||Susan M. Recinella, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and
Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed|
Rules of Engagement
By: Dale Recinella
It is not unusual for me to cover four hundred or more solitary cells
in a seven-hour shift. Ten to twelve percent of the men in those cells will be Catholic. One-half to three-fourths of those Catholics will desire Communion.
Kneeling on the concrete floor and administering the Eucharist at cell front, one-at-a-time through a hole in the door, to two or three-dozen men in a day, is not overwhelming. Actually, the most daunting task, with over 1200 solitary cells and a constantly changing population, is ferreting out who is really Catholic.
For some denominations, anyone who has been baptized or says he accepts Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is an eligible recipient. With Catholic Communion, however, it is at least necessary that the intended recipient has been initiated into the Church through Baptism and has made his First Confession and First Communion. Once that threshold is established, the additional issues of state of grace and appropriate disposition are to be addressed.
The prison Chaplains can confirm the denominational registration on each man’s paperwork. But an inmate’s assertion that he is Catholic is not necessarily the final word. There are numerous reasons why an inmate might want to be registered as Catholic even though he isn’t.
Some men covet Catholic religious articles. Rosaries and holy cards are full of color, a scarce commodity in a solitary cell. Catholic devotionals are usually printed on special paper that is soft and delicate. Such textures are more rare than gold inside a prison.
Also, in the Bible belt, Catholic Bibles are erroneously rumored to contain hidden Old Testament books that reveal great secrets. The alleged books are neither hidden nor secret. The Reformation theologians removed those books from the Protestant Bibles in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Finally, many Bible belt non-Catholic Christians have been told incredible fables about the wealth of the Catholic Church. Some inmates think that by becoming nominally Catholic, they will take their place in line for big bucks.
No deceit is intended. Many prisoners were raised in Christian Churches where membership was attained by simply showing up on Sunday and saying, “I want to belong to this church” or by reciting some other formula. In their wildest dreams those men couldn’t imagine a lengthy course of study, the Catechumenate of early Christianity and the modern Catholic Church, as a condition precedent to entry.
As I face the day’s allotment of three or four hundred men behind solid steel doors, how do I know who really is Catholic? That is the purpose of the rules of engagement—my empirically derived and experientially proven sets of questions. The exam is sudden death. One single unacceptable answer merits the hook: “Bzzzt.”
The test starts with the inmate’s statement, “Hey chap, I want Communion today.”
“Are you a Roman Catholic?”
“I’m a Christian and I don’t get into this denominational stuff.” Bzzzt.
“Do you accept and follow the teaching of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church?”
“I follow the Bible, not man’s laws!” Bzzzt.
“Where were you baptized?”
“You don’t got to be baptized to be saved.” Bzzzt.
“Did you attend Catholic School or CCD?”
“See what?” Bzzzt.
“What saint was your Catholic School named after?”
“Man, we all saints once we been saved!” Bzzzt.
“Where did you make your first Confession to a priest?”
“I don’t gotta tell my sins to no priest for Jesus to forgive me!” Bzzzt.
“When did you first receive the sacrament of Communion?”
“What good works did you try to do during this past Lent?”
“We’re saved by faith, not by works!” Bzzzt.
Sooner or later, one of the new faces really is Catholic.
He really cares about his faith.
And he’s really glad that Jesus is there, in my pocket, waiting to be received by him today.
That’s when Eucharist happens.
First published: The Florida Catholic, September 11, 2003
© 2003 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