Friday, March 8, 2013

Faith Means Never Having to Pack Lunch

Sometimes, the scriptures leave certain things to our imagination.  For instance, although we know that the Holy Family fled to Egypt, the details of any particular hardships are left unspoken.  We kind of have to fill in the blanks.  But, there are other times in the scriptures where the details are provided, like in the Book of Exodus.  The plagues, for instance, are described in detail.  God speaks to Moses.  Moses goes and speaks to Pharaoh.  Pharaoh is obstinate.  Then a plague comes.  Then, God speaks to Moses . . . and so on.
Then, as we all know, the great Exodus occurs; a moment of true magnificence.  The power and the glory of God are made manifest on that day by the Red Sea.  The Hebrew people are out of their minds in their rejoicing.  God has saved them.  He is truly awesome.  Then, they get hungry and start complaining and grumbling.

I like that whole part about the people getting hungry and complaining.  "Yeah, okay so God just helped us defeat this powerful army and released us from slavery.  And he did it by parting a sea so that we could pass through it and then used that same sea to crush our oppressors.  But, what's for dinner?"  I like it because I relate to it.  I'd be one of the grumblers.  And, if I were Moses, I'd be thinking, "God, why did you do this to me?  Why make things so successful only to let the whole thing end now?  I mean really.  We are going to go down in history as a people who pulled off the greatest escape ever only to have forgotten to bring enough food with us to survive?" 

These days, as I look back at the course of my time in this assignment, I cannot help but feel a bit of elation at the tremendous deeds that God has wrought among us.  By that, I do not mean that I have been without my faults and failings.  Rather, I mean that even despite all of my faults and failings, God just continued to do tremendous things here.  I feel like everything we did somehow turned to gold.  But, in an instant, as I stand on the other side of the sea and look back, I wonder, "Okay, now what?"  It never occurred to me to pack lunch.  I was busy getting caught up in the awesome events that were unfolding to ever plan for the future.  I didn't take out an insurance policy before I left.  I didn't line up a job for the post-exodus.  Didn't make any phone calls to call in favors.  I didn't even think to bring some trail mix to hold me over for a while.  In the words of Homer Simpson, "D'oh."

In a couple of weeks, I will have the great privilege of hearing the Exodus account shortly before baptizing three people into the Faith at the Easter Vigil.  Exodus, of course, is the great foreshadowing of the gift of Baptism when a person passes through the waters of death and emerges as a new creation on the other side.  Baptism is an extraordinary event, to die and rise with Christ.  But, I find it particularly beautiful and instructive that the rubrics for the Easter Vigil allow the priest before he says, "Behold, the Lamb of God," to instruct the newly baptized (and newly received and confirmed) that their first communion--which they are about to receive--is the climax of initiation and the center of every Christian life. 

While Exodus was a magnificent manifestation of God's supreme power, in a sense, this extraordinary moment led to something far more profound and sublime.  The great Exodus set the Hebrew people free, but it set them free so that they could live in a greater intimacy with God.  And, this greater intimacy was manifested not so much in mighty deeds, but in the daily reception of the manna.  For forty years, they were daily fed by the hand of God.  This intimacy was why they were set free in the first place.

No matter the awesome deeds that God works in and through our life, they ultimately lead to the Eucharist, the daily bread that comes down from heaven.  The mighty works provide to us a gateway to faith, but faith is ultimately sustained and nourished by the sublime and spotless Victim who daily is offered sacramentally in the Mass.  There, Christ places upon our tongues the food that is himself.  We become one with him.

I am grateful for all of the mighty deeds that God has worked in our midst.  They have been powerful and splendid reminders that He is an awesome God and we are His people.  But, here on the other side of the sea, we have no need to fear or to wish for a return to where we once were.  The circumstances might be adverse, the land unwelcoming, the planning faulty, and the provisions low.  Our faith is not based on the acceptability of the circumstances or on our ingenuity.  Instead, our Faith is based on the one who feeds us no matter the circumstances. 

All of us--like those being baptized at Easter--are pilgrims making our way in Faith.  No matter whether we experience victories or seeming defeats, joys or sorrows, or praises or humiliations, the One who loves us will renew that love once again today and tomorrow in the Sacred Banquet wherein sublimely "Christ is received, the memory of the passion is renewed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given.  Amen."

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