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Telling prisoners to go forth and be apostles of Christ

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The following is a guest post from Father Ed Dougherty, M.M., from The Christophers’ Board of Directors:

In a Facebook post this past November, Christopher friend Jim Collins shared that he had just finished his first prison ministry visit with a program called Residents Encounter Christ. He wrote, “I think I learned a lot more than the residents. It is amazing to watch Jesus’ hand at work over the weekend with both the residents and myself.”

A week later, Jim posted a picture with a glorious view of a long field in which an American flag flew in front of a browned autumn tree line framing the horizon. He wrote, “I am cooking this weekend for the women’s retreat. Look at my view while cooking eggs this morning.”

What a beautiful way to utilize social media, to highlight the fulfillment that comes from service to others.

In a recent interview with The Christophers, Jim shared some details about these encounters, recalling lighter moments such as dancing and singing with the inmates during his prison visit — and being given a hard time in the kitchen for all the things he needed to be taught about cooking at the retreat. But he also shared some profoundly moving experiences and insights he gained through the opportunity to serve others.

Jim’s prison visit encompassed three days in which volunteers slept at a nearby Franciscan house and rose early to venture to the prison and spend all day ministering to inmates. He noted that some of the men committed horrible crimes yet discovered Christ while in prison and changed their lives.

Jim noted that many prisoners struggle to forgive themselves for the crimes they committed and that was an issue he tried to address, telling them, “If God forgives you, who are you not to forgive yourself?”

He gave a talk on taking action, focusing on the command we receive at the end of each Mass: “Go forth to love and serve the Lord.” Reflecting on those words, Jim said, “It’s telling us to go forth and be apostles of Christ, and to take the Eucharist in our bodies that we’ve taken during Mass and bring it out to the world.”

What motivated Jim to take part in these volunteer opportunities? He said, “The Christophers taught me a lot about bringing my faith out and to be outside of myself, to be an action person. I love being the action-faith guy, and I learned a lot of that from The Christophers.”

A week after his prison visit, Jim cooked for the women’s retreat as part of a Cursillo palanca, which entails prayers and offerings for the cause of bringing about grace in someone’s life. And a week later, he took part in a “midnight run,” wherein he joined in bringing food and clothing directly to the homeless on the streets of Manhattan.

Talking about his journey to put his faith into action, Jim said, “I used to just go to Mass on Sundays but then at some point I started to allow God to mold me, just like Pope Francis says, ‘Allow Him to mold you, allow Him to form you.’”

When we open our hearts to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, we find ourselves bringing our faith out into our communities to meet the spiritual needs of those we encounter. It is a way of life more fulfilling than any other material pursuit.

So allow God to mold you today, and the Holy Spirit will transform you and begin to work through you to make the world a better place.

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