A Mountain of Hope, a Grace-filled Prison

Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. -Isaiah 43:18-19

From where does our hope come? As humans, we have a tremendous capacity for judging situations quickly. We thrive on our ability to categorize who and what we encounter: good and bad, friend and enemy, orthodox and heterodox, saint and reprobate. Unfortunately, all too often the negative sides of these ledgers fill up far faster than the positive. Consequently, we can fall into the trap of despair—believing the past to be brighter than the future, doubting whether God can still surprise us with new mercies each morning.

In western New Hampshire, there sits Mount Cardigan. Gazing upon this mountain in 1855, we would have witnessed a devastating fire which consumed all its vegetation and denuded its summit down to its bare bedrock. In the midst of this natural destruction, could we have perceived God’s work? Far likelier, we would have seen the forest fire as yet another random, destructive “act of nature.”

And yet our judgment would have missed the mark. A fellow friar and I spent a sunny June morning hiking up to the peak, which today affords an unencumbered, panoramic view of New Hampshire’s White Mountains and Vermont’s Green Mountains. What’s more, beyond the gift this mountain is to humans, I couldn’t help but take notice of the resiliency of life on display, as lichen and small insects make a home there among the rocks. Mount Cardigan stands, for those with eyes to see, as a testament to God’s ability to work good in surprising and counterintuitive ways.

This summer, I have come upon another place where God’s transformative power is made manifest: the Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Norfolk, Massachusetts. Within the walls of this prison resides perhaps the most unique chapter of lay Dominicans in the world. It’s a chapter composed primarily of “lifers”—rapists and murderers with no chance for parole. These are men who, if their crimes had been committed in another state, might well have been executed long ago. These men, justly scorched by the fires of their own crimes, have been forgotten by society. For many, the door has been locked, and the key might as well be thrown away.

By my own witness, I can testify that God has not forgotten these men. With one of our priests, I had the opportunity to visit the prison, participating in the Holy Mass and sharing my vocation story with the inmates. In celebrating the Eucharist and speaking with these men, one forgets their sinful pasts. Instead, one meets voracious readers of the Bible and the Summa. These men have nothing but time, which they use to ponder the mysteries of the Faith, make reparation for their sins, and seek the day when they can meet the Lord face to face. In the wilderness of the prison, God has forged a way of salvation for His sheep that had strayed. In the desert of their incarceration, the Lord has brought them to the grace-filled rivers of conversion and repentance.

Whether we are in the mountains or in the city, everywhere we might look—if we know how to look—there are signs of hope, given to us by the God who made heaven and earth. Blessed are we if we are able to recognize these gifts and accept them with grateful hearts. Then we will find our own lives transformed and be better able to be examples of hope to others.

 

Image: Makeitalready, Spherical panorama from the summit of Mt. Cardigan, New Hampshire, USA (CC0 1.0)

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Br. Barnabas McHenry grew up in Buffalo, NY. He entered the Order in 2014 after graduating from the George Washington University with a B.A. in international affairs, concentrating on development in Latin America. He also studied for a semester at the International Center for Development Studies in San José, Costa Rica. On DominicanFriars.org