Post by Admin on Jun 2, 2018 13:24:34 GMT
JOYS AND CONSOLATIONS IN PRISON
IN PRISON there is not only evil but also goodness. Prison shields the individual from many sorts of danger and temptation. Thus, it shielded me from having to swear an oath of allegiance to the destroyers of my people, who have trampled upon the Church. The various sins of a loose tongue will not be committed in solitary confinement. Controlling the senses becomes far easier; in regard to our threefold concupiscence, the man in prison is well protected. Could a prisoner in profundis continue to be proud?
Nowhere is it more patent than in prison that “man’s life is like the grass, he blooms and dies like a flower in the fields” (Psalms 102, 15). For self-examination, for repentance, for looking into one’s own heart and exalting the soul, the time in prison is fruitful; the days of captivity are days of salvation. We have faults of which we have never become aware in the bustle of life. How many of the good resolutions we take of the sort that begin: “My Lord, if I ever again . . .” I too did this sort of thing; I vowed: “I shall take up the cause of prisoners; I shall go to the Holy Land.”
When I was allowed to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, that act became for me the center of the day. I devoted from two and a half to three and a half hours to it. I meditated; I prayed for our distressed Hungarian Church and my native district. I never failed to include in my prayers the pope, the cardinals and bishops, the priests, the sick, my mother, my sister, my seminarians who lived in temptation and harassment, and also our enemies, the guards, the prisoners, my country, the Hungarian refugees, Hungarian fathers and mothers, the youth, Hungarian family life.
St. Philip Neri used to celebrate very slowly, for he always wanted to make the Holy Sacrifice unassisted. Those who celebrate Mass alone take their time and do it with greater awareness.
l secreted on my person or in my clothing the consecrated host, and I frequently worshiped before it, especially during the long nights. The breviary became a true source of joy for me. I had the time, but I also hungered and thirsted for it, like the stag crying for the spring. For me a breviary prayer frequently took two and a half to three hours instead of the usual hour and a quarter. For a long time this book was my Holy Scriptures, my dogmatic theology, my mystical theology, my spiritual guide.
The prisoner’s life also helps one arrive at a true understanding of the psalms. It becomes apparent that the psalmist, in most cases a prisoner, speaks of the world of the imprisoned, speaks and sings of and for the prisoner. The De Profundis (Psalm 129) is universally known; but there are also many other prison psalms, such as 21, 25, 29, 37, 53-56, 68, 69, 70, 85, 87, 90, 101, 102, 108, 142, 145 and so on. In addition there are the scenes of Joseph, Job, and Daniel as prisoners.
The “O Antiphon’s” of Advent (“O root of David . . .” etc.), the anthems sung during Advent, touch upon man’s imprisonment in sin. The prisoner prays them from the heart when he sings: “To bring out the prisoners from the dungeon and them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death.” The captive’s soul clings, during Advent, to the words of the psalm: “What blessings, Lord, thou hast granted to this land of thine, restoring Jacob from captivity” (Psalm 84, 2). The liturgical prayer of Good Friday: Aperiat carceres, vincula dissolvat (“May He open the dungeons and break the fetters”) speaks directly to the prisoner; he feels the words directed straight to him. In the Passion, Jesus stands before us fettered and abused, so that He may raise up each prisoner’s soul. The twin mysteries of the rosary, the scourging and the crowning with thorns, are also relevant to the prisoner.
I found a telling personal text: Before long, the devil will throw . . . you into prison, to have your Faith tested there” (Apocalypse 2, 10). Bede tells us prison is a testing place for the innocent captive and redounds to his honor. Blessings upon the Church whose motherly pedagogy has included the true prayer of prisoners in its breviary: “Could but the groaning of the captive reach thy presence! Thy arm has not lost its strength; claim for thine own the children of the slain!” (Psalms, 78, 1 1).
The Imitatio Cbristi of Thomas a Kempis also gave me fresh strength, as did meditating on the lives of the saints and making the stations of the cross in my cell. Of the saints I could ask myself who among them had not been a prisoner. The martyrs of the first three centuries, indeed of all centuries, were all thrown into prison. St. Athanasius was sent into exile five times, and in the course of four of these banishments he hid in cisterns or in his father’s tomb. St. Hilary and St. John Chrysostom, the future doctors of the Church, were familiar with banishment and dungeons, as was St. Anselm.
In this connection I might also mention the saints who founded orders for prisoners. Many saints pronounced a fourth vow: voluntarily entering imprisonment in order to liberate Christian prisoners.
In the peaceful atmosphere at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries we in the Church tended to think that the age of martyrs was over. But it will never be over. The number of martyrs in the Roman Empire during the first three centuries of the Christian era is estimated at from three to six million. The number of martyrs in the first four decades of the twentieth century approaches or exceeds the higher of these two figures. According to data from the Vatican and other official ecclesiastical sources, in China alone there have been 14,000 martyrs among priests, nuns, and laity. This calculation is based on figures supplied by Cardinal-archbishop Tien.
In prison you learn to feel with every fiber of your being that this world in its essence is not a place of joy but a vale of tears. Such is the reality. All ties, no matter how strong and good, are eventually torn. Only the Gospel continues to give us a true answer to the ultimate questions: “Whence? Whither? Why?” We grow more and more remote from those who are still living; those who dwell on the other side come ever closer to us. On the eve of an All Saints Day we feel closer to the blessed in heaven, but also to the suffering souls in purgatory.
In prison one also comes closer to redeeming grace in the sense that Saint Augustine meant when he spoke of gratia liberam: “It was in mercy thou didst chasten me, schooling me to thy obedience” (Psalms 1 18, 71).
I was convinced that the pope was praying for me, and that gave me strength. I could also assume that Catholic Eskimos, the inhabitants of Patagonia, of France, of Africa, and of Malaysia were praying for me, and that I participated in the sacrifices of the Mass throughout the entire world.
It became a cherished habit of mine in prison, every Sunday at ten o’clock-the time of parish services in villages throughout the land-to join in spirit the churchgoers, to sing the psalms with them, to be present with them at so many churches dear to me within and outside my native land. In spirit I also joined Hungarians in America, peoples of other races all over the world, sons and daughters of all the continents, in attendance at Holy Mass. Although I had come to know the horror of hatred, the grimace of the devil, prison also taught me to see love as the underlying principle of life.
Dostoevsky had his death sentence commuted and spent several years as a prisoner in Siberia. For a long time he preferred to remain silent about his experiences, but ultimately he wrote The House of the Dead. He left prison strengthened; he had experienced the meaning and the purifying power of
suffering. In prison he had come to know his own people and the human soul.
Even in Hungarian communist prisons things happened that wrenched the heart. In 1949, at the very time that hatred was dominant, an auxiliary policeman slipped into my cell when the others were already asleep, looked around cautiously, and whispered: “Father, trust in God! He helps!” Later
he came to comfort me a second time. The third time he came to bid goodbye, for he was being transferred.
In 1954, toward the end of my stay in the penitentiary, the stocky little sergeant whose duty it was to take me to the bath, looked at me one day, peered anxiously at the door, then murmured: “I am a Christian too.” A barber in the prison hospital proudly told me that his daughter was receiving religious instruction and that he had gone to Midnight Mass with her.
Faith and love must be reinforced, that they may ever and again outlive hatred.
Memoirs Joszef Cardinal Mindzenty, 1974, MacMillan Publishing, First American Ed. Translated by Richard and Clara Winston; pp. 170-173