Friday, March 11, 2016

Goats, Sin, Expiation, and Peace

Ever surprised by stuff?  On Monday I read something in the Bible that I don't recall ever having read before.  It's in the book of Leviticus, chapter 16.  The Israelites (well, at this point the chosen people- Israel had not yet come onto the stage) are roaming through the desert more than half-lost but exhibiting incredible faith in the Lord who brought them out of Egypt.  Every day was a testimony to this faith.  Of course, we all know that over the course of those many nomadic years their faith wavered and they experienced ups and downs, high and very lows.  It's a constant dynamic that we all experience in our own lives, a movement from happy, blissful faith to the shadow lands of wondering where God has gone, pendulum-ing between light and shadows, robust professions of faith and little admissions of internal incoherence, riding the wave of blessings and tasting the bitter fruit of struggle and doubt.  It is a dynamic of sin and restoration, of hope and frustration, offense and reconciliation.  And there we come to it.  After their many offenses, the people would confess their sins and receive God's forgiveness, making peace with him.  By the end of this sojourn in the desert, God must have been like "story of my life, right?"  I am the same way- I mean, like the Israelites (not God!).  Really, we are all like that.  I wanted to share this passage from Leviticus mentioned above:

20 “When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat.21 He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task. 22 The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness.

That's what I do not recall having ever read before.  Cool, right?  I like it because of the symbolism- it's like the penances we receive when we go to confession, a small offering that works!  And it is efficacious not because of the offering itself but because of the contrition and sentiments of the one performing the penance, the act of reparation.  You know, it is easy to say, "gee whiz, going to confession and enunciating my sins to a priest is penance enough."  Hey, no one is denying that.  It is tough.  But the additional penance is an important element, it is like that goat that Aaron sent off into the wilderness.

Aaron (I think) praying over the goat.... #scapegoat

During that same prayer session I read this:

Psalms 90:12
Teach us to number our days,
    that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

In this context of sin, confession, and reconciliation, I think that it is most fitting to include this petition for wisdom.  I know that in my personal prayer I ask for the gift of wisdom almost not at all (by the way, we have class on the wisdom books of the Old Testament this semester- that should bring up my average).  Hopefully prayer and meditation on Sacred Scripture will augment our desire and petitions for wisdom.  Life is short, fleeting, things come and go so quickly- like for Moses and the chosen people in the desert, it must have seemed like forever but then all of a sudden, one day, it was over and they were in the promised land.

For that reason, I want to encourage everyone to go to confession this Lent.  Go to sacramental confession.  Reach out to someone you have hurt or that has hurt you.  Look to make peace.  Peace is much needed in our world today.  Let us pray the word of St. Francis: Lord, make me an channel of your peace.

To conclude I will share these beautiful lines from Origen which were also present in the liturgy of the hours that day:

From a homily by Origen on Leviticus...
"God taught the people of the old covenant how to celebrate the ritual offered to him in atonement for the sins of men.  But you have come to Christ, the true high priest.  Through his blood he has made God turn to you in mercy and has reconciled you with the Father.  You must not think simply of ordinary blood but you must learn to recognize instead the blood of the Word.  Listen to him as he tells you: This is my blood, which will be shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.

There is a deeper meaning in the fact that the high priest sprinkles the blood toward the east.  Atonement comes to you from the east.  From the east comes the one whose name is Dayspring, he who is mediator between God and men.  You are invited then to look always to the east: it is there that the sun of righteousness rises for you, it is there that the light is always being born for you.  You are never to walk in darkness; the great and final day is not to enfold you in darkness.  Do not let the night and mist of ignorance steal upon you.  So that you may always enjoy the light of knowledge, keep always in the daylight of faith, hold fast always to the light of love and peace."

It's Lent. Why not go to confession?  Why not go again?

Find the readings of the office for that day here:

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Pope Francis, Spiritual Life, & Future Priests

On Jan. 25 Pope Francis addressed a group of seminarians studying here in Rome. Reading through the text there were a couple points that jumped out at me which I would like to share.

Early on in the discourse, he said “you also are preparing ourselves to follow the impulse of the Spirit, to be the ‘future of the church’ according to God’s heart; not according to the preferences of each one or the fashions of the moment, but as the proclamation of the Gospel requires. To prepare oneself well one must work in depth, but above all one must undergo an interior conversion, which daily roots the ministry in Jesus first call, and revives it in a personal relation with him…”

I think that these words serve as an apt reminder of what is at the core of the spiritual life, namely following the inspirations of the Holy Spirit. He also reminds us that whatever our vacation, whatever walk of life I am following, it is essential not to forget my experience of God’s call in my life. That goes for husbands and wives just as much as it goes for priests, seminarians, and religious. Remembering this initial call entails, as the Pope says, a daily, interior conversion which revives my personal relationship with Jesus. The Pope shared these remarks on the Feast of the conversion of Saint Paul, which provides a perfect visual of this experience.

Later on, the Pope said that a pastor can only proclaim the words of life “if he makes of his own life a constant dialogue with the Word of God, or, better, with God who speaks to us.” This is nothing other then a development of that relationship spoken of above.

The whole discourse was not very long and can be read in a short amount of time. The whole your father also touched on other points of interest and if you would like to read it for yourself you can find it in its entirety here: