As Christians, we believe that God is present in any situation—even in the tragic lives of many refugees. The challenge for us and for them is to discover how God is present in exile and what God is trying to tell us. If exile means neither punishment nor abandonment by God, then we need to change our sight in order to discover its significance. In the book of the prophet Ezekiel the Lord God spoke these words to the people of Israel who had been driven from their homes into exile: “I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you; and a new spirit I will put within you . . .”
The word of God is sharper than a double-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). It challenges our preconceptions. Israel had to learn not to make of the land an absolute value, even if it was the Promised Land. God wants to free people from exile, as from any kind of oppression, but in God’s eyes the liberation from sin—from any kinds of evil brought about by our actions and attitudes—is at least as important as liberation from exile. The situation prior to forced displacement is not necessarily the ideal to seek. We can deceive ourselves into by dreaming of return home or longing for resettlement while forgetting our neighbor’s need close to us.
Experience teaches us that to be in one’s own land is no better for justice and peace if our hearts are filled with hatred, envy, selfishness or violence. Exile can then become a chance for conversion, an opportunity to come to know God better, the way he is present and active in history and in our lives, what he wants from us, and, ultimately, who he is. It is a chance to let God change our hearts so we may change our lives. Fr. Fratern Masawe of the Jesuit Province of Eastern Africa reflected, “After seeing the worst of us in what causes it, exile may bring about the best in us.”
Suggestions for Prayer:
- The PowerPoint presentation, I Shall Take You from among the Nations, reflects on Ezechiel 36 and how difficult times in our history can lead us to a deeper conversion and to a deeper knowledge of God. To view this PowerPoint, clickhere.
- Fr. Jack Mattimore serves a JRS/USA chaplain in a US government-sponsored detention center where many non-US citizen detainees, separated from their families, await deportation to their home countries. JRS chaplains help them come to grips with reality of detention and discover where God is for them at this difficult time in their lives. To read more about Fr. Mattimore’s reflections on serving a chaplain in a detention facilty, click here.
- God can speak to refugees and to those who work with and for them in ways that are simple and ordinary, but full of life, such as a birth of child. So it was with the birth of Jesus himself. Recall the words of the prophet Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” In what way is God calling you to serve him and his people?