Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Optimism of Grace

A couple weeks ago, I was privileged to hear Sister Helen Prejean speak nearby. Her book, Dead Man Walking, was the subject of a movie by the same name and recounts her experience as spiritual adviser to a death row inmate in Louisiana. She has dedicated her life to eliminating the death penalty around the world. She was in Delaware supporting our effort to repeal the death penalty (and we're very close).

Sisten Helen was humorous and serious. She's dedicated significant time to victims' families and in the midst of communities that produce disproportionate amount of death row inmates. I don't need to recount the night here. She speaks often and my twitter feed from the night is quite thorough (Oct 9).

There was talk about the psychological, spiritual, economic, and social ramifications of capital punishment, but in the end, the night was not about death, it was about love and forgiveness. Helen Prejean's journey has been one of downward mobility in imitation of Jesus. She moved from a comfortable suburban existence to life as a nun in urban New Orleans. She was teaching school to poor children when someone asked her to write to a prisoner.

In the end, she said, "Forgiveness is not allowing the love inside you to be overcome with hate, or else you have become what you hate," a lesson taught to her by a man whose only child was raped and murdered by the man she went with to the death chamber.

My takeaway from the evening was essentially, "No wonder the Pope is optimistic - he gets to meet people like Sister Helen everyday." Yeah, the Catholic Church has a lot of issues. They have been irresponsible and obstinate in a lot of ways. The Pope has his work cut out for him. But as many issues as exist, he still spends most of his day meeting people like Sister Helen, ordinary catholics sharing love and peace with the world around them.

You can't be anything but excited around Sister Helen. She has a way with words, a way with people that transforms the deep tragedy of death into warmth and love. I believe that is what the gospel is all about.

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