On January 1, 2020 I started a plan to read through the Bible in a year. I am more than halfway through. This year I am reading the Holy Scriptures in the Douay Rheims version, an English translation from the Latin that predates the King James or Authorized Version (1611).
Today’s readings have me in 2 Esdras (Nehemiah), Proverbs, and Acts. As I read the first chapter of Nehemiah, his prayer to God after receiving word of the dire situation in Jerusalem post-captivity impacted me greatly. I have read this prayer countless times. This morning’s reading cut to the heart.
And when I had heard these words (regarding the condition of Jerusalem), I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days: and I fasted, and prayed before the face of the God of heaven.
And I said: I beseech thee, O Lord God of heaven, strong, great, and terrible, who keepest covenant and mercy with those that love thee, and keep thy commandments:
Let thy ears be attentive, and thy eyes open, to hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, night and day, for the children of Israel thy servants: and I confess the sins of the children of Israel, by which they have sinned against thee: I and my father’s house have sinned.
We have been seduced by vanity, and have not kept thy commandments, and ceremonies and judgments, which thou hast commanded thy servant Moses.
Remember the word that thou commandest to Moses thy servant, saying: If you shall transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations:
But if you return to me, and keep my commandments, and do them, though you should be led away to the uttermost parts of the world, I will gather you back from thence and bring you back to the place which I have chosen for my name to dwell there. (Nehemiah 1:4-9 DR).
The Catholic Church has traditionally understood itself to be the new Israel (Catechism of the Catholic Church 877). Just as Israel was God’s people in the Old Testament, the Church is his people now. https://catholicexchange.com/church-new-israel. So as Nehemiah hears of the condition of the city of Jerusalem and mourns over it, we too find ourselves weeping and mourning over our “Jerusalem.” And following the example of Nehemiah we are to fast and pray before the face of the God of heaven.
Nehemiah confessed the sins of his generation. Listen to his confession: “We have been seduced by vanity, and have not kept thy commandments, and ceremonies and judgments, which thou hast commanded thy servant Moses.” There were consequences for their sin. They found themselves scattered to the four winds.
Only God knows how much the recent events: fires, sacrileges and attacks on Christianity are a result of our sins of vanity, and failure to keep God’s commandments, ceremonies and judgments. That is not mine to determine. Yet it does seem appropriate to forsake the vanity that seduces us in order to follow the example of Nehemiah who wept, mourned, fasted and prayed.
Nehemiah reminds God of his promise to a repentant people: “But if you return to me, and keep my commandments, and do them, though you should be led away to the uttermost parts of the world, I will gather you back from thence and bring you back to the place which I have chosen for my name to dwell there.“
Seduction by vanity looks a lot like casting blame on the culture instead of recognizing that the culture is where it is because God’s people (myself included) have failed to keep God’s commandments, ceremonies and judgments. I close with St. Peter’s powerful words in his first letter:
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or a wrongdoer, or a mischief-maker; yet if one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God. For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:12-17 RSV).