Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings Nov. 29, 2015

"Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man." -- Luke 21:36

“Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.” — Luke 21:36


Nov. 29, First Sunday of Advent

      Cycle C. Readings:

      1) Jeremiah 33:14-16

      Psalm 25:4-5, 8-10, 14

      2) 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2

      Gospel: Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

By Jean Denton
Catholic News Service

I was driving on an interstate highway one day with my daughter. We were chatting away when she interrupted the conversation to point out a highway patrol car parked among some trees in the median a good distance ahead. “You see the cop up there, don’t you?” she said, indicating I should probably slow down.

Indeed, I started to touch the brakes but then smiled and cut my eyes at her. “Seriously?” I asked with a slight tone of sarcasm. She looked at me and burst into laughter, “Oh, right.”

We both knew I’ve been driving “like a grandma” (slow) since I was 15. I’m not as attentive to watching for hidden patrol cars as she is. But I don’t have to be, because I so rarely drive over the speed limit.

The fact is I’ve never believed I was a very good driver, so I’ve always been overly cautious behind the wheel. It’s not so much that I’m conscientious about following the rules as it is that I’m extra-sensitive to risking the safety of everybody else on the road.

Too bad I’m not equally conscientious about how my attention to following the Father’s commandments and Jesus’ teachings affect everybody else around me. But that’s what God desires — of me and all of us.

The Scriptures for this first Sunday of Advent call us to constantly, faithfully follow God’s ways, because in this way we help open the world to God’s presence, both now and at the end of time.

Paul explained in his First Letter to the Thessalonians, “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all … so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God.”

When we do stand before God, it will be our own failure to be faithful that will “catch you by surprise like a trap,” Jesus told his disciples.

God doesn’t hide among the trees in the median waiting to catch us for breaking his commandments. Instead, he wants us to “be vigilant” ourselves, so that our own lives always enhance the life of the world so it is worthy of God’s presence.


What kinds of daily distractions or inattention to faithfulness to Christ do you need to be more vigilant about? How do you believe God sees you standing before him right now?

Top 9 Must-Sees for Holy Year Pilgrims to Rome

By Nicole Pellicano*

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — In the past, a pilgrimage to Rome lasted weeks. It included visiting churches, touring the catacombs, following in the footsteps of saints and praying at historic sites in and outside the city. During the first Holy Year in 1300, the minimum requirement for a plenary indulgence was to pray at Rome’s patriarchal basilicas 15 times over the course of a number of weeks. Today, most visitors do not stay that long.

This extraordinary Year of Mercy is a way to stress the importance of forgiveness and renewing one’s relationship with God. The Holy Door, symbolizing the doorway of salvation (read more here), marks the “extraordinary” spiritual passage offered to the faithful during a jubilee year.  Of the seven major Holy Doors in the world, four are in Rome. In addition to the doors at the four major basilicas in Rome, there are a number of other important religious sites a pilgrim should visit.

To make things easier for pilgrims short on time, we drew up a list of the top nine sites in Rome using a traditional pilgrim journey as a guide. For those who can’t make a trip to the Eternal City, follow the links for a virtual pilgrimage through Rome.

Stop 1: Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls


Pope Francis leads ecumenical vespers at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome last January. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Your first stop, a bit outside of the historic center of Rome, was built by the Emperor Constantine in the 4th century. Rebuilt after a fire in the 19th century, the basilica’s bronze holy door survived the fire. St. John XXIII had the doors restored completely; the 54 bronze panels represent characters of the Old and New Testaments, including an image of the crucifixion of St. Paul. The door will open Dec 13, 2015.

During the 4th century what are believed to be the remains of  the apostle Paul’s were place in a sarcophagus, which is now believed to be below a marble tombstone in the basilica’s crypt bearing the inscription “PAULO APOSTOLO MART.”

Read more about early Christian devotion to St. Paul and ancient pilgrimages to his tomb here.

Stop 2: Catacombs of St. Callixtus

Less than four miles up the road from the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls are the Catacombs of St. Callixtus. Rome has more than 60 catacombs with hundreds of miles of tunnels carved into the tufo (soft volcanic rock) and tens of thousands of tombs. Roman law forbade burials within the city limits.

