Never despair of God’s mercy! God’s love knows no bounds. He does not seek to punish us; He does not desire our destruction. He does not cast us away from Him or curse us.
In today’s first reading, we hear the great prophet Jeremiah calling out to the people of Israel, who are exiled from their land and are captive in Babylon. At first glance, it might seem that God has indeed cast away the Israelites. We hear Jeremiah telling them that the Lord will gather the remnant and bring them back to the Promised Land.
Many think that the Babylonian Exile was punishment for Israel’s disobedience and idolatry. I disagree with this view. It seems much more a case of an event – even a tragic event – being allowed to happen not because it was a punitive action but because it was a medicinal correction. God sought not to punish, but to cure.
Idolatry and disobedience had, indeed, taken hold of much of Israel. It was a sickness that had to be removed for the good of the whole body, less the entire body of Israel die from it. Is a doctor who removes a diseased organ cruel?
Of course not! He is very merciful in the way that God is merciful. If one were in the business of second-guessing God – a business I do not recommend – one might ask why the disease wasn’t removed sooner. The answer – both in terms of salvation history as seen in the people of Israel during their exile and in terms of our own personal salvation – is very much the same.
God desires our salvation, and He gives us what we need to respond to His grace so that our salvation may be realized. However, He does not force that upon us. We are still free and we should act responsibly. The perfect love of God presupposes that we will use our capacity for wisdom and reflection to make good choices and that we will exercise our free will to select that which is best for our own good. This is true for us as individuals and it is true for us as a parish community, as a civil community, and as a national community… just as it was true for ancient Israel as a people.
For us today, in a very real and concrete way, this means we have both God-given rights and God-given responsibilities. We have the right to exercise our free will and we have the responsibility to do so in a manner that follows from a wise and careful understanding of what our authentic good is, both personally and within a community. In other words, since God lets us make choices we are obligated to make the best choices possible. We must do the good and reject the evil. What’s more, we must do that for ourselves and to the maximum degree that is possible within our individual circumstance, we must do it for the communities in which we find ourselves.
The first and most important community in which we find ourselves is the family. Some families are healthy; some less so. The healthiest families are those in which every member is doing his or her best to advance the family… to make being a part of that family a pleasure and not a burden.
In the family, everyone has a choice: they can be satisfied with the status quo. They can keep doing what they’ve always done and they can keep getting what they’ve always gotten. This might be a good thing if the family is healthy and ideal. If not, then it might not be a good thing.
Of course, a person also has the ability to choose to do nothing to make the family better. A person could even actively choose to try to make someone else in the family miserable. In these cases, the health of the family is likely to suffer and everyone will be worse off, including and especially the person who chooses to not seek the best way.
Ideally, a person chooses to seek ways to improve the family for everyone. None of us, I expect, live in a perfect family. There is always room for improvement, and so we should all be working to the best of our individual abilities to improve our families. Yes; the father of the family has more responsibilities for this than the youngest baby, but everyone has rights and responsibilities to the family community – even the youngest members. Even if they are an infant capable of doing nothing other than being taken care of, that in itself is an action proper to their state. It gives other family members the opportunity to demonstrate their love and their own maturity when they care for that infant. Besides, in time that infant will likely grow to maturity and have a family of his or her own; their time will come.
God’s love for us is such that we are equipped with the tools we need to make our communities – our worlds – a better place. God doesn’t send us out poorly prepared and ill equipped to do what we need to do. He sends us out with His grace and His love; He gives us a perfect model in Christ. He sets us on the path and calls us to walk it, and He gives us the grace we need to do so. We are blessed abundantly.
Just as we are called to work for the good of our family community, so are we called to work for the good of the other communities in which we find ourselves: our parish community, our city community, our state and our national communities. Even the world is, in its own way, a community in which we find ourselves. Are each of us called to change the world, to make it a better place? Yes, though the way in which we do that varies widely depending on our state in life. Not all of us can be the President of the United States or the Secretary General of the United Nations. But all of us can carry the Gospel to all of the places we go, and in so doing help fulfill the commandment to spread the Good News to all peoples and lands.
We should look for ways to make all of our worlds — all of our communities —better than they have been before, because this is the response God’s love demands. When we pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, we should not let these be empty words. We should be actively working to bring about that reality in all of the places we find ourselves, because that is an honest reflection of God’s love and a wise response in love to what God gives us.
Let us always pray for wisdom and discernment so that we can see the many, many ways in which we are called to make our communities a better place where the love of God and the fellowship of man is apparent to all. Let us always remember that the world is not transformed so much by the action of a few who are mighty, but by the vast multitude seeking the good of all in their individual lives and circumstances.