Saturday, March 22, 2014

Reflections on Exodus Then and Now By: Sister M. Joseph

Those of us who pray the Liturgy of the Hours are deeply into the story of the Israelite's Exodus from Egypt, for that is the continual story related in the Office of Readings during Lent.  The older Sisters fondly remember how our Sister Mary, one of the foundresses of our community, would get so excited each year on the night we would cross the Red Sea.  (Poor Clares pray this liturgical office at midnight).  Even when she was dying of cancer she pleaded to be there rather than to sleep through that epic event.  Another of our Sisters has meditated on some key moments of the exodus story, and it is my joy to share some of them with you here.  Stay tuned for further installments! 

     “Come now! I will send you to Pharaoh to lead my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of Egypt?” He answered, “I will be with you…”

     The call is given, the call of our vocation, and that is sufficient security to begin our journey. The call is given to Moses and through him to the whole people of Israel. We are all called by Holy Mother Church to leave the land of Egypt, the land of our bondage to sin. We are called forth to enter a land of desert, an unknown land filled with dangers; but we can set forth with confidence for the simple reason that God will go with us. He is our Way and He is the End of our journey.

     “Leave us alone. Let us serve the Egyptians, far better for us to be slaves of the Egyptians that to die in the desert.”

     We would rather live enslaved to the ease of the world and our selfishness then to go out into the desert of asceticism and self-denial. God invites us to a life of the spirit, a life which seeks to rid us of the encumbrances of self and looks for all its joy and sustenance in Him alone. But there are times when we tell Him. “No, I would rather be a slave to my selfish desires, my self-will.”
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites to turn about and camp in front of Baal-Zephon, just opposite, by the see. Pharaoh will then say, “The Israelites are wandering about aimlessly in the land. The desert has closed in on them.”

     Sometimes obedience can seem to us like aimless wandering around by obeying what seems foolishness to us. Yet the Israelites obey promptly. They walk straight into the trap between the Egyptians and the Red Sea and find themselves not closed in by the desert but closed into God’s loving embrace. God’s watchful eye is over them all the while. What looks like aimless wandering is a wise plan of an all-provident God. And look at their reward! They cross the Red Sea in ease while leaving their enemy to drown behind them, an event they will celebrate for generations to come. We will join them in like celebrations if we obey without question.
The Israelites looked up and saw that the Egyptians were on the march in pursuit of them. In great fright they cried out to the Lord.

     But before their reward a terrifying trial! They cry out in fear and even rebellion instead of praying with faith, just as the apostles later did when Our Lord was with them in the sinking boat. Instead of praying with faith, instead of fervent prayer, there were frantic cries. The apostles are rebuked, “O ye men of little faith!” In such situations it is impermissible not to pray, but our prayer must be a prayer of faith. We must really believe that a God who can save us or who can allow us to suffer is listening. There was more of doubt and selfish fear in the cries of the Israelites than faith and surrender to God. “Why have you brought us out here?” does not show much faith. We may cry out in prayer providing we are also focusing on God and our prayer ends: not my will but Yours be done.

     But Moses answered the people, “Fear not”. Stand your ground, and you will see the victory the Lord will win for you today. The Lord Himself will fight for you; you have only to keep quiet. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward.”

     Here we have a great plan of action when fear and trouble surround us. The so familiar biblical greeting: Fear not; then, stand your ground, at least do not retreat! Stay where you are and face the danger and you will see the Lord winning the victory for you. The Lord Himself will fight for you if you keep quiet. Suffer in silence. What wise counsel! If you suffer in silence, God will surely come to you. It is very difficult to suffer in silence. We want to cry out. We want someone to know we are suffering. It is a far greater thing to keep our sufferings for the Lord. Speaking of them is like going to Egypt for vain help instead of relying on Yahweh, who alone is our fortress, our stronghold, our defense in times of trouble. Then the last dictum, “go forward to the impossible and watch it under God’s hand become possible.

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