Living and Longing in Exile

I’ve been walking through the Old Testament prophets with the diaconate candidates in our diocese the last few weeks. The message of the prophets is centered on God’s call to conversion and the promise of his mercy in the context of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the taking of Judah’s population into captivity by the Babylonians.

Two threads of the prophetic message have stood out to me in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. First, the longing of the Jewish people to return to Jerusalem is echoed in the faithful’s desire for the resumption of public celebrations of the liturgy. The psalmist gives voice to this lament: “By the rivers of Babylon/there we sat weeping/when we remembered Zion… How could we sing a song of the LORD in a foreign land?” (Ps 137)

Many of the faithful are keenly feeling this loss of the source and summit of our faith, even as they recognize the important public health reasons that have prompted this loss. We can find in the scriptures both words to help us express this loss and the promise that what has been lost will be restored.

The second thread is that the proper celebration of the Temple sacrifices does not exhaust the Lord’s expectations for his people. Micah exhorts the people: “Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with myriad streams of oil? … You have been told, O mortal, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (6:6-8)

A good question for us to consider might be: as I long for the Eucharist and the liturgical celebrations, am I also longing for God’s justice and goodness? How will my rejoicing when the faithful return to Mass be echoed in how I treat my neighbor, especially the poor and the marginalized?