We didn’t exactly breach the Gates of the Netherworld yesterday, but at least we delivered a good solid rap on the door.
“We”…being the two dozen or so Kairos Prison Ministry volunteers who gathered for some prayer and socially-distanced fellowship at Jefferson Barracks County Park.
Like so many things in these times of pandemic, our ministry at Menard Correctional Center has been put on hold – a Hard Pause – throughout 2020: No retreat Weekends, no monthly reunions, no in-person contact whatsoever with our brothers on “the inside.” Our hearts ache for them, our brothers…languishing behind those gates at Menard.
And that’s part of the reason why we gathered: to keep our own spirits from languishing. To remind ourselves of the grace to be found in periods of seeming helplessness. To encourage each other…for the time when we will be permitted to return to Menard
Some might consider this an odd way to spend a beautiful summer Saturday morning. Indeed, I can’t say that we greybeards have anything to show for having spent the time together. Absolutely nothing of practical value was accomplished.
Unless you count “hope.”
Which turned out to be a payload not unlike what Jesus offers Peter and the other apostles in the gospel passage we hear at Sunday Mass. Again this week, the band finds themselves traipsing through hostile territory – this time, Caesarea Philippi: home base for Philip the Tetrarch, and site of a major pagan temple for the region.
In short, it doesn’t fit the bill as “holy ground.” It’s not the sort of spot where you’d expect to witness a profound confession of faith.
[Jesus] said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.”
When Gerri and I visited this very spot on our Holy Land pilgrimage in 2019, I was intrigued to learn that among the temple’s attractions for the ancients was a dark pool, flowing out of an enormous rock formation – a pool known as the Gates of the Netherworld.
Now, if I were Peter…I think I might have found that whole scene rather intimidating: surrounded by the trappings of power, with massive pagan icons looming overhead. It would have been easy to feel utterly powerless in this setting. And yet it is precisely here that Jesus promises to make Peter and the disciples victorious in the end.
And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
I’ll be the first to admit: the Black Hawk Shelter in Jefferson Barracks County Park is a long way from the Temple of Pan at Caesarea Philippi. Heck, it’s even a long way from Menard.
But let me tell you, I’m sure I could hear something like keys rattling in the gentle summer breeze on Saturday. I heard it in our prayers, in our fellowship, in our witness. It sounded very much like “hope” to me…the keys of heaven, working persistently to breach the gates.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.