December 16, 2007

Resting in Prison

Jesuit Residence Community Mass
Wednesday 34th Week of Ordinary Day
Luke 21:12-19 : "They will persecute you"

“They will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons…because of my name.” It may mean a figure of speech to many of us but it means a literal interpretation for me. Because of following the name of Jesus …by being a Jesuit… I was sent to prison for four years!

I remember the time when Fr.Danny announced my first assignment on the day of our ordination. Everybody was already expecting my prison ministry but I was still hoping and crossing my fingers for an overnight changes. But it did not come. I was sentenced to prison… all because of the name of Jesus. The fear and the anxiety of doing ministry to prison only disappeared when I started visiting the inner cells and cubicles of inmates and learning that the even the most hardened criminals in New Bilibid Prison have fears and anxieties too.
I still remember my anxiety when a death convict invited me to eat lunch with him in his cell. The first thing that I saw before entering his cell was the words, “Jun…R.I.P.” But before I could ask a question, he said, “Father it’s not Resting in Peace…but it is Resting in Prison. I smiled. He smiled. Suddenly, my fear disappeared. They have sense of humour. They are humans.

Our periscope for today is a call and challenge to all. As followers of Christ, we Jesuits, as individual and as a community, have experienced being persecuted or being misunderstood for doing something different in the name of Jesus, in the name of justice, in the name of excellence, in the name of change and growth. Following Jesus means persecution because to follow Jesus is to promote changes and many of us do not want change. But our gospel assures us that the Lord will always there to protect us, “you will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair in your head will be destroyed, by your perseverance you will secure your lives.”

To know God will be with us is more than enough assurance to follow his will and be at peace in the midst of contradiction, being misunderstood and being alone for doing something different and life changing. Jesus has showed us the way. He could sleep well in the middle of the storm. He could walk away without being intimidated in the midst of angry crowd. He could even utter forgiveness on the cross and save a criminal.

RIP may mean “Rest in Peace” for the dead and “Resting in Prison” for the inmates, but it may mean a lot to somebody who follows the will of God and suffers different faces of persecution, yet still in peace and can smile, work, eat , sleep well and enjoy life. They know God is at their side. R.I.P. for them is “Resting In Persecution.”

- Fr.Willy Samson,SJ

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