The Oblate

A Newsletter for Oblates
Saint John's Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota 56321-2015

Vol. 50, Nr. 1a (January - March 2006)

This Issue

An Oblate Service Opportunity

by Dan Walsh Blue-Collar, OblSB

"I was in prison and you visited me..." Matt 25: 36

The role of Oblates is to live in the world, to become holy in the world, to do what they can to bring the world to God by being witness of Christ by word and example to those around them. (Saint John's Abbey website information "What Is an Oblate?" Feb. 2006)

Based on the above, service opportunities for Oblates are limitless, and as involved as Oblates are in service to others -- jail/prison ministry should not be overlooked. While many Oblates may not be familiar with jail ministry, it is spiritually rewarding, and there are many ways for Oblates to become involved in the ministry.

Oblates can become part of jail/prison ministry by praying for incarcerated men and women. Many incarcerated people are forgotten, and Oblates could be the only ones praying for prisoners. This is often the case because many incarcerated people are from dysfunctional families, alienated from family or have no family at all.

Imagine being in jail/prison and being emotionally and spiritually isolated. No wonder a prisoner expresses surprise when someone says he will be remembered in prayer. Why would you pray for me?

I will remember you in prayer because you are not forgotten. You are important to God ...and to me.

Prayer is a great way to recognize the presence of Christ in someone else -- someone we may not like or even wish to meet. Recognizing Christ in those we wish to associate with is an easy form of hospitality. Recognition of Christ in a prisoner takes hospitality to a higher level.

In her book Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, Joan Chittister, OSB, says, "... real Benedictinism requires us to pour ourselves out for the other, to give ourselves away ... for one another." Praying for prisoners is a pouring out and will make a difference for God's forgotten children.

Oblates can become involved in jail/prison ministry through the St. Vincent de Paul Society. This organization combines prayer with a more hands-on approach in assisting prisoners in a variety of ways. The Society often addresses loose ends that arise from the prisoner being in jail.

Understandably, prisoners have unfinished business, as do their families who are affected by the incarceration of a family member, and the St. Vincent de Paul Society can be of invaluable assistance.

Anyone who has had plans change unexpectedly; e.g., through sudden illness, hospitalization, or a family emergency, can relate to the "unfinished business" of the incarcerated. Time and life move on whether or not we are there to take care of the details. The stories of two inmates illustrate this point.

One prisoner had a vehicle that had been impounded during his arrest, and he was concerned about impound fees. The prisoner owned the vehicle outright and would need the vehicle upon release, but could not afford mounting impound fees at $175/day. The St. Vincent de Paul Society was able to provide assistance.

Another prisoner needed to write a letter to a friend regarding a financial matter, but lacked the ability to write the letter. A member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society was able to compose and send the letter. For most this was a simple act, but for the prisoner it was not. He was very grateful.

The St. Vincent de Paul people embody hospitality. They meet one on one with those requesting help, hear their story and pray together. Wow -- talk about hospitality in action. If we have something to give and give it, we express Benedictine hospitality. Unfortunately, it's easy to help the right people but less easy to help the wrong people. Benedict did not make a distinction, but he does tell us to especially receive as guests of Christ ...the poor...(RB 53) Prisoners easily constitute the poor.

However, not every jail/prison enjoys the support provided by the St. Vincent de Paul Society, and Oblates wishing to help may need to contact the prison/jail directly to explore service opportunities. A good initial contact is the facilities Activity Director who will know of prison ministry and service opportunities.

Oblates may know someone involved in jail/prison ministry and can initiate a contact through an existing minister. One such contact is Deacon Roger who has been ministering at a county jail for years and proved to be a fine contact.

In-place ministers like Deacon Roger can grease the skids and set up a phone contact and subsequent interview with an Activity Director. Correctional facilities have protocols for volunteers, and existing ministers will know the best way for a new volunteer to approach the jail/prison hierarchy. The facility may require an interview, a facility tour and criminal background check before a volunteer can go to work.

