Pillar of Cloud

“For what great nation is there
that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us
whenever we call upon him?
Or what great nation has statutes and decrees
that are as just as this whole law
which I am setting before you today?

“However, take care and be earnestly on your guard
not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen,
nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live,
but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.”

—Deuteronomy 4:7–9

In today’s first reading, Moses speaks to the Israelites and reminds them of all that the Lord has done to lead them out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and into the Promised Land, which they are about to enter. His admonition to carefully keep God’s commandments is accompanied by this call to remember, to repeat the stories of the marvels God has done for this people through every generation. Moses knows that the people will struggle to carry out God’s commands, but if they keep those stories close and kindle a devotion to the God who has rescued them from slavery and led them through the wilderness, they will be more likely to observe God’s law because of their love for Him.

While they traveled in the wilderness, God led them in a more tangible way: in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. As they enter into the Promised Land, His guidance will not be so immediately apparent. As they enjoy all the new comforts of the land, it will become all too easy to forget their need for God. And so Moses implores the people to remember: to keep God’s Word engraved upon their hearts, instilled in the minds and hearts of their children, and ingrained within all their habits and traditions. The covenant God has made with them is everlasting; it should be the root and foundation of their lives, for all generations. We see Jesus affirm this in today’s Gospel reading, that He has come not to abolish but to fulfill the law. Jesus brings to fruition every letter of these promises that Moses is asking the Israelites to remember.

Right now, we are approaching spring, both literally and metaphorically. The snowbanks are melting, and buds are just starting to appear. We are still in the midst of the long winter of this pandemic, but it feels like we might be beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. During this past year, we have been brought to our knees by suffering, loss, anxiety, and helplessness. As our lives start to get somewhat back to normal, let us look to Moses’s admonition and not forget what God has done for us in the wilderness. Even in the most difficult moments, even when we strayed and complained and doubted in Him, He has been leading us. As we transition from night into day, God will continue to lead us, but by a pillar of cloud instead of a pillar of fire; we must adjust our eyes to keep our focus upon Him.

By day, we are led by Mystery; by night, we are led by Fire and Light. In our darkest moments, the Lord draws us forward by illuminating the path at our feet: always just the next few steps, leading us as a beacon in the night. We may be overwhelmed by the unknown terrors that surround us, but He stays before us, and we follow close, utterly dependent on His Light. But in the daylight of our lives, when we are surrounded by so many distractions and could go any way we choose, His Presence is the one thing that is veiled in mystery, drawing us toward a divinity beyond our comprehension. In the daylight, it can be all too easy to allow our eyes to drift away from that pillar of cloud and instead grasp toward things that we can take hold of and understand.

Sometimes it seems easier to follow God by night, when we are in survival mode and it seems there is only one possible step to take at a time, than by day, when we are overwhelmed by distractions and indecision. Whenever we find ourselves in this place, let us remember Moses’s call to remember, to set God at the center of our hearts and recall all the marvels He has worked in our lives. Then, as we travel onward, we can turn our eyes toward the cloud of His Presence, gently guiding us deeper into His Mystery.

Prayer of St. Elizabeth of the Trinity:
O my God, Trinity whom I adore, help me to forget myself entirely that I may be established in you as still and as peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity.
May nothing trouble my peace or make me leave You, O my Unchanging One, but may each minute carry me further into the depths of Your Mystery.


1. Benjamin West, Joshua Passing the River Jordan with the Ark of the Covenant / PD-US
2. Ivan Aivazovsky, Passage of the Jews through the Red Sea / PD-US

The Law of the Sabbath

Jesus was going through a field of grain on the sabbath.
His disciples were hungry
and began to pick the heads of grain and eat them.
When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him,
“See, your disciples are doing what is unlawful to do on the sabbath.”
He said to them, “Have you not read what David did
when he and his companions were hungry,
how he went into the house of God and ate the bread of offering,
which neither he nor his companions
but only the priests could lawfully eat?
Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath
the priests serving in the temple violate the sabbath
and are innocent?
I say to you, something greater than the temple is here.
If you knew what this meant, I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
you would not have condemned these innocent men.
For the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath.”
—Matthew 12:1–8

Jesus’s response to the Pharisees in this passage highlights the purpose of the Mosaic law: it is was not implemented as a means of controlling and restricting the Jewish people, but rather as a way to establish a relationship between God and His chosen people and to serve as a constant reminder of the covenant that was yet to be fulfilled. Jesus gives examples in which God called people to violate the letter of the law in order to serve a much higher law. Though unworthy of drawing close to God by serving Him in the temple and of consuming the bread of offering, the Jewish priests perform these actions because God has called them to do so. When they are serving in the temple, their actions, though technically against what is prescribed for the sabbath, are holy, for they are standing on sacred ground and fulfilling the duties of their calling. They prefigure a closer intimacy between God and man, when God will sanctify men to be in relationship with Him and serve at the highest altar.

It follows then, that Jesus’s words carried an implication that would have been shocking to the Pharisees. He is speaking with authority above the law, declaring that His disciples are following a higher purpose just by being in His midst. Simply being in Jesus’s presence is sacred—even more so than the temple itself. He is the fulfillment of God’s covenant, of the Holy of Holies. He is the Temple of God’s new covenant of mercy. Through His sacrifice for us, the veil between God and man has been torn in two, and we can behold the Face of God without perishing.

In Jesus’s presence, the disciples ate grain on the sabbath to assuage their hunger. Hunger is an inescapable part of the human condition—both the hunger of our bodies for sustenance and the hunger of our souls for meaning and redemption. Jesus responds fully to our hunger, ministering to the deepest aches and longings within us: body and soul, mind and heart. Every Sunday, we consume Bread on the sabbath, opening ourselves up to receive the only food that can truly fill the deep, piercing hunger within us. It is the fulfillment of God’s promise to rescue us from the depths of our sin. Jesus, present in the Eucharist, looks upon us with mercy and invites us to draw closer to the mystery of His overwhelming love for us.