If you can’t make it to the St. Callixtus catacombs, there are a number of other ones worth your while. As recently as five years ago archaeologists discovered ancient artwork in the Catacombs of St. Thecla. You can read more about it here.

Stop 3: Basilica of St. John Lateran


Pope Francis celebrates Mass outside Rome’s Basilica of St. John Lateran on the feast of Corpus Christi. (CNS/Paul Haring)

While a far walk from the catacombs, the Basilica of St. John Lateran is a sight you definitely cannot miss. The basilica is the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome. The Holy Door here depicts Jesus on the Cross with Mary beneath him, holding and nurturing an infant Jesus. A piece of what tradition holds to be the Holy Sponge is preserved here. According to the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ passion, a sponge was dipped in vinegar and offered to Christ to drink as he was on the cross.

A newly elected pope — who is also Bishop of Rome — celebrates Mass here as he “takes possession” of the diocesan cathedral.

Stop 4: The Holy Stairs


People pray and climb the Holy Stairs on their knees. According to legend, Constantine’s mother, St. Helena, brought the stairs to Rome from Jerusalem in 326. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Walk across the street from the Basilica of St. John Lateran to the Holy Stairs. The “Scala Sancta” are a set of 28 white marble steps encased in a protective wooden framework. Tradition holds them to be the steps leading up to the praetorium of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem on which Jesus Christ stepped on his way to trial during the passion. The steps are believed to have been brought to Rome from Jerusalem by St. Helena. While the stairs are climbed in prayer on ones knees, there are also staircases on each side of the Holy Stairs for those who wish to walk.


People pray on the Holy Stairs at the Pontifical Sanctuary of the Holy Stairs in Rome. (CNS/Paul Haring)

While world-famous art housed in Rome’s churches and chapels have risked turning sacred spaces into tourist spots, the Holy Stairs has managed to hold onto its spiritual side. Read more, and watch CNS coverage of the resurrection of the Holy Stairs, here.

Stop 5: Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem

Head east from the Holy Stairs to your next destination. The Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem houses several important relics that warrant a visit. In the Chapel of the Relics you can find parts of what is revered as the Elogium, the sign hung on Christ’s cross. You will also find two thorns from what legend holds is Jesus’ crown of thorns, pieces of wood, and a nail, which tradition says is from Jesus’ cross. A larger piece of what was revered as the true cross was taken from the basilica on the instructions of Pope Urban VII in 1629 and can now be found in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Read here about what role relics have in the Catholic Church.

Stop 6: Basilica of St. Mary Major

Pope Francis leads Benediction outside Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome

Pope Francis led Benediction outside the Basilica of St. Mary Major last June. (CNS/Paul Haring) June 19, 2014.

Heading back to the center of Rome, stop at the Basilica of St. Mary Major. The site for the church was chosen in the 4th century after a miraculous August snowfall. The Holy Door here was blessed by St. John Paul II on Dec. 8, 2001, and was donated to the basilica by the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre. Depicted on the panels is the resurrection of Christ. Relics found inside the basilica include a piece of the Holy Sponge and what is believed to be a piece of Jesus’ crib.

Read more about the significance of St. Mary Major in this CNS article.


Artificial snow falls outside the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome every Aug. 5, recalling the tradition that Mary caused snow to fall on the spot in 358 to indicate that she wanted a church built there in her honor. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Stop 7: The Pantheon

The Pantheon is a popular tourist stop for most people visiting the city, but what many may not know is that it originally was dedicated to “pan theos,” meaning “all the gods.” It wasn’t until after the year 609 that it was consecrated as a Christian church, making it the first pagan temple in Rome to be Christianized. When it became a church it was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and all of the martyrs. Inside you can find a number of monumental tombs set into the walls, including those of the artist Raphael and Kings Victor Emanuel II and Umberto I.

