Encounter with ex-offenders was an encounter with God
by Sister Francis Bangert
Sunday's readings surfaced memories of my struggle to understand the meaning of the "kingdom of God". Isaiah, James and Jesus teach a simple message of what it will look like. But it will demand a reversal in our thinking and practice.
It all began some years ago that my heart-eyes were opened. While ministering at our Franciscan Community’s "Wellspring, a Place of Peace for Women", I learned that the building next door was rehabbed as a residence for male ex-offenders. Hearing the stories of women who had painful experiences of abuse within families and hurtful male relationships, and their existing and unhealed fears, I became anxious about this new situation. So when John invited me to attend one of their meetings, I did. Sitting in a circle and using the AA method of introductions, each man stated his first name, that he was an ex-offender from jail or prison (often mentioning the crime) and how being in prison was the best thing that ever happened to him. It was there that he found how much he needed the Lord who loved him unconditionally. I was the last one to speak. What to say? I had never been in jail or prison. And then the words were given to me. “I’m Fran from next door, I’ve never been in jail or prison. But I have done some wrong things and never got caught."
And then I “saw”. I am a privileged person in many ways. I’ve looked askance at ex-offenders as "those people", dangerous and to be avoided, rather than seeing them with the loving eyes of their Creator — good persons who made some wrong choices. I needed to own my self-righteous and judgmental attitudes, my masks, fears, and narrow-minded vision. The Holy One showed me in that moment what “the last shall be first in the kingdom, and the first last” would actually look like. It was a turning point in my life, and an invitation to see "the other" with the eyes of humility, compassion, love.
We Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross will gather this weekend at our convent to re-commit our lives to further the kingdom of God through the ministry of prayer, presence, and hospitality. How might you promote God’s kingdom this week? Praise the Lord, my soul!