April 24, 2020

Corrections Corner / Deacon Steven Gretencord

Ministering to the incarcerated is a gift, not a burden

Recently, I was enjoying my evening repast at a local restaurant when I was approached by a man who had been seated a couple of tables away. He began the conversation by saying, “I know you probably don’t remember me, but you ministered to me in the county jail about six months ago.” He went on to tell me that he had found a job that paid him well enough to get by, and that he had reconnected with his estranged sons. The gentleman then told me how he and some of the other offenders had eagerly awaited the Saturday afternoon visits from the Catholic community. He explained how important the sessions had been in his life and repeatedly thanked me for my involvement.

This is not the first time I have had the pleasure of hearing from former offenders. There have been several instances when the former inmates have approached me on the street to express their gratitude to me and the other Catholic volunteers for the impact we have had in helping them get their lives back in order.

So often I hear people ask if ministering to the incarcerated is really worth my time and effort. There have also been times when I have wondered whether we are really doing any good, but then come the moments when I have been allowed to hear the words of gratitude that can turn an otherwise bad day into a day to be remembered.

Ministering to the incarcerated is a gift, not a burden. These success stories strongly bring this fact home. They are not as frequent as I would desire, but they do exist, which gives me hope and re-energizes my efforts.

The purpose of this ministry is not to solve the problems of drug and alcohol addictions that are often the root cause of incarceration. The purpose is not to end poverty or the cycle of domestic violence. The purpose of this ministry is to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to people who have forgotten this joyous news and to others who have really never heard it, helping the offenders understand that it is only through Jesus Christ that they can ever hope to be truly free of the bonds that have dragged them down and caused them to run afoul of the laws of society.

Is ministering to the incarcerated worth my time and effort? Absolutely! Through the ministry to the incarcerated, are we really doing any good? We certainly are having success. Although the successes are not as frequent as I would wish, they occur often enough to remind me that I plant the seeds, while it is God who takes care of the harvest. Ultimately it is always nice to have my supper interrupted by someone who appreciates the work and efforts put forth by the volunteers of the Catholic ministry to the incarcerated.

(Deacon Steven Gretencord ministers at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Terre Haute and is a member of the archdiocese’s Corrections Advisory Committee.)

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