Jesus dwelt among us. He touched us, fed us, healed us, washed our feet. But Jesus' being in our midst is not past tense. He lives, touches, feeds, heals, washes us even now. This is the meaning of Eucharist – as Catholics in Communion, we live our lives with and in the presence of Jesus.
We do so as we are sent from the celebration of the Mass in order to go into the world to be the touching and healing hands of Jesus. We are meant to proclaim to the world that Jesus, divine Savior, as our friend and brother, came to draw all humanity into Trinitarian life.
His powerful miracles revealed his perfect divinity; his compassion and presence let us know his perfect humanity.
In my position as Associate Director of Pastoral Formation at Mount Angel Seminary, it was my task to offer seminarians the broadest experience possible to plumb the depths of the meaning of ministry, of evangelizing, of compassion.
An innovation in our program was to send them beyond the typical realm of field education placements into more "worldly" settings. One of these settings was a nearby county program of restorative justice for juveniles.
I coached the seminarians in their approach for these assignments – "You are not going to be talking about Jesus, your actions and words are going to reveal Jesus;" "his way is your way, for now, of proclaiming the Kingdom."
At first, the seminarians were a bit resistant to the notion of spending an entire precious Saturday and then some in the training program for this assignment. However, the value of both the training and the experience became apparent to them, and their written theological reflections conveyed the important impact of this experience in their priestly formation.
At some point, after spending time meeting with the directors of the program and observing the seminarians in action, I had an "aha" moment when I connected the principles of restorative justice with Scripture and Church teaching, in essence, with Jesus' mission and the entire meaning of the Bible: ultimate justice is restoration to life in God.
When I moved on from my work at the seminary, I spent a period of time discerning the call for my own next "placement," giving a great deal of thought to working in some way in restorative justice.
Eventually, I joined the Restorative Justice Coalition of Oregon and was soon a member of its governing body. I took trainings to prepare to facilitate various RJ programs for youth offenders, including Victim-Offender Dialogues. Friends and acquaintances invariably asked me what I was up to since I was no longer working and commuting two hours a day. I would launch into my spiel about restorative justice and was usually met with blank looks.
As I thought about this, I came to the conclusion that Catholics needed to know about restorative justice, especially as related to the overarching justice of God and the Incarnation. I decided to prepare a presentation on the Biblical roots of restorative justice for parish groups, schools, and other religious organizations. The narrative for this presentation can be found here in two parts as originally published in the Restorative Justice Coalition of Oregon Quarterly.
The Life, Justice, and Peace Office of the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon wholeheartedly supported my intention to offer my presentation to parishes. This ultimately led to my current position with the Archdiocese as Project Consultant for the Office of Prison Ministry, where we are currently expanding our efforts in many areas of need related to criminal justice.
In this work I am constantly reminded that, yes, I can talk about Jesus. But in the last analysis, I need to humbly let Jesus minister through me.