Two Martians landed along a country road on planet earth in the middle of a cold, dark night. "Where are we?" asked the first Martian. "I think we're in a cemetery. There's a marker over here." replied the other. "It says this person lived to be... 108!" "Amazing!" exclaimed the first Martian. "Does it give the person's name?" The other Martian leaned closer for a better look at the sign and said, "Miles from Omaha!"

At times we feel like these two Martians : far from home, in a cold, dark place with no familiar landmarks. Sometimes the dark, unfamiliar place is within us, and we feel cut off from our very selves. Other times the cold, dark place is all around us, and we find ourselves on the outside of the circles of love and friendship, wanting to get in, but not knowing how.

We know how life is supposed to be. There is something within us, something God put there, telling us we are not created for cold and darkness. That something deep within us tells us we are created to love and be loved, we are made to be family. Family, where everybody knows and welcomes us, where there are no strangers. Family is what we long for. So why do we get so little experience of it? Why do we spend so much time in the cold and dark, in exile?

The answer is found in today's Scripture readings. The first reading from the prophet Baruch was written at the time the Israelites were in exile, far from home. Baruch offers them a stirring message of hope to help them overcome their misery and find their way home. The road we ourselves travel to get home is perilous and difficult. All around us are places that are broken and places to get hurt. This brokenness, this hurt often keeps us in exile, keeps us from going home. So what can we do? We can change the landscape, remove the mountains of selfishness and indifference that keep us apart. We can straighten the crooked roads of envy and jealousy that poison our relationships. We can make smooth the potholes of competition and superiority that make peace and cooperation difficult if not impossible.

In the Gospel, Jesus says that every mountain is to be leveled, every deep hole filled, every twist and turn made straight, every bump made smooth. Then, and only then, do we safely find our way home. So what are the obstacles we face on this journey? We can pick one today : any one : and begin work on it now. With God's help, we will eliminate these obstacles. The bottom line is simple: we are not Martians exploring a strange planet in space. We are earth-dwellers basking in the immense love of God, the very God who is calling us and guiding us home. We simply need to wake up to that amazing, astounding fact.

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