Thirty-First Sunday of the Year – Year A: 05.11.23
We gather on this the evening of the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time. It’s the Sunday where we are reminded of the gift of service we owe one another. It’s not about seating, about titles, about positions – it’s about reaching out in a non-judgemental way to those on the edges, on the margins, on the fringes.
I am delighted to once again join with you this Sunday evening to celebrate your regular Sunday Mass here in Portlaoise Prison on what is known today as ‘Prisoners’ Sunday’. It’s also November, the Month of All Souls, let’s remember those we miss, gone to their eternal reward.
We begin by acknowledging our past, recognising our present and anticipating our future as we call to mind our sins in order to celebrate these sacred mysteries …
I always look forward to my visits to the Prisons here in Portlaoise. It is our pastoral duty and responsibility to visit those in prison and to ensure their pastoral needs are met. In the parable of the great judgement, ‘the sheep and the goats’ in St. Matthew’s gospel, the simple question is asked both to the righteous and the not so righteous, ‘when I was in prison did you come to see me?’
The Jesuit priest, Fr. Peter McVerry, a frequent visitor to prisons writes that over 80% of those who go to prison have a sentence of less than 12 months. I know every sentence in the mind of the one being sentenced is a day too long; and I realise many sentences, particularly here in Portlaoise Prison, are much longer than one year. We often hear of the recidivist nature of our prison system, those who offend can often find themselves in a spiral of repeated offences.
I want all of you to know this Sunday evening that you are loved by Jesus. Prisoners’ Sunday is a time to think about how we as individuals, as Church and as communities are serving those affected by imprisonment. Matthews gospel, just read shows how Jesus is appalled by tassels and titles. There is nothing more humbling than spending a sentence in prison and facing up to the truth as it has unfolded in our lives. There is no one here who is beyond mercy, we may have a journey to travel, but know that you are loved, you are held, you are created by a merciful and kind God.
On this day I think of your families who perhaps feel themselves marginalised by the stigma that imprisonment might bring. Know that they too are in my thoughts and prayers. Know that they may feel forgotten but they aren’t. Many of you in this month of All Souls, will be conscious of those who now rest in the arms of Our Lord. I include them in my prayers as I light a candle in their memory.
Pope Francis reminds us of the kind of model of church he prefers “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unheathy from being confined and clinging to its own security” . I think we know what he’d say about “broader phylacteries and longer tassels” , exactly what Our Lord had to say about them two thousand years ago! As always lovely to be with you this Prisoners’ Sunday evening, every blessing.
Lord, I reach out to you for your guidance.
Please show me which way to turn.
Calm my anxious thoughts, come speak into my mind.
Strengthen me as I falter and feel weary.
May I feel strength rising up within my heart.
Bring clarity into my visions and dreams.
I trust that you are with me, no matter where I go,
Or what I decide to do.
You journey with me always.
Lord, you offer freedom to all people. We pray for those in prison. Break the bonds of fear and isolation that exist. Support with your love prisoners and their families and friends, prison staff and all who care. Heal those who have been wounded by the actions of others, especially the victims of crime. Help us to forgive one another, to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly together with Christ in His strength and in His Spirit, now and every day.
Father of Mercy, the secrets of all hearts are known to you alone. You know who is just and you forgive the unjust. You alone are the Almighty Judge. We are not worthy of judging anyone. Your mercy is enough for sinners. Hear our prayers for those in prison. Give them repentance and let them believe in you. Give them patience and hope in their sufferings, and bring them home again soon. Comfort their near and dear ones. Let them trust in Jesus Christ and live with hope.