Loving God in total trust and obedience
In May, my husband and I traveled to Ireland for a grandchild’s confirmation. It was a wonderful, joyous trip spent with family. That joy ended abruptly when it was time to return home. First, my husband tested positive for COVID-19; then I did, several days later (we were both asymptomatic). This meant that under the COVID-19 protocols at the time (it has since been rescinded), we could not return to the United States until we tested negative for the virus and 10 days had passed.
We were in temporary exile. To make it worse, due to serious health issues we could not stay with either our daughter’s family or my husband’s brother once we tested positive. Therefore, we were also exiled from the family.
Although it was a temporary exile, it still left us feeling a bit lost and rootless. A generous friend offered us his vacation home deep in the countryside. It was very beautiful, but it was also very isolated. Exiled indeed.
But then Christians are an exiled people. We are a pilgrim Church. No matter how much we love our country or the community we reside in, we are, in effect, resident aliens.
“The Church, while on earth it journeys in a foreign land away from the Lord, is like in exile. It seeks and experiences those things which are above, where Christ is seated at the right-hand of God, where the life of the Church is hidden with Christ in God until it appears in glory with its Spouse” (Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, No. 6).
St. Augustine taught that we are made for the heavenly kingdom of God. But Christians must journey through the city of man on the route to our destination — the City of God. Every person in the world, according to Augustine, chooses to belong to the city of man or to the City of God. To choose the city of man means to choose self over God and neighbor. This results in destruction and permanent exile.
To choose the City of God, however, means to love God in total trust and obedience. Choosing the City of God means that we will arrive at our heavenly destination.
The Christian journey home is arduous. It is filled with potholes of temptation.
It takes courage to follow Jesus Christ. In his first homily after being elected as pope, Pope Francis (speaking to the cardinals) reminded them that, when we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross and when we confess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord, but worldly. He concluded by urging them to have the courage to walk with Christ.
Our exile began with Adam and Eve, and their expulsion from paradise. Sin always leads to exile. The season of Advent is a time to look to the coming of Jesus Christ and the promised end of exile. John the Baptist shouts from the desert of exile to prepare our hearts for the coming of our Savior.
Advent is a time to take a long hard look at the state of our souls to prepare for the way of the Lord. The child in Mary’s womb is the Messiah, who will lead us out of exile.
Christian discipleship means that, while on earth, we will live in exile. The values of our culture cannot be reconciled with the Truth of Christ. We live in a time when the Christian understanding of what it means to be human is at odds with the prevailing culture. There is even great confusion, today, as to what it means to be male and female.
To be able to resist conforming ourselves to the culture, we need to form strong communities of faith. Resisting conformity is something we cannot do on our own.
As we were driving into our parish parking lot after finally returning from Ireland, I told my husband that we were finally home. It is in the church, on the altar, that the kingdom of God and the city of man meet. It is there that we receive Jesus in the Eucharist. It is there that we are given a reprieve from exile.
SUSAN KEHOE is co-director of RCIA at Christ the King Parish in Des Moines, Iowa, along with her husband, Deacon Larry Kehoe. She writes at adeaconswife.com.