Mercy in Detention


Boat in a storm by Jean-Pierre Brungs

Prayer is an important part of life for many of the residents of the detention centre that Fr Harry Elias visits. He shares one reflection which offers them solace and hope.

I am ever amazed at the strong faith I find in the detainees that I visit, at least in those with whom I speak and those who come to church. A great number of them are Pentecostals from Africa and often their sole reading is the bible. I am thankful for this common ground between us, as I can capture their attention quite readily when I quote from it. A meditation which seems to be effective in encouraging their faith is on the scene from Matthew’s Gospel (14: 22-33) in which Jesus walks on the water. If you happened to drop in while I was leading this meditation, at the point where the disciples are battling against a wind, you would find me elaborating graphically on the vulnerability of being in a small boat and then continuing with something like what follows:

You may have taken sleeping tablets but after a few hours of fitful sleep you lie awake, full of anxiety for yourself and your loved ones, accusing first yourself and now God, lamenting your plight and, in your imagination, picturing the worst. You toss and turn, sweating with fear, exhausted, even feeling that God is bringing this evil on you; you are terrified, as the disciples were when they saw Jesus approaching them on the water. This is around three o’clock in the morning, the time when despair creeps in. You feel utterly helpless and abandoned, and let out a cry in the silence of your heart. Then, you will find Jesus addressing you: ‘Take heart, it is I. Have no fear.’ By walking on the water he shows that he is Lord, that he is in control of the proud, raging spirits that consider themselves unaccountable. 

It is God’s will that prevails. Whenever there is a storm in your life, Jesus is there in it, although perhaps it is only when you cry out in desperation that you realise it. He, who experienced the pain of grief himself, is yoked to you, sharing your anguish but giving you hope of victory. Even in this place of detention, you can offer the life you live to the Lord, so that you retain your identity as a child of God. If doubt still troubles you, and you feel unable to carry on, or even to pray, just picture Jesus stretching his arm out to you as he did to Peter, and hold on. God is faithful to his abounding mercy for his beloved family in Christ.

Harry Elias SJ

Originally published in Issue 94 of Jesuits & Friends - Read it

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