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October 2016 Prayer of the Month: A Step along the Way

Posted by Patricia A. Lynch on

This month's prayer is taken from

When We Visit Jesus in Prison: A Guide to Catholic Ministry

by Chaplain S. Recinella


In his introduction to When We Visit Jesus in Prison, Chaplain Dale S. Recinella invites us to imagine the day when a well-prepared volunteer begins prison ministry.

Your spouse and family struggled with the idea of you serving in this way. But they have come to terms with it. Before you leave the house to head to the prison, they hug you and whisper, “Say hello to Jesus for me.”

And now you are there, inside, standing in front of a chapel full of inmates in blue or grey or white or orange prison clothes. Or standing at cell front in a maximum security segregation wing looking at one man through the Plexiglas window in the solid steel door of his cell. Or sitting in a metal floor-bolted chair in a small circle of female inmates in a day room at a detention center. Or sitting in a molded plastic chair in front of a bulletproof glass wall holding a phone tight against your ear to hear the connection to the death row inmate on the other-side of the wall.

The inmate right in front of you stares so intently that you feel disrobed. Not just through your clothes, but as though he or she is peering through your very skin to your soul. His face does not register approval or amusement. She does not look hopeful or grateful. Instead you sense a kind of dismay, maybe even disbelief or disappointment. The words finally spoken without real interest or anticipation cut you like a knife.

“Why should I spend my time with you instead of watching the game on TV in the day room or pushing iron on the rec yard?”

“What the heck are you doing here?”

“What exactly do you hope to accomplish?”

In the moment of awkward silence that allows the blunt-force trauma of the inmate’s lack of enthusiasm at your hard-earned availability to sink into consciousness, you realize those are darn good questions. They deserve darn good answers.


As this Year of Mercy draws to close, it is fitting for us—Catholic prison ministers and all Christians alike—to learn from Chaplain Dale’s experience how to support the incarcerated, to understand the criminal justice system, and to accept the challenges of Catholic teaching on restorative justice.

This month we share the book’s concluding prayer composed by the Most Reverend Ken Untener, former Bishop of Saginaw, Michigan. Chaplain Dale explains that this prayer has come to be known as the “Prayer of Oscar Romero,”even though the words were never explicitly uttered by Archbishop Romero. Yet, the thoughts express a view of our labor in the kingdom of God that is totally consistent with Romero’s life and his work, even unto martyrdom.


Archbishop Oscar Romero Prayer
A Step along the Way

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.


About the author

(Photo by Bob Roller. Used with permission.)

For over twenty years, layman Dale Recinella (generally known as “Brother Dale” by the inmates he serves) has been an outside chaplain in prison ministry handling general population and every category of special confinement, including medical and psychiatric units and cell-front ministry in long-term solitary confinement and death row as well as deathwatch spiritual counseling in Florida’s death house. He is a certified Catholic Correctional Chaplain serving under the Bishop of St. Augustine and the Pastor of St. Mary’s Mother of Mercy Parish in Macclenny, Florida.

After living for seventeen years in Macclenny, Florida, just fifteen miles from death row, Dale and his wife, Susan, now reside in Tallahassee and are members of Good Shepherd Catholic Church. Brother Dale still ministers at death row and in the death house, making the 2.5-hour commute to Starke, Florida, weekly. Susan, who for fourteen years has served as his partner to minister to the families of the condemned (while Dale is witnessing at the execution for the inmate), continues to serve in that role as often as possible. They have five adult children and numerous grandchildren.

In November, Chaplain Dale will participate in Concluding the Year of Mercy Behind Bars: The Inaugural National Catholic Prison Ministry Conference. It is being held in Milwaukee, November 10-11. For more information visit Milwaukee’s Dismas Ministry website.

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