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​Welcome to the website for the Office of Priestly Vocations of the Diocese of Grand Rapids, MI. This year twenty-five men from our diocese will be in seminary formation programs in preparation for ordination, seven of whom are new to formation. Thirteen of these men are at St. John Vianney College Seminary and twelve are at USML/Mundelein Seminary.

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Bringing Jesus Behind the Prison Walls

April 2024 FAITHGR magazine – Vocations column

Bringing Jesus behind prison walls

By Father Stephen Durkee, Director of Priestly Vocations

Imagine for a moment that you are John the Baptist. You’ve been imprisoned for your preaching, preparing the way for your cousin, Jesus. Whispers of the miracles and wonders that he has done have reached you inside the prison walls. And yet, you remain there, frustrated.

Why has Jesus not come to visit? Why doesn’t he seem to care? Worse yet, as Jesus continues to do powerful signs and wonders, you begin to feel forgotten by him. Finally, out of despair, you send some of your friends to Jesus to ask, “Are you really the Messiah, the one who is to save the world, or shall we look for another?” His response seems anything but ideal:

“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” (Lk 7:22)

Jesus doesn’t come immediately to your rescue. Instead, he emphasizes the great things he has done. You can’t believe it, he’s boasting.

But is Jesus boasting? It may appear that way, but it’s exactly what John needed to hear. Jesus is the fulfillment of this promise from the prophet Isaiah:

“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; He has sent me to bring good news to the afflicted, to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, release to the prisoners.”

Jesus came, not to free God’s people from earthly authorities; Jesus came to liberate us from sin, evil and death. When Jesus responds to John, it is to give him encouragement and a reprieve from the pain and isolation of being imprisoned. Jesus reassures John, in the face of his impending execution, that he will soon be free and at peace in heaven.

Recently, I had a powerful experience of the reality of how Jesus has come to give glad tidings to the imprisoned. Last June, I began celebrating Mass inside our local prisons. After Mass, each man thanked me personally for coming to the prison to celebrate Mass for them. Friends in Christ, I saw some of the biggest smiles that day. Smiles that reminded me of our second graders during their first holy Communion. These men were so excited and grateful to attend Mass and were lifted up and encouraged because, through the Eucharist, Jesus had visited them.

One of the great joys in sharing in the priesthood of Jesus, is the opportunity to see people set free from spiritual chains and encouraged by Christ’s never-failing love for them. Why is the Mass, the Eucharist, so important for these men who are incarcerated?

It’s a reminder that Jesus liberates them from the evil and sin that destroy humanity. The Eucharist is a reminder that Jesus has not forgotten them. Not only that, conversion, freedom and forgiveness are possible through Jesus Christ. Some of these men will likely spend the rest of their lives in prison, but spiritually, they know they have been set free. What a gift.

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