Prisons are highly charged emotional places where people of every creed, colour and conviction are unexpectedly thrown together. There are contradictory elements of regret, anxiety, sadness and laughter combined perhaps with indifference to wrong doing and the ever present possibility for the outbreak of violence. However, one of the privileges of working in such a fraught environment is to spend time in the friendship of different religious ministers. To discuss life issues such as Redemption, Forgiveness, Remorse, or the Sanctity of Human Life in the company of a Jewish Rabbi, a Muslim Imam and perhaps a Sikh or Buddhist can bring unexpected and sometimes challenging insights.
The faith ministers themselves are continuously required to re-examine their own views. Religious faith in these circumstances can actually be seen as a visible force for good. For the Christian voice to have an authentic profile it is vital for Christian ministers to speak as one on major issues. If this is true in prison, it is even more so on the world stage. This is why the week of prayer for Christian Unity is so important. It runs from 18-25 January every year. Perhaps there never will be an organic reunion of the whole church, events have moved on too far, but for everyone who has been baptised in Christ there is an unavoidable obligation: We share a common cause, to speak the truth in love and witness the simple gospel message. Over the coming week we are asked to pray that we might all be open to change in whatever way Christ wills:
Day 1: The Son of Man came to serve (Mk 10:45) The Church of Jesus Christ is a serving community. The use of our gifts in common service to humanity makes visible our unity in Christ.
Day 2: Let it be so now, for it is proper to fulfil all righteousness (Mt 3:15) To achieve any change, perseverance and patience are needed. We are all called to co-operate with the work of the Spirit in uniting Christians.
Day 3: Christ suffered for us (1 Pt 2:21) Following Christ the Suffering Servant, Christians are called to solidarity with all who suffer. The closer we come to the cross of Christ the closer we come to one another.
Day 4: Overcome evil with good (Rom 12:21) In our divisions we cannot be strong enough to overcome evil in our times.
Day 5: Jesus stood among them and said: Peace be with you! (Jn20:19) Peace and unity are the hallmarks of our transformation in the resurrection.
Day 6: This is the victory, our faith (1Jn 5:4) Such faith calls us to friendship with Christ, and so to one another.
Day 7: Feed my sheep (Jn 21:19) Following the Good Shepherd, we are called to strengthen each other in the Lord, and to support and fortify the weak and the lost.
Day 8: To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne (Rv 3:21) Christians know that unity is a gift of God.
Think on these things this week and may the God of Peace be with you all,