Holy Father has long shared special prayer intentions with the rest of the Church, inviting us to remember some of his own proposed spiritual and personal requests. Each year, he lists a monthly intention for a general need and for a missionary concern. The dual recommendation reminds the Church that we should keep local needs and international needs very much in our minds and hearts. We regularly publish the Holy Father’s monthly intentions on our Chancery bulletin board; some parishes include the pope’s intentions in their parish bulletins; and of course today these intentions can be found on a number of Internet web pages.
The Holy Father’s general prayer intention for this month of August is: “That prisoners may be treated with justice and respect for their human dignity.” I was captivated by that intention since I recently visited one of the many prisons here in the Archdiocese.
I regularly try to visit the prisons and jails within the Archdiocese of Atlanta to make sure that the inmates remember that they too belong to the family of the Church and to support by my presence the generous ministry of our priests, deacons and laity who have made prison ministry an important part of their witness to Christ Jesus. Those visits always leave me in a very reflective mood as I consider those who are prisoners as well as staff members at those places. Visiting a prison is not the same as visiting any other place. You set aside some of your own freedom in order to enter a jail. You are subject to a careful and thorough search, and many of the items that you routinely carry and use must be set aside. There are multiple security barriers through which you have to pass—and then there are the visible weapons that guards openly display. All of those realities are intended to secure order and to protect both the inmates and the guards and those of us who are visitors.
Prisons are places quite unlike the world to which you and I are accustomed—as well they should be. But they are also places that easily lend themselves to forgetting that all of the people within them are human beings. Some are very dangerous as they have already proven by the unspeakable violence that they have inflicted upon others—but even they are human beings in spite of their past, in spite of the awful things that they may have done. They are in prison because there are too many people whose lives have been taken away or destroyed because of the violence they have wrought.
The pope’s prayer intention reminds all of us—visitors, guards, staff, you and me and even prisoners themselves that they must not be treated as brute animals or as bereft of the dignity that God has bestowed on all of us as his creatures.
When I celebrate the Eucharist in prison, I don’t bring all of the episcopal vesture that I traditionally use. I celebrate a simple Mass—with just the bare essentials—yet it brings Christ to a place where He has clearly said that He dwells: “I was in prison and you visited me” (Mt 25:36).
With the Holy Father we all need to pray: That prisoners may be treated with justice and respect for their human dignity. We should also remember in our prayers all those people who have suffered violence at the hand of a fellow human being. That person may have temporarily forgotten the humanity of his or her victim, but we can never forget the humanity of all.