Don't be surprised if the Activity Director asks, "Why do you want to help?" Volunteers are not lined up to work with prisoners. The Rule states: "Great care and concern are to be shown in receiving the poor people and pilgrims, because in them more particularly Christ is received; our very awe of the rich guarantees them special respect. " (RB 53)

Most of us will marginalize prisoners. Clearly, following the Rule is a motivation to help, but blue-collar Oblates don't care about Why? just as long as they can help. Some have described this attitude as, "Let's just get it done." To keep things simple, both anadmiration for Deacon Roger and a willingness to help were mentioned. Mission accomplished. As an aside, a new blue-collar Oblate is not an authority on the Rule, so the Rule wasn't mentioned. This approach worked. Ten days later the Oblate was approved and met Deacon Roger at the county jail for a Communion Service.

Oblates also need to be grateful for small things. For example, one blue-collar Oblate is grateful no one actually contacted the references. What happened that one time really wasn't anyone's fault.... All kidding aside, how many prisoners would say the same?

An in-place minister is a great mentor. As a rookie it is comforting to have a mentor ready to cover mistakes. In eight months one learns a lot.

  1. Respect the jailers and call them "officer" as opposed to "sir" or "mam."
  2. Understand the jailers are in charge.
  3. Jailors have a difficult job.
  4. Volunteers see inmates at their best. Jailors will see inmates at their worst. Listen but don't judge.
  5. Roll with the flow. Flexibility sums up the volunteer's role.
  6. Just wait. Something spiritual will happen.

Christ's power is present in the jail/prison. For example:

A young pregnant woman will deliver her baby while in jail. The young woman is excited about her pregnancy as were her fellow inmates. The first time Mom was supported emotionally and spiritually by her male and female prisoners!

Open crying will occur during Mass and communion services.
Prisoners will offer emotional support during the service.

Prisoners can and do encourage others to attend the service. Most parishes do not run out of chairs during a mid-January service -- maybe at Christmas or Easter but not in mid-January. God is at work through a prisoner when this happens.

Wonderful thought-felt comments from prisoners during the Prayers of the Faithful.

Prisoners accepting responsibility for their mistakes who are making plans to move forward once they were released. This is almost like listening in on a confession.

Prisoners, who will be released before the next service, who express gratitude for someone simply being there and coming to see them.
Spiritual development is a continuing conversion. An ancient tale asks monks,

What do you do in the monastery?
Oh, we fall and get up.
We fall and get up.

This sounds a lot like a prisoner's life -- and most Oblates' lives too. People fall and -- and as one gets older -- it's nice to have help getting up. Today we help someone get up. Tomorrow they help us get up. One way or another, it's important to get it done.


Reflections on Mark's Gospel
and a Liturgical Interpretation of Scripture

by Eileen Wallace, OblSB

I have never understood the mystery of suffering. I'm sure there is mystery in it since I don't understand it. Other great God mysteries are easier for me to accept, at least. But not suffering. What is the point of it, why did Jesus have to suffer, why is that all part of our human experience? None of it makes sense to me, but then that is the mystery of it, isn't it? It seems that the community Mark wrote for had the same questions, the same issues. Even after 2,000 years we have no greater acceptance of our humanity, our imperfection, and the inevitability of our suffering because we are a fractured, broken people.

One of the greatest understandings I have gained, and it is more an intellectual understanding than a heart filled with compunction that will let the mystery sink in, is the connection between the Jewish liturgical celebrations and the Catholic/Christian Eucharistic celebration. Given this understanding, Mark's gospel makes perfect sense; his community was steeped in the experience and understanding of the covenant of the people of Yahweh. Mark's gospel is clear -- Jesus must die. The entire story is centered on chaos increasing to the point that it is so intolerable (the Son of God crucified) that Yahweh has no choice but to take this sacrifice and create wonder and perfection that is the expression of God's creative love -- resurrection. Death dies. Eden is reborn.

As human beings we need to understand what is happening to us. We create stories, explanations, rituals, celebrations to mark the important episodes and events of our lives -- especially those filled with the unknown mysteries of life, love, and death. Our liturgical celebrations are ways of expressing the mystery, the unknown of our relationship with the creative force of the universe -- a way for us to express our deepest needs and our deepest praise to the God who loves us into being.

