The Prison-Place of Encountering Love

An excerpt from In the Arms of Mary

 By Slawomir C. Biela

In every circumstance of our life God reaches out to us with His grace, with His love and His forgiveness in a special way – in the most painful moments.  Every situation can lead to conversion, to a bigger openness to God and to finding salvation in Him.

The place where sinful man experiences God’s merciful love may even be prison.  After all, it is not that important under which condition we find out that God loves us.

To Discover the Meaning of Painful Experiences

Many prisoners receive their punishment in a totally negative way – understood in their manner, they see it as a ‘punishment from God’.  This is also true for those who have been proven guilty and sentenced justly.  Why is this attitude so common?  It is because our way of thinking is normally submitted to stereotypes.  If according to human reasoning something is evil, then we believe that it is an objective evil.  Prison, which from a human point of view is definitely an evil place, is considered also as negative in the light of faith.  However, it is not absolutely the case.

In fact, there are prisoners who see their experience as a special call to change their life and to conversion.

They try to see in this painful situation a sign of God’s love –in fact they could have died before arriving at the prison; at the time they were committing a crime they were breaking the law and generally the commandments of God, as well.  Imprisonment can be an opportunity to understand what a great evil it is to despise God’s commandments.

Does it occur similarly with illness?  It does.  By inconveniently being bound in bed, the illness makes someone a prisoner in his own room, dependent of others because of suffering.  Imprisonment as well as sickness can painfully crush, but they can also purify.

They are opportunities to encounter the way toward God and to lovingly know His love.

All situations 

in which we find out the most important truth –

that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8), 

are always the best.

Do you try to find the positive dimension of difficult situations 

of your life, 

of imprisonment, 

of a grave illness, 

of a disabled state, 

of the alcoholism of someone dear to you,  

of the lack of understanding in the family? 

In all the circumstances through which you pass, do you believe in the constant presence of God and in His love?

One expression of God’s love can also be that nothing goes well in your life, that everything is complicated, that you are frequently confused.

Discovering the meaning of all the experiences of your life is possible only through faith.

Without faith, man wants to be like God –

he wants to direct his destiny by himself alone, he thinks that he can be happy by himself –

like God, who is the fullness of perfection and love.

He persists in the illusive conviction that he can also be this kind of fullness.

God desires to free us and save us from this lie.  Many times for this, He permits situations that destroy our plans and make us helpless.  For someone, imprisonment can be this kind of situation.  In the light of faith,, this is not any different from other difficult experiences.  For example, for the chosen people, the desert through which the Israelites wandered about for forty years was similar to a prison.  If we try to look at the prison in the light of faith, we will understand that it is a special place of meeting with God.


If in the light of faith everything is grace, then all circumstances and situations of our life are signs of God’s love.

We should try to see the prison in this way as well, as a gift that is given to us.  Even though it can be very difficult, we must try to see in the light of faith the supernatural dimension of suffering experienced in such a situation.

Cardinal Wyszynski, who was the Primate of Poland from 1948 to 1981, strengthened and deepened his union with God in a special way when he was in prison.  It was certainly a very difficult period for him, but at the same time it was a great grace.  It was certainly a very important time in terms of his spiritual growth to sanctity.

Something similar happened with St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe.  He would not have been a saint of such greatness if he had not been in the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz.  It was precisely there that the process of his sanctification reached completion –

In those concrete circumstances degrading to human dignity, of extreme humiliation, contempt, and neglect.

St. Maximilian, seeing his experiences in the light of faith, accepted them as a gift.  His time spent in the ‘bunker’, suffering with extreme hunger, was for him a time of uniting with Christ who was –


unjustly condemned,


deprived of every right and dignity,

and finally martyred and crucified

like a thief.

The Holy Father John Paul II knows how difficult is the experience of being in prison or in the hospital.  For this reason, he frequently visits the prisoners and those who are sick, asking them especially to pray in a special way.

The prisoner’s prayer has a great value in the eyes of the One who rejoices more “’over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance’” (Lk 15:7).  In the eyes of God, the suffering of a prisoner who is being converted has a great value.  Jesus’ words to the
Good Thief are a testimony of this truth.

Every prisoner similar to the Good Thief can become a great saint.  He does not have to be ashamed that he is in prison; it is precisely there that he comes to know God’s love, and there that he is sanctified.  The Good Thief is his patron.. He should pray and ask from him, as he did, the grace of accepting the punishment of imprisonment, and like him grow in the love of Christ who pardons.  The Good Thief recognized and accepted that the sentence given him was just.  He did not rebel against such a terrible punishment.  He wanted to amend the evil he committed and accepted it as necessary for his conversion.

If a prisoner who is being converted would benefit fully from the grace of being in prison, he could be sanctified rapidly.

Next week…. FREEDOM IN PRISON? a continuation of this excerpt