2. Parting and Returning...
Prayer before meditation
God our Father, may the words of the Bible awaken in me the hunger for Your mercy, which you so abundantly wish to bestow on me. Christ, You said that where two or three are gathered in Your name, there You will be among them. Let me experience Your presence in our community. Holy Spirit, make my ears able to hear that which the Father says, enlighten my mind to understand the deeds of Christ, and enkindle my heart with Your presence, so that the word may become flesh in my life. Amen.
Passage from the Holy Bible
Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed; do not be discouraged, for you will not suffer disgrace; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the disgrace of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. For the Lord has called you like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, like the wife of a man’s youth when she is cast off, says your God. For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing wrath for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you, says the Lord, your Redeemer. This is like the days of Noah to me: Just as I swore that the waters of Noah would never again go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you and will not rebuke you. For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you.
The prophet’s word here is directed to his countrymen exiled in Babylon. Years are passing by, and hope of coming back to their homeland is not visible. Did God abandon His people because of the greatness of their sins? Could He have broken His covenant? “Do not be afraid” in the Book of Isaiah means “Don’t worry about God abandoning you”, because this will never happen. If God seems be hiding from someone, it is only so as to teach them something, to heal one of their weaknesses.
God compares Himself in this passage to the husband of an unfaithful wife, who left her for a period of time, so that the wife would know the seriousness of her sin. God does not waver from calling Himself the Spouse of Jerusalem (this analogy includes of course the whole of Israel), because this covenant is a bond of mutual faithfulness, similar to marriage. The people betrayed God, but God did not betray those whom He loves, He only helps them understand how great an evil is breaking off the bond of love.
But God is also called by a title which in that culture had a much broader meaning than today: Redeemer – in Heb Goel. In that culture if someone ran into difficulties because of debt, his closest relative – in this situation called a “goel” – had an obligation to ransom him; if someone was killed, his goel was obligated to avenge the bloodshed.
And now the next title: the Holy one of Israel. If you want to understand the paradox of this title, in the place of “Israel” place your name, and you will understand what the prophet wished to say. The Holy one of Michael, Elizabeth, or David… Soon we can recognize the immense gulf between His holiness and our weakness. And yet He does not waver in being called our God, our Creator, Spouse and Saviour.
And even if he chose to apply a “difficult therapy” to us, that little time of penance is nothing in comparison to His eternal love to us. God will help you learn, but will not ruin you – He promised Noah that He will never again destroy the creatures of the earth with floodwaters. Because even if the never changing mountains all of a sudden moved out of their place – which is simply impossible! – it is infinitely more impossible is that God would turn His love away from you.
Let us then not then think that this is a text written solely for exiles ages ago, dreaming about coming back to their homeland. In this fragment each of us can find a history of our own relationship with God, can find an answer to the question that humankind has posed for ages: “Why do you hide, Lord… why do you allow this?” God does not hide, He is present, surely even more than when we feel well, when we feel His closeness. He heals our weakness, teaches us difficult faithfulness, which is capable of overcoming obstacles, and above all assures us: “My love will not leave you.”
Proposed questions for discussion:
1. What am I afraid of? What spaces in my life are closed to God, why?
2. How do I treat the story of my life? Do I see in it a chain of accidents or the work of God’s love?
3. Do I trust in the Word of God about His unwavering love to me, or are these only empty words for me?
4. My view of God – do I treat Him like a severe judge and dictator or like a Spouse, who embraces us with love?
May you be adored, Lord, in all things that will be the fruit of our common prayer. May you be adored in persons, to whom we will carry the Good News of Your Infinite Mercy. May you be glorified in everyone preparing for a good experience of World Youth Day. Merciful God, help us on the paths of our lives and continually turn us back to You. Grant us, already on this earth, to taste the sweetness of Your forgiveness and through this prayer to come closer to meeting with You, face to face in Heaven. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.