A Free Mind
Did Jesus Really Mean What He Said?
Much of this is familiar ground, although Recinella tells it well, but the story takes off into uncharted territory when Recinella meets his wife, Susan, a faith-filled woman who helps keep their relationship grounded in God. When their spiritual focus is waning due to the demands of daily life, Recinella hears a Gospel reading that hits hard. It is Jesus' encounter with the rich young man in Mark 10:17-15. Jesus tells him, "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
Recinella and his wife ponder the reading, wondering if Jesus meant his words literally.
Susan shrugs. "Does anybody think He meant that? Does anyone take it literally?"
"Well, I guess priests and nuns do," I concede in acknowledgment of the well-known assumption by Roman Catholics for centuries that the literal Gospel only applies to those called to the so-called religious life—priests, brothers and nuns. "But the guy He was talking to in the Gospel tonight was not religious. He was like me. He was like us."
"And . . . ?" Susan leaves both her words and her fork hanging in midair.
"And so the question is, did Jesus mean what He said?"
"I don't know," Susan instinctively lowers her voice too. "I've never heard anyone discuss it."
"Maybe we should find out."
Cautioned by their pastor to be discerning and go slowly, they gradually become convinced that God meant them to downsize their wealthy lifestyle and serve the poor.
Thus begins a fascinating journey of continual discernment. They begin by moving to a slightly less rich part of town while volunteering at a soup kitchen, and end up casting off practically all their possessions while Recinella becomes a death row spiritual advisor.
In one sense, Recinella's story surprised me with those the old fashioned assumptions about "only religious" being meant to live the Gospel, or of bishops who reject lay people in ministry. There is no denying that some people still have those perspectives. I just do not come across them among my acquaintances.
The book's emphasis is not on their Catholicism as much as it is upon asking where God wants them to use their talents. Recinella's journey is largely as a Christian, although as a Catholic he encounters prejudice along the way, both from inside and outside the Church. Watching the way that he proceeds through positive measures or by simply forging ahead without arguing is both inspirational and instructional.
Although the big story is about working toward death row ministry, there are many humbling and inspirational moments along the way. Tending to his sick children while his wife went to work, Recinella relates the lessons in loving service he learned while "trapped" at home; they were just the sort of lessons I needed to be reminded of. When his children call a family meeting because the hours at a part-time job are creeping back into the full-time range, it leads to one of the most poignant moments in the book, and a lesson any parent would do well to contemplate.
Finally, the book brings readers face to face with death row in a Florida prison. As a lawyer, the author makes us aware of the corruption and waste that characterize these institutions. His main focus, however, is to bring us face to face with the people on death row. He is not sentimental, and admits there are criminals who belong there. However, Recinella never lets us forget that these are people whom Jesus knows and loves. He embraces his duty to help them recognize Jesus in the time that they have left.
Recinella doesn't browbeat the reader. He himself used to be one of those wealthy outsiders who think they have all the answers. It took the reality of death row ministry to show the depth of misunderstanding that exists. His experiences are valuable and we would do well to heed them.
Now I Walk on Death Row is inspirational on many levels. The thoughtful reader cannot fail to be moved, as I was, into some personal soul-searching. I didn't feel an urge to sign up for prison ministry, but the book did encourage a more active discernment of where and when I am being asked to serve, person-to-person, face-to-face. Whether in my family, my parish, or the larger world, I must continually seek God's will for how I use my talents in his service.
That should be the top-of-mind goal for every Christian, and I salute Dale Recinella for sharing his experience so honestly.
Julie Davis blogs about it at Happy Catholic and discusses both books and movies at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast. Her new book is Happy Catholic, published by Servant Publishing. Follow Julie on Twitter and Facebook