We make many important decisions that determine our future when we are young. Medical research is suggesting that our brains haven’t developed fully until our mid-twenties, but that may be too late to change the direction of our lives.
Christina’s life is an example of a young person making a huge decision and her subsequent commitment to Build the Faith will have untold implications for her, obviously, but also for generations of people both locally and globally. Decisions other young people make about where they attend school, who their friends are and who they date can have long term consequences. For most of human history, decisions about marriage, for example, were made by elders in the community, because they didn’t trust the young people themselves to make the best choices.
I have been thinking a lot about the long-term implications of youthful decision-making since I began full-time prison ministry. Teenagers who accompanied a friend to get money that was owed and didn’t know this “friend” had some kind of weapon or who got involved in an altercation that escalated out of control, have been given life sentences, some without any possibility of parole. To be sure, alcohol and/or drugs were often involved. Circumstances vary and many of those who are incarcerated knew what they were doing, but a significant majority of offenders were young at the time of their offense.
Decades later, some hallways in our state prisons could be confused with retirement communities. There is no shortage of wheelchairs and walking sticks! Chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel reminds us to remember these individuals:
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:37-40)
The Catholic volunteers I have encountered are living this Gospel message. They are truly inspiring, and the inmates are deeply grateful for their prayerful presence. Weekly rosaries and scripture study supplements the sacramental presence of local priests. It is a considerable sacrifice for these volunteers (priests and laypeople) to travel, get COVID tested and then spend 1 or 2 hours in ministry. There are challenges associated with prison ministry, but also great rewards. Finding meaning in adverse circumstances is central to our calling as Christians living in this “vale of tears.” Suffering is never meaningless; indeed, our redemption depends on it. The New Life promised to us all in Jesus is possible for everyone regardless of our physical limitation. I pray also that this New Life can be lived outside of prison walls for those who were young (under 21 years of age) with immature thinking and undeveloped brains at the time of their offense and have subsequently shown wonderful emotional and spiritual growth after decades of incarceration. This is justice and mercy, God’s promise for all.
Colm Is a Deacon in the Archdiocese of Boston and a prison Chaplain. He and his wife Julie have 4 adult children and 2 grandchildren. His Catholic faith has always been a central part of his family and work life and is a source of endless joy.