I’m always drawn to books that tell of people who step out of their comfort zones and live on the edgeespecially for the sake of the Gospel. Spiritual passion is an amazing power, and these stories of St. Ignatius himself and his faithful sons in prison show that spiritual power at work. We see ordinary men as they face torture, solitary confinement, exhausting labor, meager food, freezing cells, malicious guards and months and years of separation from loved ones. Prison stories always take me to the edge of my own soul and push me up against my own personal limits. What would I do without books to read? What would I do if I were deprived of food, of water, of all human companionship? What would I do without privacy and with noise and chaos going on around me all the time? What would I do deprived of soil and trees and flowers and soft grass under my feet? Would I go nuts? Or would God’s grace tap a deep resilience and courage in me?
Of course, we can never answer these questions before the fact. As one of the maxims in my St. Joseph community states: Never leap ahead of grace. The men whose stories are recounted in With Christ in Prison show us grace in patient endurance and sometimes heroic acts of courage on behalf of others. Anyone who attends a Jesuit school knows that is the Jesuit motto: to be a person for others. And it is refreshing to see that motto lived out in Ignatius himself and in the superior general of the order, Pedro Arrupe, who was incarcerated in Japan for 33 days at the outbreak of World War II. But my heart is especially drawn to the stories in this book of two close friends, Daniel Berrigan and John Dear. I know these guys. I go out with them when I’m in New York to eat sushi. I’ve sat with them in Dan’s apartment and told Cajun jokes. And here they are, voluntarily going to prison in consequence of protests against the U.S. military establishment. (Poor people starve and get sick and die while our government spends billions on Stealth bombers and nuclear submarines, Dan says.) Often at Dan’s place the phone rings. It’s Philip Berrigan, his brother, or another Jesuit, Steve Kellycalling from prison. It amazes me that their conversation is so normal. How ya doin’ ? How are things going? Teasing and laughter. How can they be laughing? What amazing spiritual freedom.
These stories, brought together by George Anderson (an associate editor of America) make me want to pray deeply, work harder, sacrifice more generously and love Christ more than I ever have in my life.