I used to work with the prison ministry as a seminarian, visiting the national penitentiary called Bilibid, a place for the "rejected and discarded," both young and old men and women deemed "worthless" by society, their communities and even by their own families and friends. One young man, 17 years old, approached me and told me his story. He started young into drug use and eventually stealing and got caught by the police. He could spend a minimum of a few years. He mentioned how his parents and siblings had to scrap and find any work to put food on their table. He comes from Tondo. On another occasion, I spoke with one who they consider as the "Mayor" of one of the cells of the prison. He shared that he has been in jail for more than 20 years and is waiting, hoping to get parole for his time in jail. The young man and the Mayor shared how much they regretted and repented what they did. One thing they have in common is their desire for freedom – freedom from their past and sin. Is it too late now to say sorry?
God is a caring and a merciful Father, a God who cares and a God of second chances.
God cares. There are many times in our life when God's absence is more real and present than his presence. He is far and distant, indifferent and different, like how Moses experienced God in the burning bush. We see the bush but are unable to touch it. That is God totally different from us. His name meant that He exists independent of us, the world.
Christ is like the gardener who tends the fig tree; He tends to the ground around our hearts. He wants us to bear much fruit& in our lives – meaning, peace and joy.
But we are as much as the world dependent upon God. We need the world. We need our mothers, fathers, family and friends. We are kept alive by our relationships with others. We are totally dependent, and we need others. But God has no need for us. Yet He cares, He wants us to be near Him though He seems to be far away.
God's name in Hebrew means "I am" and is the verb for being which means He is actively present to us. It means to be near or to be close. He is not just a name, an idea, but a reality. God was close to Moses, and drew Moses close to Him. He does even more and is closer to us in the Eucharist and in Jesus Christ.
God hears the cry of His suffering people. Jesus is the answer to the cry of every human heart. Christ is like the gardener who tends the fig tree; He tends to the ground around our hearts. He wants us to bear much fruit in our lives – meaning, peace and joy. He is God. He is far away, but because He is God, He is never too far away He is always near because God cares.
God of Second Chances
Speaking of second chances, I went to visit a friend whose aunt recently died. On the way I met one of the church volunteers who guided me to the house. She knocked on the door and said, "This is Fr. Clark." Obviously referring to me. "That is Fr. Kurt!" The youth who were with me exclaimed. She apologized, "I am sorry."
Do you believe in second chances? My friend said, "When you love, you get love back." And my other friends said, "If the person loves you, he/ she will return. Sometimes, there are things you need to wait a long time for, but when you arrive, it is even better than imagined. It takes time.
The Joy of Second Chances
The joy one gets the second time around is surprisingly immeasurable, and sweeter. This must be what my friends from the prison are waiting for, to experience the joy of second chances: the freedom and forgiveness they hope for to receive one day.
Jesus teaches us about God's patience and hopefulness. God calls us to repent, and He has the power to punish us when we fail. But God is merciful. He postpones punishment and tends to us so that we may yet bear the fruit He desires from us, like the gardener who begs from the owner of the fields to keep the fig tree and not cutting it. This is our hope and joy: God refuses to abandon us. He refuses to give up on us. He chooses to care even if we do not care. God did not make empty promises; He did it. Jesus is the promise made flesh.
But God is merciful. He postpones punishment and tends to us so that we may yet bear the fruit He desires from us, like the gardener who begs from the owner of the fields to keep the fig tree and not cutting it.
Called to care and share. Pope Francis wrote in his pastoral letter The Face of Mercy, "Jesus Christ is the face of the Father's Mercy…mercy is the bridge that connects God and humanity, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness." In the Jubilee Year of Mercy Pope Francis invited us to two things: (1) return to the sacrament of reconciliation and (2) commit to doing works of mercy.
Let us first experience the loving and forgiving mercy of God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, an encounter of grace that brings inner healing, peace and joy. And when we taste God's mercy ourselves, we are moved often to share that gift with others who have needs both material and spiritual. Pope Francis continually reminds us that we may tire of asking God for pardon and mercy, but He never tires of showing us mercy. We are called to be merciful just as the Father is merciful. Give the same chance to others, the same chance God gave you. In gratitude for God's forgiveness let us show mercy to those in need by doing corporal works of mercy: feed the hungry; give drink to the thirsty; clothe the naked; shelter the homeless; visit the sick; visit the imprisoned; and bury the dead. Let us continue to express in daily living our life as disciples of Jesus.
It is never too late to say I'm sorry. God is a merciful and loving Father, and he will accept any child like you and me who will return and turn to Him any given day. God cares, and He is a God of second and many, many chances. Whatever we are going through is no punishment for our sinfulness.
Columban Fr. Kurt Zion Pala lives and works in Myanmar (formerly Burma).