From Our Vicar

Msgr. Hugh J. Shields

Last week I visited a friend in Graterford Prison on his 65th birthday. He has been in prison for 45 years. He lives a constricted and drastically limited life with very few options.

Today, he called on the phone saying that maybe his story would help some young people avoid making some of the same mistakes he made in his life. After I hung up, I thought: “He, my friend, is still trying to use his gift of life for some good.” He rightly believes that “God is with him until the end of time” and that he has obligations to be shared.

The other thought that I had was: “I am not in prison. I do have my freedom. And, the questions “how?” and “where?” am I using that freedom (and gifts given by the Lord!) to build up the kingdom of God (here and now) come into focus.

The Scripture readings during this Easter Season highlight the dramatic change in the members of the early Church as they became more and more convinced of Christ’s continual presence with them. If Matthew’s Gospel (Mt. 28:16-20) this coming Sunday ends with the phrase “I am with you always until the end of time,” why is it that I (you, too?) feel so afraid to proclaim, manifest, demonstrate, share my faith in Jesus Christ – risen from the dead – in so many small and large events of my life?

The act of blessing ourselves with the sign of the cross in a restaurant during grace, the decision not to smile at an ethnic “joke,” the attendance and participation in religious and educational opportunities in our parishes and institutions; the ability to express gratitude for God’s blessings poured upon us by publicly advocating for just laws for our undocumented brothers and sisters; practicing justice in small matters so there can be more peace in our society and the world; inviting others to join us in the celebration of Eucharist to the extent that they are able, without unnecessary apologies or comments on either end. These and so many other actions and attitudes say that we believe…and are not afraid!

The public witness of the early Church seemed to be the key in the conversion of so many. My friend in prison is so very limited in his public witness to his faith. And yet, he is still trying to exercise what little freedom to do good that he has. I am not in prison. In fact, I (and you) have been freed by the risen Lord to better practice our faith.

Practices of advocacy, justice, honesty, forgiveness, peace, love, prayer, sacrifice … how are we doing? Are we attracting others to join us at the table of the Lord and in public witness with this God-given freedom of ours?

I hope so!

Msgr. Hugh Shields is the Vicar for Hispanic Catholics of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.