Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

Bringing Back Exiles

Last night I was listening to a lecture by N. T. Wright, given in Connecticut about 12 or 13 years ago. In it, he said that to understand the gospels we must understand how deep was the sense among 1st century Jews that their Exile had not yet ended. Sure, they were back from Babylon. On the surface, to us, things might seem as if they were great. But in fact, the exile was a deeper phenomenon than simply not being home. The exile was not being about what they should be doing, not being God's people, alienation from God's plan. Their continuing exile was most poignantly revealed to them in not being able to worship God in His home. The Temple was newly rebuilt, or almost rebuilt, in Jesus' time; but something was missing. God.

Solomon built the first Temple. Upon its completion with the installation of the Ark, the temple was filled with the Shekinah cloud, the sign of God's physical, tangible presence. When the Temple reconstruction project was finished by King Herod, there was no Ark because it had been lost during the Exile, and there was no Shekinah. The Temple was incomplete, and the worship of God, Israel's living relationship with God, was also incomplete. On the surface, they had been restored and their relationship renewed - the Temple was rebuilt. But inside, nothing substantial was happening, only sacrifices that didn't seem to do very much.

It is in this light that we are to read the Gospel, the Rev. Dr. Wright says. Jesus, by entering into the Temple, literally restores God's presence to it in his own person. Wright makes a good case that Jesus understood his ministry as a preparation for this re-entry. God restored to his Temple, God himself would restore the priesthood and the value of the sacrifices by offering up himself.

Those of us who are waiting on God's will are a lot like the Jews waiting for the Shekinah to return to the temple. Day by day, doing our best to do our best, we are never sure exactly what God has in mind, and the temptation to feel as if He has nothing in mind creeps in. It can feel like an exile from God's plan, an exile from God.

The third psalm from today's Morning Office (IV Thursday Ord. Time) is Psalm 147. The Psalmist sings, "The Lord builds up Jerusalem and brings back Israel's exiles, he heals the broken-hearted, he binds up all their wounds... he calls each one by name." This passage is a powerful reminder that God does have a plan for us, and moreover, that God is the one who will accomplish it. He wants to do His will in our life. It will make us perfectly happy, drying up every tear. We have only to let Him. The psalm continues, "His delight is not in horses nor his pleasure in warriors' strength. The Lord delights in those who revere him, in those who wait for his love." When we feel barren and cannot see how God is acting in our life, I propose that the best course of action is this: examine our conscience and confess our sins; receive communion as devoutly as we can, asking the Blessed Virgin for her help; and pray that beautiful prayer, the Hail Holy Queen, that says, "To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus." And then wait. We must let God show us in His own time.

And when we really cannot wait to know how the whole thing turns out, Psalm 40 might be handy: "I waited, waited for the Lord, who inclined and heard my cry, and brought me up out of the muddy pit..."

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