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Bible Reflections View Comments

Where Is Our Egypt?
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, March 3, 2013
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In the Hebrew Scriptures, Egypt is a powerful symbol for bondage and oppression. We miss some of this because we’ve come to think of Egypt as the land of King Tut and the great archaeological discoveries of the last two centuries. We see it as a great ancient civilization, a place of knowledge and power. But the Hebrew people paid a great price for their sojourn in Egypt, away from the Promised Land. Forced there by famine and initially favored by the pharaoh, they descended into slavery. Even once they were freed from that slavery, their long trip through the desert made them nostalgic for what they saw as a comfortable life, forgetting in their freedom the oppression that they had known.

In today’s first reading, Moses is fleeing from a rather checkered past in Egypt. He’s on the run from a murder charge. He gave up his comfortable life in the palace when he chose to side with the oppressed Hebrew slaves. That action seems to have caught God’s attention. Moses encounters the Lord in the midst of a burning bush. He’s first curious about the phenomenon, then awed by the presence of God. But in the midst of it all, he comes close enough to hear what God is asking. His response isn’t immediate. He asks questions. He hesitates. But in the end he agrees to what God is asking.

God tells Moses that he is being sent by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This title summarizes the whole history of the Hebrew covenant to that point. Moses, though raised in the Egyptian court, is one of the chosen people, the people of the covenant. We don’t know how much he knew of his heritage. But his birthright defines who he is and determines his destiny. In the same way, our lives are shaped by the fact that we are baptized into the life of Christ. That first yes to God, whether our parents said it for us or whether we say it ourselves, sets us on a path into the future God has planned for us.

Sometimes, like Moses, we’re called to return to places where we once lived in comfort and raise questions about the status quo. At other times, like the Hebrews embarking on their journey back to the Promised Land, we’re called to turn our backs on that stifling status quo and head toward a new adventure.

Because of the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Lord heard the cry of his people, held in bondage and oppressed by the Egyptians. He still hears the cry of his people, held in bondage and oppressed by any of those things that keep us from living freely—fear, addiction, depression, illness, sin.

Spend some time thinking about those things that have kept you from being fully free in your life. Where is your Egypt? Is it a place of too much comfort or too much oppression? Find a symbol of that bondage and keep it someplace where you can reflect on it during the rest of Lent. Think about how Easter might bring you freedom. The journey of Lent can seem like a trackless wasteland at times, but the people of God have always found their most direct encounters with God in those times and places when everything seemed bleak and barren, when all the creature comforts are stripped away. The demand of the desert is to stand before the burning insistence of God and believe that he has heard our cry. In that belief, we will come to the Promised Land.


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Monica: The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism. 
<p>Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine (August 28) , is the most famous. At the time of his father’s death, Augustine was 17 and a rhetoric student in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy (all flesh is evil)  and was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted. </p><p>When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan. </p><p>In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her (see Quote, below). Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste. </p><p>She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death. </p><p>Almost all we know about St. Monica is in the writings of St. Augustine, especially his <i>Confessions</i>.</p> American Catholic Blog The Church really is my mother, too. She isn’t a vague maternal force for a generic collection of anonymous people. This Mother truly nurtures us—each one of us. And for those of us who are baptized Christians, the Church has actually given birth to us on a spiritual level.

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