Beginning in 721 B.C., after repeated warnings from the prophets, terrible waves of destruction came on the Jewish people. The Assyrians invaded and conquered the ten northern tribes of Israel. The survivors were exiled and in a certain sense were not heard from again. (They are often called the “Ten lost tribes of Israel.”)
Small, feeble attempts at reform in the south for Judah and the Levites were mostly unsuccessful. Again, despite repeated warnings from the prophets, 587 B.C. was witness to another wave of destruction: the Babylonians invaded and destroyed Jerusalem. The city lay in ruins, the temple burned and looted. The survivors were exiled in Babylon and for eighty years the Promised Land lay in ruins.
How could this be? Why would God allow His people to be conquered? Worse yet, how could He allow the temple to be destroyed?
But He did. God does not care about buildings and land. He cares about the temple of our soul and a harvest of justice.
Even though His people were severely pruned and waiting for a spring of new growth, God did not forsake them utterly; He nurtured a remnant in Babylon. Through His prophets, God taught them to remain faithful and to await the day of liberation that would surely come.
We do well to look at a repentance text, a simple and humble text with very few moving parts. Why? Because many of us, especially the older of us, remember a once-flourishing Church that had enormous numbers and was influential in the culture. Back then over 80% of Catholics attended Mass every Sunday. Our schools and churches were packed and the faithful were generally respectful of Church teaching. Poor laborers and immigrants built glorious monuments to the faith along with schools, universities, hospitals, and orphanages. While we ought not to idealize those times, it is hard to argue that they did not produce a remarkable legacy of buildings, institutions, and large Catholic families.
But a cultural earthquake in the West shook us vigorously and many were lost to us. Today only 20-25% of Catholics attend Mass regularly. Once-packed churches have closed or been merged with others. Schools and seminaries have been shuttered and a flock that was once largely obedient has been infested with dissenting voices up to some of the highest levels. Birthrates have plummeted, liturgy has widely degraded, and catechesis seems ineffective against a secular juggernaut. Even those who have tried to stay faithful feel lost, weak, and discouraged.
It is not 587 B.C. by a longshot, but we cannot help but see some similarities. It may be good to recall this simple, humble text summoning all to repentance and encouraging the faithful remnant to stay true:
If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land (2 Chron. 7:14).
Well, what do you think? Is this really so complicated? The Lord seeks a humble, broken people who seek Him and His truth. Are you among them? Be careful, the Lord is not seeking a people who are proud and who denounce others; He had that in the Pharisees. What if changing others were not my primary task? What if repenting more deeply of my own sins were my focus? What if humbling myself were to come before finding fault in others? What if turning from my own sins were what would get God’s attention and bring healing on this land?
It’s pretty hard to change the world, but when it comes to my own life I stand a chance to be able to affect my acreage and claim it back for God.
King Jesus is listening all day long to hear a humble sinner pray. Too often we assess the problems in others, in the rival political party, in secularism, in culture. All of these areas certainly need help, but when do we ever get around to following what God asks of us: that we humble ourselves, pray, seek His face, and repent of our sinful ways?
I don’t know how or even if our land will be healed. Better cultures and empires than ours have fallen. But empires and cultures consist of individuals, and among us God seeks those who will humble themselves, seek His face, and turn from their sinful ways. Why not me? Why not you? Why complicate things? It is easier to wear slippers than to carpet the whole of the earth. What is God asking you to do to change this Hell-bound, sin-soaked world? Why not do it? What if the change of the whole world were to begin with you and me?