By Bernie Vogel
Some time ago I visited a friend who was spending a number of months in jail. He was there because of drug addictions to which he had fallen victim. When I greeted him in his orange suit, I was truly amazed by how well he looked; his eyes were much brighter, he was alert and had a positive attitude.
I asked him, “Has your time in jail been a burden or a blessing?” I was both surprised and pleased when he affirmed that it had indeed been a blessing; he now advises others who face the same “threat” that jail can offer time to think and be free from many temptations.
Our own experiences or observing the experiences of others can sometimes be a revelation. These experiences can give clarity to things we have been taught or professed to be true, but haven’t made a connection with real life. It can change our response to the failings of others. There is no such thing as a “hopeless case.” We are all created in God’s image and we can never completely lose that, no matter what we do. However, the road back usually requires faith and much patience to cooperate with God’s grace.
God may want to use me as an instrument to do his healing. Aid workers have learned not to offer a starving person rich foods in great quantity. A starving victim needs little bits of nourishment often and regularly. In this way, the starving person is not overcome, but begins recovery. If someone has been away from God for a long time, they need to be fed small bits of simple truths and love.
In many cases, our moral failures are self-inflicted, the result of misuse of our freedom. Being deprived of our freedom for a time may aid to correction. With children, it may take the form of a “time out.” With adults, something as difficult as “jail time” may be helpful. A temporary loss of freedom can be an occasion for God to intervene.
The United States has the largest prison population in the world. Why? Does punishment lead to changed behavior? Perhaps we can learn from our current issue of obesity that we adults may be part of the problem. We all need to discipline our desires. One of our daughters who liked to have fun, while reflecting on raising her children, confided to us, “I’m so glad I was raised strict.”
While God is love, he must use pain or hard times to reach us. A friend who has a business commented that the more his business flourished, the more distant he became from God. It was in the lean times that he became aware of his need for God and grew closer to him. I learned that through the experience of the Great Depression and my life experiences.
The hard truth is that I must do battle daily for holiness; I must do battle daily for humility; I must do battle daily for detachment from my will and attachment to his will. That is what my faith teaches me.
“The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it.” — Ancient Chinese proverb.
(Bernie Vogel is a longtime member of Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Bettendorf.)