I read a book not long ago, which I recommend to you. It is entitled: Now I Walk on Death Row: A Wall Street Finance Lawyer Stumbles into the Arms of a Loving God, by Dale Recinella. The book is summarized in the long title: A wealthy lawyer has a profound conversion experience and ends up as a Catholic lay minister to inmates on death row in Florida prisons.
While you’ll read something about the inhuman conditions and treatment of the inmates (most animals in this country are treated better), and something about the death-penalty “industry” (which keeps a number of officials and attorneys rich), what I’d like mainly to share here is something about the way God opened the author’s eyes to the truth of the Gospel, and how Mr Recinella embraced it to an extent rarely seen in our day.
His big question around the time of his conversion, when he started reading the Gospels, was: “Did Jesus mean what He said?” He discovered various responses from people he asked, both Catholic and Protestant. But even among those who did believe that Jesus meant what He said, he found very few who actually put the Lord’s words into practice in concrete ways that affected their lifestyles. Once he accepted in faith that Jesus did mean what He said, however, his whole life changed. He learned what Jesus meant when He said we cannot serve two masters, God and money (and he had a lot of money, but eventually gave it all up for the sake of his calling). He was not willing to compromise like so many others, who said they believed in the Gospel but in reality did not take it very seriously and put their own comfort and pleasure first.
He also had a near-death experience before he had fully sold all to follow Jesus, for his conversion was gradual. He had ingested some sort of flesh-eating bacteria when eating a raw oyster, and before long all his major organs shut down and the doctor told him he would not make it through the night. During the night, while dying, he entered the presence of the Lord, who said, “Dale, what have you done with My gifts?” And the Lord looked sad. Dale tried to defend himself, but he realized that everything he said had something to do with making money. Then he said that he “felt the shame of the selfishness and narcissism of my life.” He begged Jesus for another chance at life, and that he would do things differently. Jesus then vanished and so did Dale’s illness, and he woke up healed and began to serve the poor and eventually heard the call to prison ministry.
During the time that he was learning the Gospel but still living and working in the society of the rich, he tried to help a dirty homeless man (covered with sores, like Lazarus), whom he saw when on a break from a meeting with wealthy high-class attorneys. One place he took him was a church, and the man, who was sick and filthy and starving, wept and said, “Lord, please don’t let me die like this!” Mr Recinella finally was able to find some help for the unfortunate man. Later, when he went back to the fancy restaurant where all his rich colleagues were drinking and laughing, he had an illumination as to the phony, superficial, sinful, and godless lives these proud and rich people were living, and he prayed: “Lord, please don’t let me die like this!” It would not be long before he was giving practically all of his time to serving the poor and the prisoners.
Those are just a couple snippets. The whole story is engaging and edifying, yet down to earth and sometimes humorous. It wasn’t easy for him to give up his wealth and prestige (since he had found his sense of self-worth in them), but the work of divine grace is clearly manifest in his gradual enlightenment and the uncompromising courage of his convictions once he decided that Jesus really did mean what He said in the Gospels. His wife and children were supportive, and this was a great help to him as well, for they made decisions as a family, so it wasn’t just his own radical and idiosyncratic mission (they didn’t think he was crazy, as did most everyone else, even Christian acquaintances).
I think you’ll find a number of good insights in this book, and you may also be challenged concerning your own answer to the question: “Did Jesus really mean what He said?”—and what practical applications may need to follow. You’ll see some of the best and the worst of the human condition, and you just might become a better person for taking the time to see what kind of fruit one person can bear who decides that following the Lord is the essential element that makes us fully human—and hence best able to show the face of Christ to those who most need to see it.