A letter came from the State Prison. “Dear Pastor, I read somewhere in connection with St. Andre Downtown Chapel, “to provide hope and healing to the most marginalized members of society”. Through my own fault, for the most shameful of all sins, I was marginalized out of society itself. Here in prison I am the lowest scum, the object of the most violent hatred. I deserve no better.
But I will be returning to society in 24 months…for twelve years of post-prison supervision… I am very afraid. It would have been better for me to have had a millstone …anyway, one of my fears is that I won’t be able to find a Catholic parish that would even agree to interview me for membership. If there might be a door open for me to meet with a priest at St. Andre when I get back to Portland I would count it the greatest kindness to have your reply. If you must decline your service to me, I will understand. Perhaps you could refer me to another Pastor or you might have some other suggestions. If I survive the next two years in prison, the first thing I want to do when I’m back in Portland is fall on my face before the Blessed Sacrament in tears of adoration.
He fears he won’t be able to find a Catholic parish that would even agree to interview him for potential membership. I fear that he speaks from experience, an experience that would add to the rejection he is finding in prison. He fears my reply, so prepares himself for yet another rejection: “If you must decline I will understand.” He shouldn’t.
He must be used to such responses as, “Perhaps you would find yourself more comfortable at another parish.” In other words, “you are too much on the margins for us. We’re Catholic, but really…”
I think of how he will feel when he receives my reply. He will open the envelope with fear and trepidation. He will slowly pull the letter out of the envelope, not sure that he is strong enough. Then he will read: “of course you are welcome here, as is anyone! We do not interview for membership, but we will register you as a member. You do not need to wait two years for that. I am enclosing a registration form.”
Those who visit us during the week are used to rejection. We might mumble: Lord, I am not worthy, but they believe it. Every day some “guests tell us that they are grateful for what we provide, but even more grateful that we offer them some few hours of welcome, where they feel worthy because they are smiled at and called by name. At first I thought it was only a matter of feeling connected. But now I think it might also be a matter of agreeing with the prisoner: “I deserve no better, than what I receive on the streets, from society as a whole and even from some church groups.” That’s not our way of welcoming!
Yes, you do deserve better. We all do. We deserve to be loved simply by virtue of the fact that we exist. Lent is a great time for loving, for opening doors to everyone who comes our way. Keep those doors open!