“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—Deuteronomy 4:7–9
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.”
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