Oh, grant us endless length of days,
in our true native land with thee.
Amen.

– O Salutaris Hostia

This Sunday’s second reading from the first letter of Peter reminds us to “conduct ourselves with reverence during the time of sojourning. . . realizing that you have been ransomed . . . with the precious blood of Christ.” (1 Peter 1: 17-19)  Daniel Keating, in his commentary notes that the Greek word translated here as sojourning (NAB) or exile (RSV) and in other instances as “alien” is paroikia or paroikos.  The word literally means “one who is dwelling beside” or “beside the house”, but it came to also mean someone who was not living in their home country or area — a sojourner or an alien.   St. Peter uses both words to remind Christians that, “just as Israel had no permanent home in Egypt or Babylon, so Christians have no final dwelling among the nations where they now live.”  (Keating)  Dr. Keating gives us this very challenging question, in light of this truth, “Are we Americans first of all and Christians only secondarily?  Where is our primary identity?” 

Even more interesting to me is that our English word, “parish” derives from paroikia.  “The local church — our parish — is meant to be the gathering of Christian ‘sojourners’ and ‘aliens’ who are far from their true home.” (Keating)  Where is our true home?  Or our “true native land” as St. Thomas Aquinas says in the hymn that we so often sing as part of Benediction? Heaven is our true home.  And although we will experience it fully after we die, heaven is also wherever God dwells — “with thee” St. Thomas says.  The catechism says, “God’s kingdom has been coming since the Last Supper and, in the Eucharist, is in our midst.” (CCC 2816) In a real sense, we experience glimpses of heaven right here.  We also know that God has come to dwell within us.  The Holy Spirit has made his home in our souls at our Baptism.  His gifts were confirmed in us at our Confirmation,  and we have been forever changed by this reality.  

In this time of social distancing, this gave me some pause.  In many ways, we may feel more intensely like we are “exiled”.  We certainly feel “exiled” from some places — our parish church, our schools and perhaps our workplaces.  So perhaps because we can identify more closely with feeling exiled, we will be more open to hearing St. Peter’s advice on Sunday to “conduct ourselves with reverence.”  It strikes me as ironic that I am feeling exiled from the “gathering of exiles” (the Church).  But this, like all that we are experiencing currently, can prove to be a fruitful lesson.  Even the Church, where heaven and earth meet each time the Eucharist is celebrated, is not the fullness of our true home.  It is in as much as God dwells there. Our true home is where God dwells, in all of the places where He dwells.  And this is the God who loves us passionately.  The God who ransomed us with his own blood.  Our God who will come to us and be with us no matter where we are because He thirsts for us.  

I miss my parish family greatly.  And rightly so.  But I am comforted in knowing God is here.  He is with me.  He will not abandon me.  And today He has reminded me that as long as I live on this earth, I do so as a pilgrim.  A pilgrim invited to walk with Someone who is always with me, guiding me and leading me to an eternal embrace with Love itself.  And when we are able to gather as pilgrims once again to celebrate the Eucharist, I pray we all do it with a greater awareness of our final home and our primary identity.

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