Martha Hennessy’s Prison Reflection, March 10

March 10th Third Wednesday of Lent

Matthew 5: 17 – 19. “I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” The new law is the completion of the old, not its destruction. The spirit of the law should adhere to moral duty and meet human needs.

“A faith cannot renounce its roots, yet it cannot live without the growth of new branches and leaves.” (The Interpreter’s Bible)

The old law of love must be extended to friend and foe, – God’s clinging to a people extends to all peoples.

Even as we fail in these greater endeavors, mercy and forgiveness are ours. But we must gain a posture of penance, to be the greatest is to be the lowliest.

Dear readers, my apologies for this lecturing tone of admonishment. Prison life frames everything in the negative, a cultural and familial pattern that is so easy to fall into.
I am rereading The Long Loneliness, recently donated to the library.
Dorothy describes Peter’s way of teaching. “Peter made you feel a sense of his mission as soon as you met him. He did not begin by tearing down…he aroused in you a sense of your own capacities…he made you feel that you and all men had great and generous hearts with which to love God.”
“The art of human contacts.”
Pope Francis’s visit to Iraq reveals this urgently needed gift. A culture of “harmonious co-existence” has suffered “incalculable harm” as the New York Times reports, after the destruction of Mosul, the third largest city.
The U.S. military bombs the cradle of civilization and our highly regarded journalism can’t help us to face this reality in ourselves.

Iraqi Christians lived in ancient communities even under dictatorship, but could not survive the onslaught of war, followed by Islamic extremism. But there is always hope of rebuilding and reconciliation, as Francis leads us to see.

There is even the possibility, in the city of Jerusalem, for three faiths to recover peaceful co-existence. Abraham had two sons, and Jesus was rooted in his Judaic faith. We are all brothers and sisters in God.

Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg writes in Moses: A Human Life about how God uses an inarticulate man to speak to his people. Her utterly breathtaking writing leaves me with such joy and yearning. We are wired for love of God and for each other, but we are such flawed conduits.
Moses attempts to receive and transmit the law, why do we resist and yet desire? We are in the desert, yet our salvation is at hand.
Oh God I want your face but I am incapable of holding it.
As we sit here in prison our words may not be heard by the empire or even some of our own family.

Frida Berrigan writes to me about a letter Dorothy sent to Phil in 1968, giving him love and encouragement for the suffering he is offering up, at a personal cost, for world peace.
Dorothy’s love for the Berrigan Brothers is something we can all hold on to in these times of hard work for justice.
Three months into this prison sentence I struggle to accept “undeserved suffering.” Years of prison time takes from one’s mind, body, and soul. I think of Mumia, a framed Black Panther, still in prison but at least not on death row. He should be walking, a free man, along with Leonard. “Free our Elders” –The Certain Days 2021 Free our Political Prisoners Calendar proclaims this theme for the month of March.

Steve Baggarly of the Norfolk, Virginia Catholic Worker, sends a beautiful, powerful letter, describing how the works of mercy there have adapted to the pandemic. He also reviews the history of slavery in the state of Virginia, the first foothold of this despicable industry in the colonies.
It is good to be reminded of the unfathomable levels of torture inflicted on a whole people with the building of the United States empire. Bodies literally folded into the building of such an empire. Similarly, Zornberg describes of Jewish bodies in the Egyptian empire.
The slaves became part of the mud of the Nile, or the Mississippi.

John Dear brings us his 1995 interview with John Lewis, a treasure like Dorothy’s letter to Phil. Lewis was beaten unconscious more than once in his nonviolent efforts to end hatred and bigotry.
There is nothing stronger than love in action, even as it is named “a harsh and dreadful thing” by the Russian writer Dostoevsky.
It is evident here at this prison.
Due to the finding of contraband, (cigarettes and cell phones) we are not allowed recreation time or walks outdoors. A bitter pill for me to swallow, losing the time outside in the fresh air and not getting exercise walking up the long stairs and steep hill.

The last time I was out, I heard robins’ songs, a sure sign of spring.
But our community here is always victorious when we retain our patience and respect for one another despite the harsh, humiliating conditions put upon us.
This coming weekend the days will feel longer with the “spring ahead” of the time change. I hear from my family that the lambs born are thriving and bouncing around, and my grandkids love to see them.
The death and Resurrection come in the spring, when life returns to the dormant trees and bulbs swell under the cold ground. Hosanna in the highest.
In the evenings, to pass the time, I knit and watch TV news. Now it is about the upcoming trial of the Minneapolis policeman who “took a knee” to the neck of a fellow brother, killing him, reinforcing violence and murder as acts of racism are flung int our faces. We know the judicial system should be designed to protect against such hateful action.
We are reminded of the Christian duty to love and cast out fear. To fulfill the law of love. That is the new order, the new way. Plant the seeds, water with redemptive suffering and hold fast to the nonviolence of Jesus.

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