By Teresa Mottet
(Following is a reflection offered by a member of St. Mary Parish in Fairfield during a closing prayer service Jan. 24 at St. Mary’s former church.)
As we move from these old familiar surroundings to a new place where we have not been before, let us take heart from our ancestors in faith. Their history is one of being called many times to move out of familiar places to go to a new and different place.
We read in the Old Testament how it began with Abraham, our father in faith. When he was 99 years old God called him to take his wife Sarah and all his possessions, his slaves and his livestock, and move to a new country that God would show him. He did not know the destination; he only had guidance each day as they went along. But he obeyed God and today he is honored as a great spiritual leader.
Then came the Israelites being led by Moses out of Egypt into a new land of their own. They wandered in the desert for 40 years before arriving in Canaan. They often grumbled and wished to go back to Egypt where they knew the routine and at least had enough to eat. The uncertainties of the journey to the new destination created difficulties for them and at times they did not feel they could keep on. But under God’s leadership they completed the journey and became a new nation and a new people, united in their belief in one God.
So, too, as we move to our new location. It will seem unfamiliar at first, but with trust and faith in God we will be united into a new people, a family of God.
A third example is Ruth. She was married to one of Naomi’s two sons. The whole extended family lived in a place called Moab. Naomi’s husband died, and about 10 years later both of the sons died. This left Naomi a widow and also her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth. A widow’s life in those days was very difficult without a man to support her. So Naomi told her daughters-in-law to go back to their parents’ households where they would be taken care of. Orpah went, but Ruth stayed with Naomi. She spoke these words: “Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people and your God my God.”
She stayed with Naomi as they traveled long distances, eventually arriving in Bethlehem. Naomi had an influential relative there, named Boaz. After the two women had worked long and hard in Boaz’ fields, Ruth eventually married Boaz, and she was thereby joined to the Israelite people. She and Boaz had a son named Obed who became the grandfather of King David. So Ruth was an ancestor of Jesus, all because she left her familiar surroundings and traveled with Naomi to a new place.
In the New Testament we know the story of how Mary and Joseph followed God’s command to take the infant Jesus and flee to Egypt to save his life from Herod’s wrath. It was a difficult journey for them: no superhighways or hotels; but they went. I think it is ironic that they went to Egypt for refuge and that Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt 1,300 years earlier, for their safety. Perhaps it was God’s way of showing forgiveness for Egypt, and to show that no one is beyond God’s love and mercy.
Then in the early days of Christianity, Peter and Paul and others left the security of their homes and traveled to new and distant places to bring the message of Christ’s love and salvation to all people wherever they went. The traveling was dangerous. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 11: “Five times at the hands of the Jews I received 40 lashes minus one; three times I was beaten with rods; I was stoned once, shipwrecked three times; I passed a day and a night on sea. I traveled continually, endangered by floods, robbers, my own people, the Gentiles; imperiled in the city, in the desert, at sea, by false brothers; enduring labor, hardship, many sleepless nights; in hunger and thirst and frequent fastings, in cold and nakedness … I was lowered in a basket through a window in the wall to escape arrest.”
Quite a litany. We won’t encounter such difficulties in moving from this building to our new church, I’m sure.
So we take leave of this familiar and well-loved building; we take our memories with us. But do not fear. As we move on to our new place, God will provide us with new events and happenings to create new memories. Remember the old ones, embrace the new. We trust that God will unite us into a stronger faith family and lead us all to our final destination: eternal happiness with God in the kingdom of heaven.”