Stop 8: Basilica of St. Mary in Trastevere


Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee celebrated Mass at the Basilica of St. Mary in Trastevere in Rome in this 2010 file photo. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Across the river is the Basilica of St. Mary in Trastevere. Tradition holds that on the day Christ was born a stream of pure oil flowed from the earth on the site of the church, signifying the coming of the grace of God. Inside the basilica you will find 22 granite columns, all taken from the ruins of ancient Roman buildings. One column marked with the inscriptions FONS OLEI marks the spot of the miraculous flow of oil. You will also find a relic of St. Apollonia and a portion of the Holy Sponge.

Stop 9: St. Peter’s Basilica


Pope Francis waves to the crowd during his Easter message and blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world) from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican April 5. (CNS/L’Osservatore Romano)

Our final destination is located in Vatican City, home to the primary Holy Door, as well as a long list of relics. The bronze Holy Door, also known as the “Door of the Great Pardon,” found at the entrance to the basilica was donated by Swiss Catholics and installed in 1949, replacing wooden doors that had been used the previous 200 years. Each panel portrays scenes of human sin and redemption through the mercy of God.


Pope Francis celebrates Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica in this file photo from April. (CNS/Cristian Gennari)

Between the panels are the coats of arms of all the popes who have opened the door during the ordinary Holy Years; the last pope to do so was St. John Paul II. Pope Francis’ coat of arms will be etched into one of the empty shieldd after he opens and closes the door.

Due to the number of pilgrims expected to visit St. Peter’s during the Year of Mercy, Vatican officials have adopted a reservation system for pilgrims who want to cross the threshold of the Holy Door. Read more about the plan here, and be sure to book your spot here.

*Nicole Pellicano, a student at Villanova University, is an intern this semester in the Rome Bureau of Catholic News Service.



St. John Paul II opened the Holy Door and walked into St. Peter’s Basilica on Christmas Eve 1999, initiating the Holy Year 2000. (CNS/Arturo Mari, Vatican)


Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings Nov. 22, 2015

"One like a son of man … received dominion, glory and kingship." -- Daniel 7:14

“One like a son of man … received dominion, glory and kingship.” — Daniel 7:14

Nov. 22, Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

      Cycle B.  Readings:

      1) Daniel 7:13-14

      Psalm 93:1-2, 5

      2) Revelation 1:5-8

      Gospel: John 18:33b-37


By Sharon K. Perkins
Catholic News Service

One can always find lively debate on the Internet and on social media. Some of it is profound, some of it is trivial and some is downright ridiculous. But sometimes even the trivial can convey a kernel of truth.

While searching for a movie critique, I stumbled across a popular online magazine piece in which three commentators were debating the relative merits of Batman’s previous garb and the latest Batman suit created for a cinematic battle against Superman.

It seems that the recent iteration was more heavily armored and, as one writer commented, more appropriate for dueling with the man of steel. Trivial, indeed. But I was struck by another critic’s objection to the new suit. He maintained that the additional bulk was “antithetical” to all that makes Batman who he is — including his “human vulnerability.”

After all, Batman, beneath his intimidating ensemble, is also completely human, and therein lies the enduring appeal of the story. Bruce Wayne is more than he appears to be. So what does a Batman suit have to do with a reflection on Jesus Christ, king of the universe?

Some second-century Christians had great difficulty with the notion that Jesus, the divine son of God, could be truly human, since material flesh and blood were evil and only spirit was capable of divinity. This heresy, called “Docetism,” maintained that Jesus only “appeared” human, or was “clothed” in a phantomlike humanity. Scripture, however, tells us otherwise.

Psalm 93 is a hymn about the Lord’s royal garb; he is “robed in majesty,” “girt about with strength.” When he comes again amid the clouds, every eye will see him and all will know without a doubt that he is king. Yet Pilate certainly didn’t see him that way. Jesus stood before him, fully human and completely vulnerable, on trial for being a king who is not of this world. Of this king it is written in Revelation, he is both the “firstborn of the dead” and “ruler of the kings of the earth.”

On this feast, we celebrate a king who is both fully human and fully divine; the early church father St. Irenaeus wrote that Jesus became what we are so that we could become what he is.

There’s nothing trivial about that.


Do you struggle more with Jesus’ true divinity or his true humanity? How is Jesus, the king not of this world, ruler of your life and of your heart?

