I could hear the piston engines – their menacing murmur – long before I actually saw the planes the other evening.
Part of the problem was that I was looking too far ahead to their anticipated position in the sky. The biplanes traveled much more slowly than I’ve grown accustomed to seeing more modern aircraft cut across the azure blue.
Eventually the squadron caught up to my expectation, and I had moment or two to contemplate the unusual scene playing out overhead.
No doubt, the planes are part of an airshow retinue these days, perhaps practicing for an upcoming performance. A few generations ago, they would have signified something far more sinister: trouble overhead. Engines of attack, of warfare. I whispered a prayer of gratitude – for the good fortune to live in a time and place that felt no threat from the rumble overhead…knowing full well that in many parts of the world today, terror from the skies remains all too real.
Yesterday, I had occasion to consider a slightly different take on my encounter with the biplane squadron. At our formation meeting for the upcoming Kairos Inside Weekend at Menard, my teammates and I heard from a guest speaker – a volunteer minister at another prison.
Kelly shared many pearls of wisdom in her 40 minute presentation, but one in particular caught my attention. She compared our team’s efforts to that of a different sort of antique weapon: the battering ram. She pointed out how Christ calls the church to act like just such a device in countering the forces of evil in the world. She repeated Christ’s promise to Peter: ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against you.’
In hearing Kelly speak, I noticed how I’d always tended to hear Christ’s words as something of a defensive statement – a promise that I, that we, would be protected from the forces of evil. But in point of fact, as Kelly noted, what Jesus outlines to Peter is an offensive strategy. The gates have been erected to keep the Good News out – and Jesus assures that they will not prevail…as long as we, the church, continue to bring our Christ-powered muscle against them.
Still, it’s a tricky thing to put that strategy into action. Our first instincts usually aren’t our best ones. Like trying to spot a squadron of biplanes in the sky, we don’t always know exactly where to look for Christ, and the power of Christ’s grace, at work in the world.
Perhaps we can find a hint in the parable we hear into today’s Gospel.
When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment.
Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.
It’s in our preference for the poor and the marginalized – not in our grasping for prestige, power and possessions – that we truly take up Christ’s banner. And by flying low…we join our efforts to His, and become capable of remaking the world.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.