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Archbishop | Hitting rock bottom

Times of trial are chances to renew our relationship with God

What does it take to bring someone to their senses?

Consider the parable of the Prodigal Son. After he squandered all of his money, a famine struck the land — that was bad — and he found a job tending the pigs — that was worse. He longed to eat the pigs’ food, though no one gave him any — that was rock bottom. And that’s when he came to his senses.

In the history of the Jewish people, the Exile was rock bottom. It actually was a series of events, just like the Exodus, but its centerpiece happened in 587 BC, when the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar invaded Jerusalem. His army killed people, utterly destroyed the city – including the Temple of Solomon – and deported the leaders of the nation.

'Messianic Predictions' from the Saint John's Bible
Photo Credits: Thomas Ingmire, copyright 2005, Saint John's University, Collegeville, Minn.
It was a national calamity. The people appeared to have lost all of the promises God had made. It would have been easy for the Jewish people to lose their faith. Some probably did. But Israel, as a nation, came to its senses during the Exile.

Amid physical, psychological and religious suffering in the land of the Exile, they rediscovered their relationship with God. It was, in some ways, a long Lent; they came to see it like that — as a time of purification. As with the Prodigal Son, hitting rock bottom became an occasion for Israel to return to the Father’s house.

And what about us? We’ve all known people who came to their senses only after getting the stuffing knocked out of them. To be sure, we don’t believe that every disaster is a punishment for our sins. Jesus set that straight in John 9, in His encounter with the man born blind. But experience tells us — and faith confirms — that every calamity contains an opportunity to deepen our relationship with the Lord.

We see this pattern throughout salvation history. Joseph was sold into slavery, then rose to the height of Pharaoh’s court and saved his people. Israel was persecuted in Egypt, then lived through the Exodus and travelled into the Promised Land. The Jewish people were deported into Babylon and revitalized their faith. Jesus was crucified, then rose from the dead. It’s no wonder the Catechism says that “the Exile stands in the shadow of the Cross.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 710) In the life of faith, every time of trial is a potential time of renewal.

When we face trials, we have a choice: we can become bitter and lose faith, or the trial can become an occasion for deepening our relationship with God. In the Exile, the Jewish people renewed and deepened their faith. I pray that each of us will follow their example.

Sin has exiled us from the land of the covenant, but conversion of heart enables us to return to the Father, to heaven.

Catechism of the Catholic Church 2795

Read about the facts of the Exile in 2 Kings 24 & 25 and 2 Chronicles 36.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses the Exile in paragraphs 710, 769, 1005, 1012, 1081, 1093, 1681 & 2795.

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