It is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost. —Matthew 18:14
I served as a jail chaplain in Albuquerque for fourteen years. It was so rewarding to preach to the guys and gals in the jail. They don’t have all of this heady sophistication that I have learned. They’re not lost in worlds of words, whereby everything is made vague. It is very clear to them what death is; it is very clear to them what is destroying people and sometimes how it is destroying people. There simply is not the same kind of self-protection or capacity for denial in their souls because they have all been to the bottom. I could always talk real in the jail, whereas in parishes I often had to talk “nice.”
Each Sunday morning at the jail I celebrated three Masses, and the third one was with the women. Jailed women always feel so bad about themselves. Society holds the common notion that men are supposed to go to jail; men are bad.
But society says women aren’t bad; women are good; women have children; women are empathetic; women don’t go to jail. Yet women in jail carry a lot of guilt and shame. They often asked me, “Why am I here? What is wrong with me?” The women felt so guilty because their children were at home, and these mothers were in jail. How could a mother tell her children that she is in jail and let her children think that Mom is a bad person?
These women must dig into places inside themselves that you and I don’t have to dig into. Religion of itself is not enough for such women and men. These women and men must scratch their way back to faith, and when they get there, it is often the real thing. We always said, “Religion is for people who are afraid of hell or afraid of God, whereas spirituality is for people who have been through hell and ‘undergone’ God.”
We nice guys don’t usually have to scratch our way back to faith. We’re comfortable with external religion and polite morality for a long time. God will lead each of us, I am sure, but by a different path, so that all religion one day has to be faith, love, humility and surrender—or it is not true religion! None of God’s “little ones will be lost.” And we are “one of these little ones” too, just in a different way.
When have you been so lost that you’ve had to go back to the very foundations of your faith?