There are those times when we can feel that we are stuck in a spiritual or religious wilderness. There are many people right now, in light of what has been happening within the Church, who are feeling the angst of abandonment and virtual hopelessness. This is not that easy to deal with. For all of us, and certainly for the more senior members of our Church, it was the faith of the Church that stood as a constant beacon in the midst of a morally drift world.
We are not the first, nor will we be the last, who have had this sense of emptiness in the midst of feeling let down and lost. The Jewish people who, like Baruch in the First Reading, lived through the destruction of Jerusalem and its majestic Temple in 586 BC felt as though their entire world was upended and over. Many thousands of people had been forced into exile in Babylon, while others fled to Egypt and throughout the Mediterranean world. They had this foreboding sense that God had abandoned his people and that the hopes and dreams of the eternal kingdom and the covenants with Abraham and David had been nullified.
Still, in the midst of this emptiness the words of the prophets rang true. Not only Baruch, but also Deutero-Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, each witnessed in his own way the destruction, and each, also in his own way, foresaw a hope-filled promise beyond destruction.
Baruch announces: “Up, Jerusalem! Stand upon the heights; look to the east and see your children gathered from the east and the west at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that they are remembered by God.”
In the midst of any wilderness – and certainly here in the US we can feel that we are in a searing wilderness – the tendency to feel isolated is palpable. At present we are bombarded with too much noise, making it difficult at times to separate fact from fiction, fantasy from reality, conspiracy from coincidence. It is also hard to know whom to look to for guidance. Can we trust anyone to give us an honest assessment of where we are, or is everyone spinning an agenda laced with some truth?
We need in our time the prophets like Baruch who, in the midst of the worst possible time in history for the Jewish people, saw the beckoning home of the exiles, coming to a new and greater Jerusalem.
Baruch, like many prophets, does not live to see his prophecy fulfilled. It is also true that his prophecy was fulfilled in stages. The Jerusalem that was rebuilt a century after the exile, was neither the idealized city of the past, nor the majestic city imagined in the prophecy. While eventually Jerusalem becomes a beautiful city dominating the skyline at the time of Jesus, even that city does not last long.
We are reminded that our hope is always to the future, a distant future, and that we are called to faithfulness in our own times, guided by that hope. Yes, we can lament the loss of what we thought of as an idealized church, but we know that in reality that church never existed. We might have that desire to believe that a new course of action, or changing this or that, or imposing a new rule here or there will instantly purify the church and bring this scandal to an end, but that, too, is neither realistic nor what Christ promises us.
Our hope is in the realized Kingdom of God, when the full restoration of the intention of creation is made manifest. The voice in the wilderness tells us to prepare, and that we must do. But we cannot make happen what can only happen in God’s time.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.