Recently i found myself in the middle of one of those telephone scams, this one involving the IRS – Scaaaaaaary! They told me that i owed taxes in 2010 and that they wrote and told me (which did seem to jolt a memory), but because i did not respond, federal agents were coming to arrest me and put me in jail for 30 days. Now, i did not believe it; this was not real….or let me say that for a little while, i did let myself (and so did my wife) “go with it.” i honestly entertained the thought for an hour or so.
Years ago…as a priest, i worked in a number of prisons, and on my very first visit i bumped into a child who was also on a visit to see his dad. Eyeing me head to toe in my priest robe, he said, “I KNOW WHO YOU ARE! YOU’RE THE JUDGE!” i then regaled this tale with every inmate i met, getting us acquainted with a laugh and assuring him that i was NO JUDGE, only a brother, often quoting a beloved New York prison chaplain, Father Licata, who always said, “The only difference between you guys and me is that you got caught.” Never once have i gone through a day without believing that, and so the prospect of myself behind bars, at least for a little while, has always been somewhere in my soul.
FOR EXAMPLE!!!! Having been on the receiving end so many times of the brunt of American Capitalism, i know that i deserve at least 30 days for willingly participating for 20+ years in similar crimes against humanity. As the Director of a hospital laboratory i cannot say how many thousands of times i just went along with “the American Way,” drawing blood or urine for a test that cost us $2.50 for which we charged $30, or a drug screen for which we paid $18, then took $200 out of their “flesh,” all in the name of “We Care For You” but really all so that our CEOs could get richer and fatter and richer. So, PLEASE, somebody, CUFF me now…finally…i surrender. Take me to that place where i can do a little thinking and praying and begging for mercy. A friend of mine (yes, from this lovely health care industry) was recently sentenced to some years after getting swallowed by the greed and money-lust. i often try to imagine what is going on inside his head – or more so, in his soul???
i spent some of the best time in my life in Assisi amid the Umbrian hills of central Italy. My two favorite places from the life of St. Francis were the one way down in the depth of its valley, the Portiuncola, the tiny church he rebuilt and called his home…AND the place at the tippity top of the mountain, the place he called CARCERI, meaning his “JAIL!””I surely deserve some time in there,” he thought to himself as well!! He had already done serious time as a P.O.W. in a hideous prison, suffering intensely almost unto death. But, upon returning to his life with a new – or budding – outlook on everything, he seems to have seen how “valuable” a prison can be. And so, he made his own! WAY WAY WAY UP on Mount Subasio above his city. He did it in part out of his knowledge of himself as SINNER in constant need of supervision, and he did it until he could learn to see through different eyes. From that highest perch, for example, he could look down on his beloved city all wrapped in a wall and wonder a thousand times, “Ma chi è veramente libero, e chi è imprigionato?” “Just who is really free, and who is imprisoned?” Unless one is “Free in God,” is one ever free at all? Eventually his most trusted companions wanted prisons of their own.
If you ever have the amazing grace to climb Subasio, something i would recommend more than anything else you could buy in life, you will see the other name they gave to Francis’ prison cell:
The Jail became a Very, Very Holy Place, where man met God, where a little man knelt so simply before his Maker and said, “i am who i am in YOUR SIGHT, nothing more” and rose with such a freedom that he must have felt capable of joining the famous larks that ride the holy winds above that city. It’s funny, but when you climb back down and head into town and come to the place where the Bernardone Family lived…and you look upon some kind of cage where the rich and powerful father of Francis once put the young man, whom the dad called “PAZZO! CRAZY” To THINK – it was while in that tiny prison cell that that little bird was quite free!
i guess one could say, there are jails all around us – and within us. No one needs to travel far to find one. It’s “Off to Jail;” or, maybe, “Don’t Move, Stay Where You Are!” Whether the feds come to cuff me or not, i like to see the holy season of Lent as a time for self-confinement and re-reflection on what imprisons me now??? and what i must do to fly again??? i always can use some time in jail!!! Perhaps one feels as if he or she is inside the biggest, ugliest “joint” right here, right now? with oneself in the roles of jailed and warden and guard and even bars of steel ALL AT ONCE. Let’s pray for each other and the gift of the truly free.