“When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped.”
Being a prison guard was a tough and dirty job. Paul and Silas were placed in an inner prison with their ankles shackled. You can close your eyes and picture the dark and dirty place, where the prisoners considered the worst of the worst were kept. No sanitation, no light, no food, the stench alone would have been enough to scramble our modern sensitivities.
The reason the guards went to such lengths? Because if the prisoners escaped, the guards were likely to receive a severe punishment; perhaps even paying with a public death of their own. Rather than endure the embarrassment and humiliation, this guard quickly considers suicide the moment he thinks he failed at his assigned task.
We can image him, standing in the dark following the earthquake, wondering what happened, what cost he would have to pay.
Yet, when Paul calls to him, the guard immediately calls for light and falls at Paul’s feet asking, “What must I do to be saved?”
How many people do we know who are standing in the dark, wondering what is happening and ready to draw their own swords rather than face the humiliation they think is ahead? How many are facing their own earthquake in the dark and are waiting for a voice to call out?
Paul simply calls out to the jailer, “We are all here.” The jailer drops his sword, calls for a light and looks for his salvation. So many times we want to be the light to someone else. Our intentions are good but the minute we try to be the light in the dark, our ego gets all involved and we decide we know exactly what help someone else needs. We get frustrated when our solution doesn’t fit their problem.
Sometimes, like Paul, we just need to call out that we are here. We just need to let others know that we are waiting for them in the darkness, whatever their darkness may be. Sometimes we don’t need to do, we just need to be, be present in the dark. Once they know they are not alone, they find the voice to call for The Light that shines even in the darkest darkness.
This is part of the joy of being in a community of believers. We can encourage one another to listen, really listen. We can practice being present to one another and then use those skills to be present with others. We can pray together and ask for the grace to simply accompany those we meet on the journey. If there is help we can provide, the Holy Spirit will guide us. If not, at least for that amount of time, whoever we are ministering to is able to experience being heard.
The bonus is we get to experience the joy that comes with listening, with just letting people know that we are here, ready to help when they need it. It is amazing how often that is enough! We may get left feeling like, “But I didn’t do anything!” Yet, we did, we did what Jesus did, we met another person and were present to them, honoring their inherent dignity and reflecting the light on how they are made in the image and likeness of God. The first step is to be like St. Paul and say in the darkness, “We are all here.”
While wearing many hats, Sheryl O’Connor is the wife and study buddy of Thomas O’Connor. Not having received the gift of having their own children, their home is filled with 2 large dogs and their hearts with the teens and youth with whom they work in their parish collaborative. Sheryl is the Director of Strong Families Programs for Holy Family Healthcare which means her job is doing whatever needs to be done to help parents build strong Catholic families. Inspired by the works of mercy, Holy Family Healthcare is a primary healthcare practice in West Michigan which seeks to honor the dignity of every individual as we would Christ. Find out more at https://www.holyfamilyhealthcare.org/