“I, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love.” Ephesians 4:1-2
I noticed him as he walked into the classroom for our Catholic prayer service at the Jail Tuesday night. He was smallish, meek, and had a very weak handshake. I also noticed that he seemed slow, either mentally or from the effects of heroin.
About ten minutes into the service, he jumped to his feet and raising his hand above his head like a second grader, who for the first time knew the answer!
“Teach me to do that thing you do!” he exclaimed. “What thing is that?” my friend George answered from the front of the classroom.
Making a gesture with his hand on his forehead and chest and shoulders, George could see that he meant the sign of the cross.
“Do you mean the sign of the cross? George asked. “Yes! That’s it, teach me the sign of the cross.” was the inmates response.
Patiently, as if he hadn’t already interrupted the prayer service, George made the sign of the cross as the inmate imitated his gestures.
“Do it again!” he said. And after each demonstration he would ask George to repeat it. It took around ten attempts and finally he had the gestures correct.
As the group began to grow impatient, he said to George, “Now teach me the words!” Again, with all he patience he could muster, understanding that the rest of the group was waiting to continue, George began, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.”
The inmate repeated the words, slowly, over and over, until he finally got them correct. “Is this a prayer?” He asked. “Yes, you could say that” was George’s reply. “I’m going to burn this into my mind,” was the inmate’s response.
Then he asked the most unusual question. “If I say this a hundred times a day, would that be praying continuously, like Saint Paul said in that reading you just did?” “I guess so, yes it would” came the reply.
“Then, that’s what I am going to do! He exclaimed and he sat back down in his seat.
You could see the sigh of relief as the service continued uninterrupted until the end. At the blessing at the conclusion of the service, I couldn’t help but notice the smile on his face as he traced the sign on his forehead, chest and shoulders and proudly spoke the words. And I also noticed, that the entire group of inmates, every one of them, Protestant, Catholic, atheists, and agnostics, all did the same.
I’ll never look at the sign in the same way again, I’ve “burned it into my mind” along with this meek and humble inmate. After all, it’s in the name of the Trinity that all prayer begins.