By: Martin Ngo
These days, Christ shines exuberantly for me through the incarcerated women at Massachusetts Correctional Institution Framingham. OK, I have to start first by saying, I don’t cry easy. But I find myself moved to tears often when I am at MCIF; when I am close to Christ. I can’t begin to describe the gratitude, the light, I feel when I am with the women and the circle of volunteers. The volunteers are led by this powerhouse 4′ 11″ nun from the Sisters of St. Joseph, Sr. Maureen. Trust me, you’d remember her if you met her.
During a choir practice a few months ago, “Trish,” one of the incarcerated women, sang Amazing Grace in Cherokee — I did not know up until that moment that she had native American in her blood — and I began to choke up with tears. Her friend said teasingly, “Oh my god, stop singing, you’re making him cry. I’m gonna cry too.” The next 20 minutes kept on in this air of spiritual inebriation. It was an unquestionable moment of communion. Our group of ten, arranged quaintly in a circle inside a cold dank room of a hundred-plus year old building, lay and religious alike, savored Christ, palpable in the air that night. What a bizarre de-centering joy. How do our many preoccupations, our countless to-do’s, our incessant worries attached to our hips at all times melt away when we are present to Christ in the moment? Sometimes I think, just as the horrendous moments in life leave traumatic scars that never fail to frighten; when we return regularly to the touchstone moments of grace in our life where Christ comes alive we are lead gently and firmly out of our fearfulness, and towards a radical freedom that nurtures love. Not just a love for balmy-love’s sake, but a purposeful love.
Later, we went for a late dinner. In the dark ambiance of this Greek restaurant, Sr. Maureen mentioned that the bright young woman who I have been practicing mass songs with is serving a life sentence. I drove home sobbing rather uncontrollably that night. As I was nearing home — it was raining — I realized that I would soon be snuggled up and warm in my own bed. I realized that “Trish,” this cheerful soul who always encourages others and makes them smile, may never have this. I continued to weep bitterly in the car garage. When I was ready to leave the car, gratefulness filled my heart for having followed the call ten years ago to pursue a life that let’s me be in communion with Christ most present in those suffering or forgotten at the margins of society.