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The Ears of all were Attentive


All the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel.  Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all those old enough to understand.  He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those old enough to understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. 

The scribe Ezra stood on a wooden platform that had been made for the purpose; and Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up.  Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen’, lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground.                                          
                                                                                Nehemiah 8: 1-8.                                                        


H ere is a story from fifteen hundred years ago.  You may find it inspiring and it may tell you something about your life today.  In the year 587 BC the Babylonian Empire conquered the city of Jerusalem, destroyed the temple and took a large part of the population into exile in Babylon where they and their descendents remained for fifty years. This time in the history of the Jewish people is described in the psalm: By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.  Eventually the Persian Emperor, Cyrus overthrew the Babylonians, and to their great surprise he allowed the Jews to return to their own country and helped them on their way.
     Slowly over the following years they resettled in Jerusalem.  After a long delay they rebuilt the Temple, and the city walls.  It might have seemed then that everything was in place: they had their homes and their modest livelihoods, they had security within the city walls and they had their place of worship.  There was one thing more that they needed.  The whole community, young and old, gathered in the city square and asked their leader, Ezra, to bring the Book of the Law of Moses and to read it to them.

A story to inspire and to guide
     What Ezra read to them was the story of their ancestors, from the days of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  At a high point in the story Moses led the people out of slavery in Egypt into the wilderness; there God revealed his commandments to them on Mount Sinai.  The story showed how God provided for his people and protected them; the commandments, when they obeyed them, guided them in living happy and fruitful lives.   

     When the people in the city square heard all of this they were deeply moved.  They remembered again who they were, God’s people.  That is to say: God had been at work in the lives of their ancestors, protecting and guiding them from the beginning.  It followed that this same God was at work in their lives also.  They were saddened that they had forgotten this and had forgotten also the wise way of living that God had offered them in the commandments he revealed to Moses.
Words you needed to hear
     As you think about that ancient story, you may see yourself in it and you may see your family and your country in it also.  We need a lot of things for a satisfactory life.  We need a place where we are at home and feel safe; we need work to do and food on the table.  We need a place to worship.  There is something else we need.  We need to hear words like the words that Ezra and Nehemiah read to the people in the city square. It is likely that you remember words of your parents or grandparents or of wise teachers that have helped you find meaning in your life and have guided your behaviour. These words may also have helped you to see that there is a good God at work in your life, and that it makes sense to keep his commandments.

Words that sustained our ancestors
     Most of our recent ancestors in Ireland were poor.  They struggled to keep a roof over their heads and to survive from day to day.  But there were words that sustained them.  Not the words that Ezra and Nehemiah read to the people, but the words about Jesus in the Gospels.  They pondered over the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in the mysteries of the Rosary.  These words made them aware of the meaning of their own lives, and they helped them to be patient in difficult times.  They gave them guidance for daily living: they prayed that ‘meditating on these mysteries we may imitate what they contain.’  And their meditation gave them hope for the future in this life and in the next; they prayed that ‘we may obtain what they promise.’

What God is doing today
     In our own time more and more people are opening the Bible and pondering its words; they do this on their own and in small groups.  In page after page they read what God has done in the past; as they meditate on this, they become aware that God is doing similar things in their own lives and in the world today. They ponder on the great people of the Bible.  They are reminded of people they have known themselves who were like these, and they are inspired to imitate their faith, their love and their courage.

                                                                            Brendan Clifford
Prayer Psalm 18

The law of the Lord is perfect,
it revives the soul.
The rule of the Lord is to be trusted,
it gives wisdom to the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
they gladden the heart.
The command of the Lord is clear,
it gives light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is holy,
abiding for ever.
The decrees of the Lord are truth
and all of them just.
May the spoken words of my mouth,
the thoughts of my heart,
win favor in your sight, O Lord,
my rescuer, my rock.



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