Mark's gospel then is the story of the human condition, and Jesus encompasses all of the human condition and all of humanity (since God can do anything). Jesus knows all of what it is to be human, most especially the suffering. He experienced greedy, power hungry rulers, the killing of innocents (himself included), physical and emotional pain, humiliation, betrayal, abandonment, and finally death. By the time of his death, he had been abandoned by his community and was wondering where Yahweh had gone to -- My God, my God why have you abandoned me?

How Jesus was treated and how we continue to treat each other today is not just the death of one person with a separate life and family and friends that love him. It is the death of the gift of our humanness, that which makes us each unique in all of creation.

Jesus was killed for being fully, truly human as much as he was killed for being the Son of God. The truth will set us free because it lands us in the arms of God where there is nothing to fear. But the world will kill us because of it, and this is what killed Jesus, his authenticity.

And yet, in the midst of no community and no apparent rescue by or solace from God, Jesus did NOT disobey and turn to idol worship. Jesus' act of perfect obedience gives rise to the refrain of every devout Jew, Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God. The Lord our God is One.

Then the great I AM careens through the universe and creation life bursts through the darkness and chaos of death -- emotional and physical. Yahweh has taken the sacrifice of us vulnerable, weak mortals through Jesus the Anointed one of God, the sacrifice of chaos, and turned it to life by virtue of Jesus' act of obedience to his Father and authenticity of self. Jesus' death was the ultimate in darkness (an innocent man condemned), despair (his community and God apparently abandon him), pain (physical and emotional) and chaos (death).

Yahweh takes this sacrifice, throws creation dust and energy and power and light all over it, and three days later Jesus the Christ is raised up. Darkness, despair, pain, and death are smashed to smithereens in a blinding flash of light and creation energy. Eden emerges, this time, forever.

So, is the answer to the mystery of suffering that Jesus had to die in order for him to be raised up -- so we could see that God is God and his love is bigger than even the chaos of death? Was this the only way for us to really believe that we are loved beyond all reason?

Because we are a lost group of people, the Body of Christ as church continues to celebrate the mystery of suffering and chaos resurrected and turned to brilliant Eden every time we gather to celebrate Eucharist. The body of Christ receives and becomes the Body of Christ.

At this point only God can keep straight all the words, metaphors, signs and symbols that are connected throughout the last 4,000 years, all the liturgy that has been celebrated out of great need and deep praise. Only God can turn our hearts of stone to hearts of flesh so we can at least accept and love the reality, weakness, and uniqueness of our humanity. And accept the abundant love that sends the Word to become flesh to redeem the weakness and pain and suffering that has no explanation. To show us that God is bigger than pain, larger than sorrow, and greater than death. And that is the mystery -- that we are loved that much.

From Abbot Wimmer to Abbot Klassen:
Saint John's Abbey 1856-2006


The woods were still the day that Wimmer heard
the stillest voice pronounce a mossy clue,
"Come over here to Indian Bush." The word,
absurd as wheat that dies to live anew,
insistent as a storm of God. We brought
our choir books and beer to settle men
upon the land of lakes and ice. Fought
mosquitoes and TB and did not win
each war. But still the Presence and the Praise
had traveled well. We hear the cosmos sing
hosannas in the Sagatagan haze.
Each bandaged monk chimes in and chants his King.
    We did not stand alone; monks and boys
     All chant and make a Minnesota noise.

Now Abbot Wimmer fought with Sister Riepp
and for his pains -- he lost. Beware! We search
for local wheat and foreign corn to reap,
while monks are making noises in the church.
We gather in the courage of the lame,
the puddle, rumpled, unsortable,
a peacock (the strut in full display), a tame
and flightless eagle in large repose; a stable
of untethered oxen: all a palace guard.
We teach the Indians to be white, and sums
to girls who always grab the prize, regard
aggrieved the students' jazz and thirty drums.
     We stumble on the pebbles as we ascend.
     By law the Book of Exodus has no end.




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The Oblate is published by Saint John's Abbey, 31802 County Road 159, Collegeville, MN 56321
(320) 363-2018; E-mail:  <Oblates @>
Fr. Michael Kwatera OSB, Director of Oblates
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