||Susan M. Recinella, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and
Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed|
Be Merciful As Your Heavenly Father Is Merciful
By: Dale Recinella
I remember the day.
I will never forget the moment.
It was last year about this time (November 3, 1998).
For a week the entire Jacksonville area had been united in a massive search for an eight year-old girl named Maddie Clifton. She had been out of her parents’ sight for only fifteen minutes. She had vanished into thin air. In her own neighborhood. Within steps of her own house. It was every loving parent’s worst nightmare.
Northeast Florida was covered with purple ribbons, the symbol of unity in the effort to find this beautiful little girl. One could feel the entire area praying with a single heart, breathing with a common breath, hoping with a shared faith.
I was driving to the prison on Highway 121 south. The spot was about halfway between Mud Lake Road and the tri-county dump site, near the Baker-Union County line. Sheriff Nat Glover had announced a press conference. The radio was on.
Probably almost a million people were glued to their radio or their television right then, listening with one ear in the shadows of a shared fear. He began in a low and forced voice. We could all feel the pain he was stifling. A grief descended like a pall on northeast Florida.
Maddie‘s body had been found. She had been murdered by the fourteen year-old boy across the street. Her body was hidden underneath his waterbed.
Tears welled from my eyes as my nails dug into the steering wheel. I could feel the scream and the rage in my spirit. It seemed to be my part of the shared agony wrenching our entire community.
Once in the prison parking lot, I seriously contemplated just going back home. That morning, it was beyond my power to walk the distance to death row and pass out communion. That morning, it was beyond my strength or my ability to face men who had done such things to others’ loved ones and to see the image of God in them.
But many years ago, a priest had taught me a prayer that was the antidote for the moment. “Jesus, move my feet.” I said it. He did it. And He carried me in to minister to His children inside.
In the year that has passed, there has been a great deal of media coverage about the case. The young man who committed the crime was tried as an adult and sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.
The local press pandered the expected, dehumanizing him with adjectives like “monster” and disseminating quotes from local folks lamenting that the child murderer could not be “fried.” Just like me, many others had no strength in themselves to deal with such horrendous evil.
But through it all, one press item struck me, challenged me, humbled me more than any other. It was a letter to the editor of the local paper written by the aunt and uncle of the murdered girl after the trial of the young man.
“Thank God that Joshua Phillips was too young by law for the death penalty….His mother states he is already a Christian….We pray this is so and that [his] eternity is secure in God….As for God being love, ‘administering justice’ while ‘willing to forgive,’ few have had the awful privilege of experiencing and coming to a fuller understanding of those attributes than our family.”
Our community members with the greatest claim to rage and vengeance had chosen to yield to God’s mercy.
Evil had been vanquished.
All of us who dared to look glimpsed the Light of the Kingdom of God breaking in through the darkness.
First published: The Florida Catholic, November 18, 1999
© 1999 Dale S. Recinella & The Florida Catholic.
Used with permission. All rights reserved.
No further reproduction or republication without prior written permission.
I Was In Prison
News & Updates
This ezine is targeted for people involved in prison ministry or in stopping the death penalty, we think you will find helpful information for people who are undecided about capital punishment, for those who have never experienced the inside of a jail or prison, and for those who feel called to participate through prayer and adoration.
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Dale S. Recinella
, Catholic Lay Chaplain, Florida Death Row and Solitary Confinement
Susan M. Recinella
, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and
Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed