Ohio, the Land of My Exile

My parish is closed until Easter. Disney World is shut down. It looks like Tom Brady is leaving the Patriots. They closed my local Bennigan’s on St. Patrick’s Day. I haven’t read the book of Revelation in a while, but I’m pretty sure these are all signs that Jesus will be back pretty soon.

Of course, there are some positives. The Cavs had a 1% chance of making the playoffs—I’m just going to say they would have made it were it not for the COVID-19 virus.

Missing Mass hurts most of all. However, it was only a few months ago the Church turned her attention to the plight of those who live in the Amazon, many of whom go years without receiving the sacraments. Going without for a few weeks seems to pale in comparison.

The challenge for those of us who are used to weekly/daily Liturgy is, how will we worship God when Mass is not available?

The same type of question was poised to the Jewish people at the time of the Exile. They were a people of ritual and sacrifice. For them, God was not “everywhere” but in a specific place: within the Ark of the Covenant inside the Holy of Holies within the Temple in Jerusalem. Then the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple and the Ark went missing, never to be found again until the discovery of Dr. Jones in the 1940s.

For the Jews it was as if God had been taken away from them. They were led off, in chains, to a foreign land with no priests, no sacrifice, and no temple where they could worship God.

A far worse situation than what we currently have in Ohio, or the rest of the country.

One might have thought this would have brought an end to the Jewish religion. Instead, it brought revival. No longer able to depend on the Temple sacrifices, the Hebrew people turned to the Sacred Scriptures. They build Synagogues that faced the direction toward where the temple once stood. The Rabbi—the teacher of the law—grew in prominence. It brought about an interior conversion in the people of God, and by doing so prepared a way for the coming of Jesus, who was known primarily as “Rabbi”. They studied the Word in Scripture, then the Word became flesh and dwelt among them.

Like the Exile was for the Jewish people, Lent is a time of purification and renewal. It is a time of interior conversion. There is no use wasting any energy in anger of what has occurred or why it happened the way it did. Instead of asking “Why did this happen?” (negative reaction) we should ask, “Lord, what do you want me to do about it?” (positive reaction).

In writing to the Christians in Rome (which was a tough place to be in the first century), St. Paul wrote, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Our God has made a career of taking bad situations and turning them into good (for example… the cross). This is an opportunity to grow in trust.

We must also remember that none of this, none of this, is beyond His Providence. When the little girl seemed dead and Jesus was told not to bother, he responded, “Fear is useless. What is needed is faith” (Mark 5:36). This is an opportunity to grow in faith.

As the prophet Habakkuk watched the armies from Babylon march into Jerusalem, and he couldn’t figure out why God would let such a thing happen. If you haven’t read that book of the Bible, you should. It is a beautiful example of someone wrestling with God’s will. He ends with a prayer of hope (another opportunity to grow), which I think is a great prayer for all of us:

For though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit appears on the vine, Though the yield of the olive fails and the terraces produce no nourishment, Though the flocks disappear from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, Yet I will rejoice in the LORD and exult in my saving God (Habakkuk 3:17-18).

Praising God when things are good is natural. Praising God when things are bad? Supernatural. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with a song of praise during these trying times, mindful of the many who may be suffering more than we are right now. May the joy of the Lord be our strength.

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