This week’s guest reflection was written by Jennifer Kelly, who serves as a spiritual director and music minister at correctional facilities in Washington State. She offers her testimony, inspired by the readings for Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent.
Sanchez came to his cell window with a gentle smile and began reciting, “Let all that is of the power of darkness be bound in Jesus’ hands and cast out.”
When I first met Sanchez, he told me that he was just coming through a mental health crisis and spent several days in the observation and treatment wing of the prison. With deeply worried eyes, he shared his fear that the frightening voices may return. He asked for prayer.
With my hand pressed against the glass and Sanchez leaning in as though my hand were resting on his head, I silently pleaded for a prayer that might offer him comfort and assurance of God’s presence. I felt poor in the face of his suffering.
Years ago, I was taught the “power of darkness” prayer by a beloved Jesuit friend and mentor who told me that it’s one of the prayers of exorcism for the Catholic Church. I was quite astounded (and a bit worried) that he wanted to teach me a prayer for exorcism! Fr. Paul went on to say that all of us feel assailed by challenges at one time or another. The prayer doesn’t have to be for something as dramatic as demonic possession. He believed it could help me with the depression I was battling.
After praying for Sanchez, the memory of that simple but powerful prayer rushed in to greet me. I wrote it down and slipped it through the crack in the door, “Pray this whenever you feel anxious or fear the voices returning. It’s a powerful prayer that has brought me much peace and a sense of God’s protection and love. I believe it will for you too.”
“Thank you,” said Sanchez in a tender tone. “I appreciate you,” he added, emphasizing his gratitude in a way so typical of those I meet behind bars.
And so, one week later, I couldn’t help but feel a surge of relief and gratitude at his changed countenance.
“I memorized the prayer,” he said quietly. “I pray it whenever I wake up and several times a day. It really helps.” Fear had loosened its grip on him. I could feel the shift.
Both Pope Francis, our first Jesuit pope, and St Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, have referred to the enemy of the author of life as one who tries to draw us away from God, most often utilizing deceptively ordinary means – negative self-talk, depression, discouragement – to trick us into feeling abandoned.
I was once taught that a grace given is indestructible and can reemerge when least expected. Lent may well be the perfect season for us to open our hearts to the return of graces lying dormant, to pray for them to spring fresh again with the lengthening of days, that they may become a blessing for others.
In today’s reading from Isaiah, we meet God who made and loves us, the very same God faithfully present to Jesus during his 40 days in the desert. God never abandoned Jesus to the demonic voice trying to trick him. May we too trust in God who made and loves us, who will never abandon us and who commissions us to go forth praying, preaching, healing and bringing light. It is from this reading that I shared with Sanchez the powerful prayer I now share with you:
In a time of favor, I answer you,
on the day of salvation I help you;
Can a mother forget her infant,
be without tenderness for the child of her womb?
Even should she forget,
I will never forget you.
(Isaiah 49: 8 & 15)