Life on the earth is often riddled with challenges and obstacles no matter where we are. However, there are also blessings and gifts of grace to help carry us through.
Some of us at Turney Center Industrial Complex (TCIX) received one of those blessings on Thursday, March 3, when Bishop J. Mark Spalding celebrated Mass for the incarcerated Catholic community here. The 17 men who attended were excited and honored that the bishop would take time to visit.
Bishop Spalding was fulfilling the command of Christ from Matthew 25:35-40 by visiting those in prison. For Bishop Spalding to give of his time – especially during Lent – is remarkable and unforgettable for those of us who could not otherwise attend Mass.
We have two volunteers that come every Thursday, Deacon James Booth and Stefano Santilli, who distribute the Eucharist or to give a spiritual blessing, and to discuss the Mass readings for the following Sunday. To be able to actually celebrate Mass and go to confession is an experience that we do not take for granted.
The Catholic community here at TCIX is strong, and we hold each other up both during good and trying times. We hold each other accountable, and we try to help our fellow man when they need help.
We were informed of Bishop Spalding’s visit by Deacon Booth back in December, and we looked forward to it. The bishop was accompanied by Father Gervan Menezes, as well as Deacon Booth and Mr. Santilli.
Father Menezes, who goes by Father G, said this was his first time to come into a prison setting. After the service, I asked him what he thought of his experience. He calmly stated, “Not at all like I thought, but I enjoyed the time fellowshipping with you all.”
Father G told me he had been in the ministry for eight years and is a chaplain for University Catholic, which serves students at several Nashville area colleges and universities, including Belmont University. I informed him that 16 of my TCIX peers and I are enrolled in Belmont classes, and he stated, “That means I’m your chaplain,” as he laughed.
The subject of Bishop Spalding’s homily for the Mass at the prison was, “Never a good deed goes unpunished – but do the good anyway.”
He talked of how Jesus, even though He spoke and acted perfectly, was still put to death on the cross. Jesus was dealt difficult cards and situations that he chose to deal with in the right way, but still was punished for doing the right thing.
Who are we to be treated any differently than Christ; if they punished our Lord for doing right then they will also treat us wrongly. We must go through the “good, bad, beautiful and the ugly,” just as Christ did as our example, the bishop concluded.
After the homily, Bishop Spalding offered to all present the distribution of ashes. Even though it was Thursday, he offered it to us due to the fact we did not have the option on Ash Wednesday. After the distribution of the ashes, the bishop held the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The entire Mass was beautiful and very enjoyable; everyone that attended said they had a great experience.
I was honored that Bishop Spalding let me ask him a few questions. He told me about his time in the ministry, from his ordination in 1991 in Kentucky, where he held the offices of Associate Pastor, Pastor, Judicial Vicar and Vicar General. He was installed as Nashville’s bishop on Feb. 2, 2018.
When asked what one bit of advice he would give to the Catholic community in prison, he answered, “Thank God for the gifts of grace. Do things daily to remind you of the grace of God, such as daily devotion, prayers, Liturgy of the Hours. Make sure you connect daily with God. Catholicism is sense-based, and we need to engage all of our senses daily to keep our faith alive and intact.”
These are all very good and insightful bits of advice for not only the incarcerated to follow, but for all Catholics around the Earth.
Bishop Spalding is very personable and was approachable as if he has known us all of our lives. He is a true friend to all, and that shone through during his visit here at TCIX. The community here at TCIX wishes to thank Bishop Spalding for coming to share his time with us and looks forward to his next visit.
William D. Smith Jr. is a member of the Catholic community at the Turney Center Industrial Complex in Only, Tennessee.