“Your right hand saves me, O Lord.”
In today’s first reading, there is a dramatic account of Paul’s and Silas’s experience in prison. Once more, they were being persecuted because of their relentless preaching of Jesus and Him Crucified. This time, the local authorities have them arrested, beaten and put into prison. They were not hardened criminals, yet they were put in maximum security, the inner most cell of the prison, with leg irons to secure them in their cell, and with armed guards outside their locked prison doors. Once they were secured in their cells, they began to pray and sing song of praise to their God.
The vast majority of us have never been arrested and put into prison. Yet, so many of us live as prisoners to our addictions, our personal histories, our emotions, our memories, and yes, to the bad choices we have made in our lives. This Scripture reading should challenge us to respond to the personal prisons we have created for ourselves in ways that can set us free.
So many times, we blame God for the terrible things that are happening in our lives or the lives of our loved ones. Because of this, some of us will give up on God and the ways of God. Thus, it is God’s fault that I am an alcoholic or that I abuse other people with my violent temper or my spiteful tongue or by the disrespect I show them. God has acted unjustly toward me and my loved ones, so why should I care?
If I don’t blame God for my prison, I blame others. It is their fault that I have turned out the way I am today. They abused me, they disrespected me or they violated my rights and freedoms. I have taken it upon myself to make them pay, even though it is destroying my very soul.
So many of us blame ourselves, our weaknesses and our human nature for the condition we find ourselves in, for the prisons we have created for ourselves. So, we give up on ourselves, allowing ourselves to waste away in our own misery.
Innocent though they were, Paul and Silas did not respond to their imprisonment in any of these ways. They knew the value and power of prayer. Prayer liberated them from prison. We note, however, that once their restraints were released and the prison doors were open, they did not run away, but stayed to make sure that those who were guarding them could be liberated as well. They ministered to the people who were guarding them in their prison. Real prayer brings about true liberation, true freedom. True prayer will not only liberate us, but call us to minister to those who are prisoners as well.
Fr. Clemente Barrón, C.P. is a member of Immaculate Conception Community in Chicago, Illinois.