Msgr. Jenkins filled with gratitude as he ends term as USCCB general secretary

Msgr. Ronny E. Jenkins, who is general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, listens to a speaker Nov. 10 during the bishops' annual fall general assembly in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller) See BISHOPS-ROUNDUP Nov. 10, 2014.

Msgr. Ronny E. Jenkins, outgoing  general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.  (CNS/Bob Roller)

BALTIMORE — Msgr. Ronny Jenkins, the outgoing general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, looked out at the 240 bishops gathered in Baltimore, a deep feeling of gratitude in his heart.

His years with the conference, the last five as general secretary, were enriching and rewarding, he told the bishops Nov. 17 during their annual fall general assembly.

He recalled the words of Pope Francis during his visit to Ecuador in July in remarks to close the public sessions of the assembly.

“‘Please do not forget the grace of gratitude. It’s a gift from Jesus,'” he quoted the pope as saying.

“As I reflect on my time at the conference, it’s not very difficult for me to follow the Holy Father’s advice,” said the priest of the Diocese of Austin, Texas.

The general secretariat oversees the work of the USCCB on behalf of the bishops.

He went on to thank the bishops for their support and for making his duties “much lighter and more enjoyable.” He credited his colleagues, including associate general secretary Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield, whom the bishops elected to succeed him, for their immense skills and talents.

“Msgr. Bransfield is one of the finest priests and incredibly intelligent colleagues I have known. I assure you you will not be disappointed in the excellent choice you have made,” he said.

A canon lawyer who was conference associate general secretary from 2006 to 2011, Msgr. Jenkins also said he was blessed to work in a setting in which the bishops showed unity “as brothers in service to the church,” noting that he was inspired by the bishops’ “constant witness to collegiality and fraternity.”

The final blessing, he said, came from working with the staff around him. He said his job was made easier because of the work of the senior staff and his colleagues on the fifth floor of the conference headquarters near the Basilica of the National Shrine Church of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast Washington. He credited them for being “the very best.”

“So thank you again for the opportunity to serve,” he concluded. “I assure you of my daily prayers for you, your episcopal ministry and the success of the conference.”

Mother Teresa declared a saint? Not quite yet …

(FOLLOWUPIf miracle approved, Blessed Teresa could be canonized Sept. 4)

Many people believe Blessed Teresa of Kolkata was a living saint but, despite a flurry of media reports, the Vatican has not officially cleared the way for her canonization.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, the foundress of the Missionaries of Charity, who was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2003, is pictured in an undated file photo. (CNS photo/Michael Hoyt, Catholic Standard)

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, the foundress of the Missionaries of Charity, who was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2003, is pictured in an undated file photo. (CNS photo/Michael Hoyt, Catholic Standard)

An Italian news agency reported Nov. 18 that a panel of doctors has found no medical explanation for an alleged miracle credited to the intercession of Mother Teresa. Catholic News Service wrote about that story — a cure in Brazil — in late October. But as the story explains, doctors saying there is no medical explanation for a cure does not yet make it a miracle:

“After a diocesan investigation into a potential miracle yields positive results, the case goes to the Congregation for Saints’ Causes. A panel of physicians is convoked by the congregation to study whether the healing is authentic and lasting, and that there is no natural, medical explanation for it. With the doctors’ approval, the files are passed on to a panel of theologians.

“The theologians study the events — especially the prayers — surrounding the alleged miracle and give their opinion on whether the healing can be attributed to the intercession of a particular sainthood candidate.

“If the theologians give a positive opinion, the cardinals who are members of the congregation vote on whether to recommend that the pope recognize the healing as a miracle and set a canonization date.”

The cardinals of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes normally meet in December; their agenda is not public.

However, sources have told Catholic News Service that church officials in India are saying, off the record, that Pope Francis hopes to travel to India and canonize Blessed Teresa Sept. 5, the anniversary of her death in 1997.


Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings Nov. 15, 2015

"Learn a lesson from the fig tree." -- Mark 13:28

“Learn a lesson from the fig tree.” — Mark 13:28


Nov. 15, Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

      Cycle B. Readings:

       1) Daniel 12:1-3

Psalm 16:5, 8-11

2) Hebrews 10:11-14, 18

Gospel: Mark 13:24-32

By Jeff Hedglen
Catholic News Service

It is a 30-year tradition for my parish youth group’s annual weekend canoe trip: Before we leave the parking lot, I ask the group to keep their eyes open for signs of God throughout the trip.

