Image: Ditlev Blunck, The Vision of the Prophet Ezekiel [public domain]
Some of my favorite sections of Sacred Scripture are before and during Israel’s exile. Before you write me off as a complete cynic, let me explain myself.
The reason I love this section of salvation history is because I can so easily relate to it. I can relate to the people of Israel’s experience during this time. I can relate to their temptation to live like the other nations surrounding them. I can relate to their struggle to avoid religious ritualism and truly pursue God with the heart. And I can relate—especially now—to their exile from the Temple and the religious rites and practices that had completely governed their life before going into exile.
Two sections in particular from Sacred Scripture have helped give me perspective during this “exile” we are currently facing from the Mass.
Ezekiel and the Presence of God
The first section is from the prophet Ezekiel, right at the beginning of the Babylonian exile of the Jews. While in exile, Ezekiel has this truly fantastic vision. In Ezekiel chapter one, we read that Ezekiel sees this complex, multifaceted, multi-wheeled throne. This vision—although probably bizarre to modern readers—is meant to give great encouragement to the people of God as they begin their new lives in exile. The vision symbolizes the presence of God, and most importantly, that the presence of God was not somehow “trapped” in Jerusalem. God’s presence could and would follow them into Babylon. God would be with them in their exile.
What an incredible promise and source of hope! The exiles were mourning their separation from the Temple, which was the only place where sacrifice could be made to the Lord. They felt cut off from God, exiled from his presence. Do you feel the same? Being physically separated from the Mass, do you feel somehow cut off from the Lord? Do you feel a certain sense of “exile” from his presence?
Take courage! Jesus’ message to you and me is the same one given to Ezekiel. His presence is not “trapped” in our local parish. Yes, Jesus is truly and uniquely present in the Eucharist. I affirm whole-heartedly this crucial and indispensable truth! However, I refuse to give in to discouragement and doubt that God is present with me when I celebrate the Lord’s Day with my family at home. I choose to believe God’s promise that he will be with me in this “exile.” And I take great courage from Jesus’ promise that where two or three are gathered in his name, he is with them (Matthew 18:20).
Daniel and Commitment to Prayer
I want to encourage you with a second short section from this period of salvation history.
I love Daniel. His faithfulness and courage are inspiring. We all remember at least the basic story that Daniel was thrown into a den of lions and God miraculously spared his life. But do you remember why he was thrown into the lion’s den? A law had been issued that no one would be allowed to make any prayer of petition to any god except Nebuchadnezzar for thirty days. Daniel was caught praying to God during this time and sentenced to death by way of the lions’ den. I want to draw your attention to one particular passage:
“Even after Daniel heard that this law had been signed, he continued his custom of going home to kneel in prayer and give thanks to his God in the upper chamber three times a day, with the windows open towards Jerusalem.” (Daniel 6:11)
I believe Daniel’s courage is best shown in this episode. He continues praying to God at the appointed hours of prayer, the hours at which the priests would have been offering sacrifices had the Temple not been destroyed. Consider this! Not only is it illegal for him to do this—and thankfully, we are under no penal threat to continue our commitment to keeping the Lord’s Day holy—but who would know if he chose not to pray? No one! He is doing this alone in his rooms. It would have been the easiest thing for him to give up his habit of prayer since he could not make use of the Temple. But he didn’t!
Friends, let us take inspiration from Daniel’s courage and commitment to the Lord. Let us continue to pray to God in a special way on Sundays in our homes. It would be easy for us to simply go about our day since the obligation to Mass is dispensed due to public Mass being unavailable. It would be easy to grow lax in our commitment to prayer since no one sees what we do in our homes by ourselves. But we know that true exile from God has nothing to do with geography. True exile from God begins when we choose to live and act “like all the other nations.” True exile happens when we choose to neglect our relationship with God, because there is no longer a weekly obligation or because we can’t go to Mass.
Like Daniel, let us continue to petition God for an end to our “exile” from the Mass and for healing from this virus. Let us especially continue to practice thanksgiving for the gifts God has given us, and especially for his incredible promise to be with us during this time away from our normal ritual prayers and routines at our parish. But most importantly: let us not allow this physical separation from the Mass to turn into a true spiritual exile from God by neglecting or abandoning our life of prayer.
“Fear not, I am with you; be not dismayed; I am your God. I will strengthen you, and help you, and uphold you with my right hand of justice.” (Isaiah 41:10)
Looking for some resources to help you keep the Lord’s Day in these extraordinary times? Find links to watch Mass with Archbishop Aquila or streamed from local parishes here and resources for praying Sunday Morning Prayer and praying with the readings and prayers from Mass each week here.