"For my first five years in prison, I was confined in a cell with seven other men...A priest came to the prison for Sunday Mass twice a month, but I never saw him. I was in a unit in the prison that did not have access to the prison Chapel and other programs. There is a sort of domino effect when prisoners claim to be wrongly convicted. My declaration of innocence rendered me ineligible for prison programs, and, by extension, for any hope for parole. It also rendered me ineligible for preferred prison housing in the general population.
"Late at night, after others would finally sleep, I would huddle in a corner of my bunk. There was not quite enough room to sit up straight because there was another steel bunk just above me. With my book light and a Roman Missal loaned to me by the chaplain, I would “celebrate” Mass surrounded by snoring prisoners. I know these were not valid Masses. I had no elements of bread or wine. All I had were the readings and prayers, and the yearning in my heart for Christ’s Presence in this cold, dark place. For five years, that spectral shell of the Mass was all that I had – that, and a single volume breviary from which I prayed the Divine Office each day.
"Toward the end of that first five years in prison, a new chaplain arrived, a Catholic deacon. A few weeks after his arrival, I was summoned to his office..I noticed a small wooden tabernacle on a shelf in the corner of the office...I noticed a small Sanctuary Lamp that was lit. I realized with a great jolt that the Blessed Sacrament was in the tabernacle in the deacon’s office. I felt overwhelmed, and tears came to my eyes. For the first time in over five years, I was in the Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.
"Years ago as a young priest, I used to play racquetball early in the morning at a fitness center at which some friends gave me a membership. One of my occasional opponents was a local Protestant minister...the minister told me that he finds Catholics to be intriguing. 'If you truly believe that Christ is actually present in that tabernacle in your church,' he said, 'how can you just go about your day knowing that He is there?'
"His words stayed with me for many years. So many times as a priest, I took the Blessed Sacrament for granted. How many times had I passed by in the sanctuary, too busy to pause and ponder this living, enduring Presence in our midst? How many times had a busy day gone by without an hour spent in His Presence?
"I have come to know on a deeply personal level--through the force of sheer deprivation-- the importance of a Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament. Many of you have commented here on These Stone Walls that you have devoted an hour of your Eucharistic Adoration for me. That means far more to me than you may know.
"It’s an understatement that “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” It is far more than that. My five year absence from Christ in the Eucharist had a more profound impact on me than did prison itself. It left me a spiritual barren wasteland, craving freedom not from stone walls and iron bars, but from the chasm of separation from the Church and Sacraments that many take for granted..."
(There is a link to Fr. McRae's blog on the sidebar for easy access to his site.)
~ AN APPEAL FOR ONE HOUR OF EUCHARISTIC ADORATION FOR PRIESTS ~