Camel's Hair and Locusts





Who Am I that My Lord Should Come to Me?

Dear Beloved Readers,

Last year at Christmas, you met my friend Mike in this space in a column titled, “The Light of Christ Illuminates the Darkest Days.” You may remember that Mike is a prisoner currently serving time in the Michigan Department of Corrections.

As you and your families continue to enjoy this blessed season of Christmas, I thought I would take the opportunity of this month's column to share Mike's Christmas greeting to me with you, and also my response to him. As you will see, this is my way of encouraging you, in this most blessed season and always, to pray for those in prison who are seeking to rebuild their lives in Christ.

This is also my heartfelt and humble “thank you” for your past prayers, and my witness to you that God does intercede in the lives of those for whom we seek His favor. This is truly where corrections, rehabilitation and restoration is accomplished.

May God richly bless you as you so bless these others,

Phil Ropp


Mike's letter to me:

Hello Phil,

I hope and pray you're all doing well in health and spirits. All of God's blessings to you. Let me wish you a Happy Holidays!!! We didn't get Christmas cards [to send out] this year, so I have had to do with what I have. With that being said, Merry Christmas at the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ!!

Society is all screwed up on Christmas. We should be thankful and giving all year long. Not just at this time of the year, but all year long. It is a blessing to have God as my Father and Jesus as my brother and Savior. That is the real meaning of Christmas.

Well, I am going to close for now. You're truly a Godsend to me. It is nice to just be able to talk to someone. It seems like everybody just left me out to dry. You are the only one I receive mail from anymore.

Take care, Merry Christmas and God bless you.

Your brother in Christ,

Michael


My response to him:

Hi Mike,

Merry Christmas to you and to all who suffer in similar circumstances to yours. May God continue to bless you richly and warmly with the truth of His presence in your midst, and may the peace and joy that accompanies the arrival of the Christ Child be yours now and always.

It saddens me to read that I am the only person that you get mail from. I guess if there is any consolation that I can offer you it is that you certainly are not alone in this. When it comes right down to it, I suppose that is probably the single greatest reason why I write these letters and keep doing this. I will say that the rewards that I receive from my correspondents, particularly from those like you who really have it together, and know what they are all about, makes this a very worthwhile experience for me. I am continually learning and continually humbled by what incarceration means at the personal level of the human heart, and by what a truly lonely experience it is.

Not too many people in the world ever have the ability to gain this perspective. For most your situation boils down to “out of sight, out of mind.” I guess you already know that. Paying your debt to society, in the minds of the general population in the free world, somehow also tends to make most of you appear subhuman and beneath the dignity of even the occasional greeting or visit. Time seems to stand still where you’re at, and nobody seems to think they need to make time for your needs. That’s sad but it’s true, and it is the hidden punishment that is right there out in the open -- and many who consider themselves good Christians feel this way in spite of the fact that Jesus Himself speaks directly to this situation, and outlines the consequences, when He says in Matthew 25: 44-46:

“Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’

“Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’

“And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

My wife, Jean, used to take the Eucharist to elderly people at a local nursing home. She became close friends with an old lady in her 90s named Ardith. Ardith was crippled with arthritis, nearly blind, hard of hearing, and could do little during the long hours of the day but sit. She would use this time by dedicating it to prayer, and every day at 3 PM, the Hour of Mercy when Christ died for us, she would pray for the men I ministered to in prison. She adopted the Catholic men I knew at Carson City in a special way, and became their personal prayer warrior. This touched these men so deeply, and they became so aware of the spiritual presence of Christ in their lives, that they made her a card in which they expressed their prayers for her, and their personal thanks and love, and sent it to her. Ardith broke down and wept for joy when their comments were read to her, and was clearly touched by the Lord in all of this as much as they were.

When Jean would bring Ardith Holy Communion, her response was always the same: “Who am I that my Lord should come to me?” Ardith understood and felt a special affinity for the incarcerated because she was humbled and imprisoned by a failed and compromised body. She saw men in prison as those who were humbled and imprisoned by a failed and compromised life. And her view was that, just as God would one day free her and take her home to heaven, He would also free you and likewise bring you home -- first here on earth and then certainly (and most importantly) later into all eternity. And her subsequent passing from this life into that greater glory is also testimony to you that her prayers for you, which began on earth and which most certainly continue in heaven, will be answered as well.

My point to you is that it is possible to follow the Lord’s command to minister in absentia as, by the power of the Holy Spirit, He comes as so requested to those who are in circumstances such as yours. And He does this especially at the behest of those without the capability to visit you physically and in person. That means you stand in solidarity with those who pray for you in this way, as Ardith did, and with her you can say, in the humility of your prison experience, “Who am I that my Lord should come to me?”

It means that you also should and must know that though you, and so many of our Christian brothers there with you, have been abandoned by your earthly family, friends and loved ones, there are those who God calls to pray for you, and to care for you, in ways you cannot see. And while there is a certain sadness and lonesomeness in that you are aware of this only in knowing that it is so because I and others tell you this, it is through these prayers that Christ Himself manifests His Real Presence with you and in your spirit. I know you sense this at a deeper level, because it is in this way you are sustained in the process of putting your life back together in Him, and in preparing to come home successfully. And the evidence that this is so is witnessed in the truth that this is exactly what you are accomplishing, as it is also witnessed in the truth that it has already been accomplished in others. In the years since Ardith has passed away into her heavenly reward, I know several of the men who signed that card to her who have since come home on earth and have been successful. The latest of these is a man named John, who was released on parole in November, and who has been blessed by God in ways that have exceeded his expectations. We are looking forward to celebrating the New Year by rejoicing in his new life with him and his family, and one day we’ll do the same with you.

As a Catholic, I have been blessed in ways that have humbled me and exceeded my expectations by weekly Eucharistic Adoration. I spend one assigned hour each week in the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, in which I have the privilege of being in the Real Presence of my Lord, “Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.” It has been, and is, an ongoing transformational experience. It is an hour a week immersed within the Peace of Jesus Christ and enveloped in the greatest love the world has ever known -- the love of God made manifest in Him.

In recent weeks, I have been bringing my friend, Hank, with me to Adoration. Hank was released from prison after completing his time in August, and in his time with the Lord, he has been touched to pray for all of you who remain in prison and who are finishing your time. We have talked about what a great and beautiful thing it would be if we were able to make Christ available in this way to all of you, and it has dawned upon us that through our prayers for you, we are accomplishing this very thing -- just as Ardith did, and like all of those who pray for you continue to do.

The lesson learned by all who participate in prayer in this way -- those who pray and those who receive these prayers -- is that Christ manifests Himself in our lives in a special, profound and deeply personal way when we pray for each other. It brings us together into the loving presence of Jesus, and manifests within the hearts of all of us the Peace of Christ, which is the one commodity that the world is currently in need of in the most desperate way.

In this season of Christmas, and perhaps just as much in every day of ordinary time, the same Peace of Christ that transforms us individually, and prepares us to come home to those we love, and eventually to Him, is such that our whole world would be so transformed if we could all but behold the babe in the manger, and each of us ask with true humbleness of heart, “Who am I that my Lord should come to me?”

Continue to pray for me as I do for you, and know that on Christmas Day, and every day, He comes. And never are we alone.

With best wishes for a Merry Christmas,

Phil 

--Phil Ropp




All Biblical quotes from The Catholic Edition of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1965, 1966 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. 


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