Then, on the second night of the trip, sitting around the campfire after the melted marshmallow and chocolate have finally been licked off all our s’more-stained hands, we tell the stories of how and where we saw God.

Basking in the glow of the fire under a star-filled night, the wonder of the presence of God among us comes alive. We have found God in the turtles sunning themselves on branches or in the way someone helped others who seemed to spend more time in the river than in their canoe.

Sometimes the sign of God has been just in getting away from the busyness of daily life and listening to the crickets sing us to sleep.

That night always has been one of my favorite nights of the year, and it exemplifies perfectly the gift of wonder and awe in the presence of God. The idea of a sign from God usually comes to us in two ways. Either something happens that causes us to feel a need for a sign from God, or something we see or experience confirms for us the presence of God in our lives.

In this week’s Gospel, Jesus addresses these two aspects of God’s self-revelation when he says, “Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that he is near, at the gates.”

Through this example, Jesus teaches us to pay attention to the created world because it reveals truth. But also, he implores us to prayerfully watch the things happening around us, for through them he reminds us that he is always near.

So whether a canoe trip, a cup of coffee with a friend, a typical day at work or any of a million other experiences in your life, be on the lookout for signs of God in your life. You may be surprised where he shows up.


What is a recent “sign of God” in your life? What is your favorite place to go to encounter God?

The fallout from crime affects more than just victims

In matters of crime and punishment, there is no shortage of regret and sorrow on the part of both victim and offender.

Why don’t more of us understand this? It could be because the few news stories that report on criminal trials and sentencing focus only on an anguished victim or two, whose emotions are still raw from the incident — and we frequently don’t ever hear from them again unless the convicted offender is nearing execution, in which case the wounds are reopened again as the search for an ever-elusive sense of closure continues.

And for the convicted criminal? We may read or hear of remarks they make at sentencing hearings — remarks that are frequently pushed aside by a judge as being insincere or not contrite enough before imposing a sentence. And that’s the end of that, unless execution is nearing, and we hear that the convict has maybe found some kind of peace, unless we suspect he’s putting us all on.

Crucifix is silhouetted against stained-glass window in chapel ay New York correctional facility. (CNS photo/Mike Crupi)

Crucifix is silhouetted against stained-glass window in chapel at New York prison. (CNS photo/Mike Crupi)

At a Nov. 6 conference on restorative justice co-sponsored by the Catholic Mobilizing Network to End the Death Penalty at The Catholic University of America, even the third-person recounting of some crime victims’ stories, told by former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske, were heart-rending.

Take the case of the police officer’s wife who told her husband, before he left to report for the night shift, to stay safe. He turned around and told her, “God and I are like that,” showing her his crossed fingers. She heard sirens wailing in the distance at two in the morning, said a quick prayer, and went back to sleep. An hour later, she hear a knock on the door. She knew what it meant — the police had come to tell her that her husband had been grievously hurt on duty — but didn’t want to acknowledge it, pulling the covers over her head in hopes it had been part of a dream. It wasn’t.

She went to the hospital and saw her husband in the emergency room. “His heart was literally in somebody’s hands,” she had said, and even though the medical team was still working on him, “I knew he was dead.” She walked behind him, made the sign of the cross on the top of his head, and walked away. Still inside the hospital, she heard a squeaking sound. At first she couldn’t identify it. But then she discovered what was causing it; her husband’s blood was on the soles of her sneakers. When she walks into a gym on a rainy day, even today, the sound brings back the flood of memories of her loss.

This woman had a hard time getting through the Our Father afterward, because of the line “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” “If you want me to do this,” Geske said the woman told God, “you’d better show me how.” It eventually led her seek restorative justice with the man who shot her husband.

