A Prison Without Walls
WEDNESDAY, Easter week two:
The Responsorial Psalm assures us that God can deliver us from anything that holds us back from the fullness of life: “The Lord hears the cry of the poor” (Psalm 34).
In Acts 5: 17-26 God sent his angel to deliver the Apostles from a physical prison. But he did it to send the Apostles themselves as “angels”(messengers) to deliver people from the more narrow, if less visible, prison of culturally distorted attitudes and values. They were sent to “tell the people all about this new life.” What really delivers people is the life of grace, especially when lived with the mutual support of a community of faith. That is to “be Church.”
We are all imprisoned — to a greater or lesser extent, but still deeply and dangerously — in our “culture.” We can’t see beyond the stone walls of attitudes, values and behavior “everyone” takes for granted. We are held “in the box” without chains: just by the fact that we can’t imagine anywhere else to go. We don’t really know or believe we have an option.
Our allocation of time is dictated, not by our priorities, but by the priorities of other people in our society who themselves are responding to pressures not totally of their own making. How many events take priority over family life? In many “Catholic” areas of the country are highschool football games, and even practices, scheduled for Sunday morning? Sports banquets and tournaments are held on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and on the Easter Vigil. Stores are open on Sunday and we who say we believe in “keeping the Sabbath” nevertheless shop on Sundays just for convenience, “voting with our dollars.” Social events are scheduled without regard for religious feasts or seasons (such as Advent and Lent), and everyone knows Christians will let them take precedence over religious services, missions, or youth retreats. It is commonplace to hear even pre-teens say, “I can’t come to the… (church event) because I ‘have to’ go to (band-basketball-dance) practice or such-and-such a party.” Parents don’t take a stand, because their children must either dance to society’s tune or “miss out.” This is a cultural prison. And unlike the guards sent to arrest the Apostles, those who pressure people into society’s cells have no fear of “being stoned by the people.” Christians just don’t resist.
We are not a “separatist” religion. In John 3: 16-21 Jesus makes it clear that God loves the world: so much that he “gave his… Son so that those who believe in him might not perish…. For God did not send his Son… to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” But if we truly love the world we will lead it into the light, not stagnate with it in darkness. “The Lord hears the cry of the poor.” So should we.
Initiative: Be a prophet. Don’t conform to priorities you don’t agree with.