Lincoln, Neb., Apr 1, 2015 / 11:28 am
On Tuesday of Holy Week, Bishop James Conley of Lincoln offered Mass and Confirmed four inmates at the Nebraska State Penitentiary, encouraging those present to embrace God's mercy and strive for sainthood.
"God is calling you men to be the saints of this prison," he told the inmates. "He is calling you to repent and to receive his mercy."
"Your daily life reminds you of past mistakes. The world often looks on men who are incarcerated through eyes of hatred or mistrust."
But Christ has a different view, calling all men and women to be saints, the bishop said.
He encouraged the inmates to "be present" whenever Mass is offered, to read Scripture and to pray the Rosary daily.
Bishop Conley celebrated the Confirmations in Spanish, and the music at the Mass was also in Spanish -- both written and led by the inmates themselves.
Looking to that day's Gospel reading, the bishop noted that St. Peter and Judas Iscariot both sinned against Christ by betraying him. However, unlike Judas, Peter repented of his sin.
"(Peter) probably felt that he had committed the unforgiveable crime. But he returned to Jesus, and professed his love, and his sorrow, and Christ forgave his sins," Bishop Conley said.
These two disciples show an important decision each Christian must make: how to respond to our sinfulness.
Everyone can choose to despair or, as St. Peter did, "we can return to the Lord when we sin, confess our sinfulness, profess our love, and be made new," the bishop said, noting that St. Peter later went on to spend time in prison and eventually died a martyr's death for Christ.
Bishop Conley also drew attention to St. Maximillian Kolbe, "another prisoner who became a saint."
Spending his time of confinement in prayer and offering his sufferings for the salvation of the world, St. Maximillian Kolbe "prayed that every man in prison would see Jesus," even the Nazis who guarded him, the bishop said. Eventually, he also died as a martyr in prison.
The reality is that everyone has sinned and everyone has the option to despair or repent, Bishop Conley said. He encouraged all present to repent and "receive God's incredible mercy."
He asked the inmates for their prayers and assured them of his prayers.