Then there was case of the woman who was brutally raped and murdered in Texas. The woman left behind a young daughter. Seventeen years after the incident, the daughter, now fully grown, decided to explore restorative justice, and asked her grandmother to come along. She also asked her uncle, but it was too painful for him to relive. She asked him if he had any questions. He did: “I fixed her car before she left. I wondered if it had broken down, and that’s the reason she got abducted.” Seventeen years later, the possibility that he was somehow culpable in his sister’s murder still haunted him. The answer, according to the one criminal who agreed to go through the restorative justice process, was no, they had met at a gas station and struck up a conversation, and the crime unspooled from there.

But the dead woman’s mother had a question of her own: “What were her last words?” The criminal replied: “I will never forget her last words.” Even though she had already been sexually assaulted and her face badly battered, he reported that she told her attackers, “I forgive you and God will forgive you.” Both the victim’s mother and daughter collapsed in each other’s arms upon hearing that, Geske said, as they knew she had been at peace as death was imminent.

Geske also told the story of a crime victim who was raped at gunpoint. “The gun was worse than the rape,” the woman had said, as she felt that, at any second with her attacker’s gun pointed at her head, she felt she could have died. “Whenever she sees a story about a woman (found) at the side of a road, she says she knows what she was thinking in her last thought,” Geske said. “It was (about) her family, that she didn’t have a chance to say goodbye.”

Another case dealt with a young fundamentalist Christian farm family who were at their home when a couple of teenagers with a can of mace and nothing else better to do decided to mace someone. They saw the farmer’s barn, which said in big letters, “Jesus Loves You.” “Let’s get those Christ-lovers,” one of the teens said; use of the term made this a hate crime. They rang the doorbell. The couple answered. The boy with the can sprayed mace in the farmer’s face.

There was shock and confusion amid a tangle of other emotions from the farmer and his wife. There was also eventually an arrest. The farmer agreed to restorative justice proceedings. “This was such a good experience,” he said afterward, “I wish I had been maced earlier!”

Pope Francis blesses inmate during visit to Philadelphia correctional institution. (CNS photo/Todd Heisler, pool)

Pope Francis blesses inmate at prison in Philadelphia. (CNS photo/Todd Heisler, pool)

But it’s not just the victims, or the next of kin, who have the potential for healing under restorative justice. The criminal can benefit, too. The victim-offender conferences give offenders a chance to describe the remorse they now can verbalize long after their conviction.

“April 25,” mused one man on a video that was shot while in he was in prison for killing a child. “That’s the day my life changed forever 12 years ago. Not only me, but my victim’s family, my family.”

While in jail, said a second man, “I started thinking less and less about me as a victim, and eventually about the person I hurt as a victim.”

Another man acknowledged the depth of his crime. “Their mom is dead,” he said. “But there are plenty of other victims. I see other victims of the crime I committed,” adding how he’d look at a picture of his grandchildren on a bulletin board.

He talked about a prison visit made by his daughter and her young son. As the two got up to leave, the grandson asked his imprisoned grandfather, “You’re not coming, too?” “And here I am, this tough, this don’t-touch-me kind of man, looking like, ‘Help,'” he said, his voice beginning to quaver. His daughter said she’d explain it all to her son as they drove home.

In the video, there was a brief image of this man — who was definitely older than the other inmates — prior to him speaking on camera. I thought he might have been someone on the restorative justice counseling team. And I was going to mention this to the father of a girl who’s gone to my daughter’s school for the past six years that I’d seen a guy in a video who looked remarkably like him save for a difference in hair style. But then it was clear the man on camera was a prisoner, as he talked about the impact of just one act.

Geske noted how crime victims “have a right to be angry,” and that reconciliation between victim and offender can be neither assumed nor expected, much less instant.

At one family conference, a rapist told his victim, “You need not forgive me for what I did. But should you forgive me, you don’t have to tell me. Just go to the top of a mountain and watch a sunrise for the two of us.”

But there was one instance where the mother of a girl killed by a drunk driver in a hit-and-run accident came to a conference loaded for bear, armed with a video of moments in her daughter’s life. As the video was playing, the incarcerated offender started crying. The woman reached into her purse and got out some tissues and pushed them across the table. “To me, that’s a sign of forgiveness,” Geske said. At the end of the session, Geske added, the mother hugged the man and told him, “You just saved my life today.”


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