Everything is Grace, everything is the direct result of our Father's love - difficulties, contradictions humiliations, all the soul's miseries, her burdens, her needs, everything, because through them, one learns humility, realizes one's weakness- Everything is Grace because everything is God's gift. Whatever be the character of life or its unexpected events to the heart that loves, all is well. - St. Therese of Liseux
The words of the Little Flower can spill from our lips with ease, syrupy some times, often a bit far fetched, especially when they are used to describe a California State Prison. Yet, on April 6, 2016, the dark grey concrete walls of one such place of human degradation and misery opened to the light of Christ like never before and four fortunate JRJI members witnessed a miracle.
We know about the early days of the Church from the "Acts of the Apostles." Soon after the first Easter, thousands flocked to the new way of life, espoused by the disciples. Strengthened by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, these holy men and women went out and spread the Gospel. Two thousand years later, we few, we little band of JRJI stalwarts, entered into one of the darkest places on earth and tried to follow the lead of Peter and Paul described in the Book of Acts. As evangelists, we do fairly well usually, but on April 6th, the work was taken from us by the Holy Spirit and transferred into the hands of men who had committed terrible crimes, men who had been meted out horrendous penal punishment for those crimes, men who had braved the deep oceans of transformation and accepted Christ as their Savior.
Jose, Ishmael, Joaquin, and others arose and voiced witness through their art, their poetry, their letters to their Moms and victims asking forgiveness and describing their deep search for Peace in God's Holy Hands. We, the team, were transfixed ourselves when we heard, how in small groups, during the weeks of our absence between JRJI retreats, these men enter into the main body of evil doers populating this prison and through speech and sharing and relating to each other in a Christlike way, they stir the souls of the others. Now the "others" want to join them in the JRJI retreats.
It's as least as old as the Acts of the Apostles... "Hey how come I see that you are different now? You ain't high on coke or meth, yet you "shine" man. You are at Peace! How did this happen? Can I come to your next JRJI retreat?
"Everything is Grace." Therese was right. We witnessed it on April 6, 2016 at Kern Valley State Prison. We will witness it again!
- Dr. Bill Smith
Doctor of Ministry, Deacon, and JRJI's Chief of Staff and Retreat Facilitator