I’ve been involved in prison ministry in Monroe, Washington. I was active with the Catholic prison ministry and also the Cairos prison ministry. Cairos is an ecumenical program and it focuses on bringing the basic understanding of Jesus Christ to these men. Then, when they understand the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ, they can begin to forgive themselves. It’s a four day retreat. We do two of them per year. Cairos is an international program.
We just moved from Seattle down to Sacramento. Getting reestablished in ministries, I underestimated how difficult it is. When you’re in a Church for twelve years, you just know where everything is and how to do everything; everyone knows you and you’re sort of a leader. Then you’re brand new. So it’s been taking me a while to get up and running.
Now I’m involved in Cairos at the California State Prison, a level four maximum security prison. It’s the most violent prison in the state. Up in Monroe, it was a medium security prison, so once guys proved they were lower risk and they were better behaved, they would go into that prison. This one, the security is much higher, everything is locked down, the men don’t eat in a common area, they’re fed in their cells, they’re very, very angry, they’re angry at themselves, and the Cairos Ministry really is designed for that.
Once they go through the four day [retreat], then we have ongoing prayer and share.
As I get closer to retirement, I’m thinking, “You know, sometimes I just don’t feel like I’m getting through to these guys. Is there something better I should do? Something different I should do?”
After I heard [the Medjugorje visionary] Mirjana speak, I’m like, “No I’m in the right place.” Because it’s all about bringing the touch of Jesus Christ to those that have never felt it and those that have lost their faith. So I know I’m supposed to stay.
I was coming here to get some discernment. Should I continue in this ministry? Should I get into a different ministry? Should I work with these guys when they get out of prison? What exactly should I do? But now I know it’s really about bringing the Word of Christ to men that haven’t heard it or men that have forgotten it. And I need to stay with that.
This has been a real concern for me, up in Washington, we had priests that were involved. We could bring in a priest once a month and he would hear Confessions and say Mass. In the Catholic ministry, we would bring in hosts and we would do Communion Services, but we can’t hear Confession, we can’t consecrate the hosts. But we had priests involved. Here, in the California State Prison, there hasn’t been a priest in that prison in 25 years.
I’ve been in sales so I know how to deliver a message, and I know how to recruit. I always use those skills in prison ministry.
Listening to Mirjana say, “The way that you evangelize the faith, is you don’t call them nonbelievers. You’ve got to bring the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ to people who’ve never felt it before, and bring those people back that have lost their faith, and do it though your actions.” It’s not about — this is what I always forget — it’s not about me. It’s not about me feeling good. It’s not about being successful because we’re not called to be successful, we’re called to do the work that Christ has called us to. And I had kind of lost sight of that, I think.
This has just helped to reconfirm that this is where I need to be.
This is my first time in Medjugorje. When we lived in Seattle, we met Zoltan. We were in neighboring parishes and he arranged a trip to the Holy Land. That’s where we met him. Then we went to Fatima and Lourdes with him a couple years ago. Then he tells us about Medjugorje. I had never heard of it. We just signed up. I didn’t really do any research and neither did my wife because whatever Zoltan puts together is good, so we just go. I didn’t really know what to expect. I read Mirjana’s book [My Heart Will Triumph]. I’m like, “Oh my gosh.” Then I immediately went back and took my Fatima book, reread that. Then we did the 33 Days to Morning Glory. My wife and I just did our consecration the other day.
What’s neat about this is it’s not a pilgrimage in the sense of the other pilgrimages that we’ve gone to. The Jesuits say, “You really need to build a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” This is all about building a personal relationship with Mary.
My experience with this pilgrimage has been very similar to the Cairos four day retreat we do in prison. We bring these guys in, and they have got this look on their face like, “What is going on? What did I sign up for? What am I getting into?” And they’re broken. And each day, we just see them grow and grow and grow and the last day, they’re absolutely on fire.
When I came here, I didn’t really know what to expect, and each day, I just grew and grew and grew.
That Fr. Leon, the man is just remarkable. He was doing the exorcism prayers and I just sort of felt this real slow trickle of evil up my back and out of me. It was amazing. Then I went to confession with him. I’ve just felt like I’ve been totally power washed inside.
Anyway, I’ve got a life sentence, and I’m gonna die in prison. I spend all my time trying to get into a place that everyone’s trying to get out of.
I’ll come home from work, I’ll have a bad day or I’ll be upset and my wife will say, “You need to go to prison.” I’ll go up on a Friday night and I’ll come home, and I’m just absolutely energized. What I have learned though, from being in sales, is you can’t sell ministries to people. It’s a calling, and either they get it or they don’t. Everyone I speak to that’s involved in prison ministry, it’s the same thing. “Hey would you ever be interested?” “Yeah. Sign me up.” That’s all the thought I gave to it.
Other people, you’ll tell them about it, “Oh that sounds interesting but aren’t you concerned about your safety?” Objection after objection.
You know what? Everyone’s called to something, and you’re not called to this. So I’ve just learned that. Everyone’s called to something and I can’t sell them anything. But the Holy Spirit will and can.