Sunday: Are We Really In a Land of Exile?
The readings this Sunday (the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year B) help me with a problem I have always had, since returning to my faith: I have never liked the “Hail, Holy Queen” prayer.
The “Hail, Holy Queen” uses strange, strong language that sounded excessive to me. In it we call ourselves “poor banished children of Eve.” We characterize ourselves as “mourning and weeping in this valley of tears,” and we ask to be brought to Christ “after this exile.”
The prayer always conjured up strange images for me: I pictured a weeping Eve, dressed in black with a veil, alone in a misty valley, tears streaming down her distressed face.
And yet the fact that the Church ends every Rosary with that prayer is an indication that it isn’t excessive. It’s meant to tell us something true about the human condition.
The older I have gotten, the more sense the prayer has made. The more trials and sorrows of life I experienced, the more it seemed like an exile.
Today’s readings are an extended meditation on the way home.
Some scholars speculate that today’s Second Reading, from Ephesians, is a commentary on the parable of the Prodigal Son, the quintessential story about our exile away from God and our home with him.
The reading recounts how God, “when we were still dead in our transgressions, brought us to life in Christ.” It promises “immeasurable riches” in the “heavens.”
In the reading, God is “rich in mercy,” like the prodigal’s father. The next verses in Ephesians after this Sunday’s passage explains how we who were “far off” are gathered close by Christ.
But even we Catholics who are practicing our faith and saying the “Hail Holy Queen” are in a kind of “exile.” The first reading explains why: because we are judged as nations, not just as individuals.
The passage from Second Chronicles tells the story of the Babylonian exile. It succinctly explains how God allowed the Jews to go into exile because of their infidelities, then brought them back himself.
God is the bedrock of truth, and to the extent that we stray from him, we stray into foreign lands. We Christian are supposed to bring our nations to God, too. If our nation fails, all of us — rosary-saying Catholic or not — suffer the consequences.
The Psalm describes how painful our exile can be. It is the Jews’ lament at being in Babylon, longing for Jerusalem.
“By the streams of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion,” it says. “How could we sing a song of the LORD in a foreign land?”
This pain paradoxically delivers the spiritual benefit of exile: It makes us appreciate our true home.
The Gospel shows us the way back.
It includes the famous verse: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”
It also includes the less famous, and equally important: “Everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light.”
We are in exile, and the only way home is through Christ. To go that way, we need to follow his commandments and meet him in the sacraments.
And not just us, we need to lead our nation back, too.
The great lesson here is that God is not somehow foreign to our experience. He is part and parcel with it and has entered into the world to show us the true meaning of the life he created for us here.
When we are looking for our ultimate home, what we are looking for is being itself. And being itself is God, the God who, when Moses asked his name, answered simply: “I am.”
The closer we are to him, the more we will answer, “In you, we are home.”