Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Sojourner?

After a long respite, I'm back plugging away at St. Augustine's City of God and presently somewhat taken by his reflection on Cain as the builder of the earthly city whose sacrifice God did not accept and Abel, the just man, with Seth after him, as a sojourner on the way to the City of God.

It is no small challenge to live this life not seeking here a lasting dwelling place and all kinds of creature comforts, even though we firmly believe that our place is with the Lord. Yes, I think our sympathies rest with the earthly city and that is indeed the problem. No doubt, it is for that reason that any sacrifices we make, as was the case with Cain, are unacceptable simply because they are proportionately insufficient to all we hold tightly in our grasp, wrongly directed or intentioned. We cling, as Cain did, to the here and now... I hope St. Augustine is not too bothered by my analysis.

Sadly, it would seem, our hearts are set on the earthly city and material rather than spiritual gain. Apart from the upright stewardship of material resources with which we-parents or we-spouses express our love for children and for husband or wife, in today's world especially we set material priorities which are misplaced and often postpone the call from God to found a family or at least try to found one, denying by action or omission that which is integral to the sacrament of matrimony.

The Book of Tobit is strong on family and teaching the importance of almsgiving and that of other such (like burying the dead), on the singular importance of what we once learned were the corporal works of mercy. This is as it should be; Nineveh, the earthly city, must be left behind. We have here no lasting dwelling place. We are called to be sojourners and most of us are brought to that vocation kicking and screaming.

Nineveh, the great city of the prophet Jonah, Sodom and Gomorrah must be left behind. They offer nothing which brings peace, only material goods to be envied by others.

I can remember lots of years ago, certainly more than 20, when Mom expressed a wish to have on the wall at home a framed picture of the old Klondike Mill near her folk's farm in northwest Iowa. The mill represented for her all that was good about her childhood and that was just about everything. I don't know if it was a flour mill or a saw mill or if it was still working those long years ago; all that seemed important to Mom was the mill as a backdrop to the mill pond where as a tiny girl she would go fishing for bullheads with her father. It is a fond memory of subsistence farming, of the simple life, what some people today might class as poverty; it is joy gathered from a sufficiency of love, like that dolly which disappeared one day without a trace only to reappear at Christmas with a brand-new homemade dress and hat. For sojourners it was enough.

Families don't choose to be poor, but we can certainly all choose to be sojourners as opposed to city-dwellers, established and secure. Job, despite his great suffering, understood our calling best when he said that it is the Lord Who gives and the Lord Who takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

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