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SERVE THE LORD WITH GLADNESS | Rebuilding involves both external and internal dimensions

As we rebuild parish boundaries, we need to also look at rebuilding our internal sense of mission

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

It’s time to rebuild!

That’s the message of the readings this week, which are situated during the time of ancient Israel’s return from the Babylonian Exile.

When the Jewish population returned to Jerusalem after the exile, they had to rebuild the Temple from the ground up. The prophet Ezra tells us about the external problems they faced in doing so, including interference from other nations in the project. The prophet Haggai tells us about the internal problems they faced in doing so, especially a lack of motivation from the population of Jerusalem itself. (Though, as Haggai points out, they had no problem with motivation when it came to building their own homes!)

The project of rebuilding the Temple was complicated enough! But there was another project for the post-exilic community that was even more complex: reestablishing their observance of the covenant with God in their daily lives. When all was said and done, rebuilding the Temple was simply an external project (even if a very important one!). The establishment of habits and patterns of relating to God and each other was the deeper and more complex “rebuilding” project.

There are some lessons there for our own situation!

Some parishes are rebuilding parish boundaries these days. Those communities, like the ancient Israelites, face external and internal difficulties in doing so. The task can look simple enough on paper, but the actual work is complex and takes time!

Even deeper than that, however, is our own version of the second task: to rebuild our sense of mission. What did it mean for ancient Israel to become, again, in their daily lives, a people of the covenant with God after the exile? What does it mean for us, today, to follow Jesus’ call to go out to all people with the Good News and make disciples?

We haven’t faced a disruption like the exile, to be sure — and thanks be to God for that! But contemporary culture has produced its own kind of disruption to religious life, so we have our own kind of rebuilding work to do.

It’s interesting to think about a parallel here. The ancient Jewish community went through exile, the return from exile and rebuilding after the return. Similarly, Jesus went through death, which was a kind of exile; resurrection, which was a kind of return; and the sending of the Spirit, which built the Church. We’re experiencing our own version of that pattern today. It can be comforting to know: The pattern is not a new one for God’s people.

As we rebuild, what are some things we need to put in place to build well? St. Jerome, whose feast we celebrate this week (Sept. 30), might say we could stand to study Scripture more deeply. St. Vincent De Paul, whose feast we celebrate this week (Sept. 27), might say we could stand to serve the poor more personally. St. Augustine, whom we read in the Office of Readings this week, speaks of seeking out the lost with greater determination, even when they’re not sure they want to be found!

As we talk to each other this week, let’s not just talk about the superficial things. Let’s talk about this: As you think of rebuilding, what’s the Lord placing on your heart as a point of focus?

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