There is a fine line between moral prudence and moral cowardice. There is an even finer line between trusting and not trusting God. I admit that discerning these things can be difficult. But in praying with Ezra the other day, I discovered something all of us need to think about more often than we do.
Ezra, as many readers will recall, was permitted by King Cyrus of Persia to spearhead a Jewish mission out of exile and back to Jerusalem, to rebuild the Temple of the Lord. He made ready and at length gathered all those who would accompany him on the banks of the river Ahava. Then, with all in order for what could be expected to be a dangerous journey, Ezra chose not to take advantage of the protection Cyrus had allowed to him. Here is how he explains it:
I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods. For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.” So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty. [Ez 8:21-23]
It seems to me that however else we may describe it, the Church was not ashamed to rely on secular power and authority in its response to COVID. Another way to put it is that the Church has not been embarrassed to rely on the State rather than on God, for embarrassment is a recognition of our own shame.
I suspect that many who reflect now upon Ezra’s motivation in setting out for Jerusalem without taking every worldly precaution will recognize something that ought to have been more significantly present in all the Catholic decisions made about COVID: More significantly present to the Pope and the bishops who so quickly shut down access to the sacraments; more significantly present to Catholics in the pews who so quickly determined to stay away from the sacraments until the State deemed them absolutely safe; and far more significantly present to all those who have happily remained away, often enough agreeing with the secular authorities that religion is merely an optional sentiment after all.
Yes, we were all taken by surprise. So fool me once, shame on you, but fool me twice, shame on me. Ezra, however, wasn’t fooled even the first time. He knew that trust in God is more than a pious thought, because he recognized it as the very foundation of the believer’s way of life. We need to recognize that too.
When we finally grow up, we should want to be like Ezra.
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