God gave me a heart for prisoners. Actual people in prison. I don’t write them letters or send books as my dear friend has, but I pray for them often. No matter their crime, by God’s grace, I suppose, the good that I believe is in them shines brighter for me than whatever evil they have done. Our culture is one of pointing fingers, laying blame, and crucifying, and I am sorry, but I just can’t hop on board. As corny as it sounds, we are all God’s children. Especially the ones in prison.
I have had the blessing of meeting faithful, loving parents of children who have been incarcerated. I have sat in a courtroom and witnessed young, lost men led out in shackles, their loved ones waving from a distance and mouthing, “I love you.” What I have seen has changed me. Deep wells of compassion have been dug in my heart that would have never existed if it were not for my life experience. And it has convicted me of my darkness within, because the reality is, we all sin. Whether we care to admit it or not, when given the choice of life or death, sometimes we love to choose death. Are we not all living behind the bars of our disobedience? Sin is jail, and no one escapes being sentenced. The difference between us and those in actual prison? We haven’t lost our minds. Not entirely, at least.
We read in 2 Corinthians 4:3–4, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of God.”
Sin not only hardens our hearts, it also veils our minds. In other words, the gospel remains hidden and misunderstood not because it is lacking in clarity, but because the perishing (those spiritually dead) do not recognize the face of God. Sin blocks the light from penetrating. When we lose the light, we risk losing our minds. They are no longer our own. “Every attack on your flesh begins in your mind, and from there, desires are birthed that lead to action.” Satan, the god of this world, has a favorite battlefield and that, my friends, is your mind. If he can get you to doubt the goodness of God and abandon your faith, he can get you to do anything; things you never dreamed you were capable of doing.
Jacques Fesch was the murderer of a French police officer and died by guillotine in 1957. Born into a wealthy family, his parents divorced when he was seventeen, and he grew up so lazy and self-absorbed that he abandoned his Catholic faith in exchange for a life of partying and trouble. (Sounds like a typical teenager.) Married with a daughter in his early twenties and another child with his mistress, it is safe to say that Fesch was feeling trapped by his own poor choices.
Looking for a way to escape his chaotic life, he asked his father for the money to purchase a boat and sail away. When his father refused to help him, I believe it was the final straw. Jacques lost his mind.
This is where it all goes wrong. Fesch decided to rob a currency shop, but when his brilliant plan to escape his life got botched up, he shot and killed one policeman and injured three others. It’s a tragic story that I cannot stop thinking about, because I do not believe he ever intended to take someone’s life. I believe he was trying to escape his own.
Have you ever looked at your life and been so overwhelmed that you wanted to buy a boat and sail away? Have you ever felt like you were drowning in your own poor decisions that sinking to the bottom felt like the only option? You can’t see me, but I am raising my hand to my questions.
So, what’s the point of this story?
Life without the light of the gospel is chaos, and if it were not for my holy habit of meeting Jesus in Scripture, I might be searching for a little extra cash and a cheap boat for sale. Praise God for Walking with Purpose, a ministry that teaches women how to read the Bible. A community that showed me what breaking open Scripture looks like, and that no matter how crazy I feel (which, for the record, is super crazy most of the time), God’s Word has the power to penetrate my heart and heal, restore, renew, and recreate my mind. No matter what I have done or where I have been, what God speaks to me in Scripture is the truth that I am loved, I am His, I am worthy, I am forgiven, and I am free. And fun fact: the same goes for you, too.
After three years and eight months in solitary confinement, Jacques Fesch experienced a profound conversion. His story reminds us of Hebrews 4:12: “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it can judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
In his last journal entry before execution, he wrote, “In five hours, I shall look upon Jesus!” Jacques Fesch has been proposed for beatification, proving that the hope of redemption is for every soul and that God’s grace can break through anything. Even prison bars.
 “The Attack On Your Mind,” Hour of Power, https://hourofpower.org/the-attack-on-your-mind/.
 Heather King, “Light Upon the Scaffold: The Prison Letters of Jacques Fesch,” July 10, 2017, https://www.wordonfire.org/articles/light-upon-the-scaffold-the-prison-letters-of-jacques-fesch/
The small television that sits on our kitchen counter between the knife block and the coffee maker was flecked with dried brown batter bits from my son’s attempt at making brownies the night before. As I carefully scrubbed the splatter with the corner of a sponge on Saturday morning, I watched the news, which was concluding its coverage of the March 16 Atlanta spa shootings that left eight people dead—most of them women of Asian descent. As the segment ended, the cameraman zoomed in on two glass prayer candles that burned brightly where they were left on the sidewalk as part of a makeshift memorial. The countenance of Jesus that graced one slender, intricately decorated candle was beautiful and serene.
In the days following the Atlanta spa killings, debate has ensued over whether or not the shooting was a hate crime. What is not up for debate is that violent attacks against Asians have skyrocketed over the past year, and many Asian Americans are afraid.
Prior to Friday night’s brownie baking debacle, we were in the kitchen eating pizza, as Lent + Friday = pizza for many Catholic families with teenage boys. In between bites, my husband admitted that the violent acts targeting Asians had him worried, and my oldest son nodded in agreement. They are Chinese—my husband (and therefore, my sons)—but I was surprised to hear that they were worried. Looking at the three of them towering over the open pizza box, I saw only a confident and robust wall of men. Granted, they were likely more worried for female relatives, especially older ones like Bobo (“grandma” in Chinese). But they were truly concerned, and I, of Anglo-Saxon descent, felt guilty for not innately and instinctively feeling what they felt.
It is always comforting to remember that “light shines in the darkness and the darkness shall not overcome it” (John 1:5). In a year that has been blighted with incidents of violence aimed at racial minorities, there have been bright spots. For example, the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, DC, hosted a virtual "Christianity Beyond East and West: A Celebration of the Lunar New Year" event last month. My husband’s grandfather was a Chinese Catholic author of some renown (as well as China’s former ambassador to the Vatican), and a reading of his poetry was part of the celebration. How great is that—an event to celebrate the Chinese New Year at the shrine of Saint John Paul II!
I think it could help for us to take a moment and recall what made Saint John Paul II such a beloved peacemaker, not only among Catholics but among people of various religions and ethnicities worldwide. He was a pioneer in interfaith bridge-building, recognizing Muslims and Jews as partners in spirituality. He made pastoral visits to 129 countries during his time as pope. And he spread messages of love and acceptance wherever he went.
Let us pray for the victims of the Atlanta-area shootings, and for all lives violently lost at the hands of men who did not love as Christ loved.
I leave us with these words from Saint John Paul II:
“Yours is the gigantic task of overcoming all evil with good, always trying amidst the problems of life to place your trust in God, knowing that his grace supplies strength to human weakness. You must oppose every form of hatred with the invincible power of Christ’s love.”
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