Tag Archives: forgiveness

Leviticus 16:

The Day of Atonement / Yom Kippur:
This is perhaps the most important chapter in Leviticus.  It is the most solemn day of the year in the Jewish calendar.  It is the only day mandated by Jewish law to fast.  The Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur is the “reset button” for the Jewish liturgical year.  Yom Kippur is the day to remove and destroy impurity for the nation for the year.  It is the reset button to get the Israelites back to square one in terms of ritual purity. This is the day to restore everyone and everything (people, priests and Tabernacle) to the original sanctification. It is the day when Yahweh allows the Israelites to, in effect, start over again.  This is the New Testament equivalent to the sacraments of Baptism and Reconciliation.  Once the Tabernacle was replaced by the Temple, and then later, the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, Yom Kippur morphed from ritual purification to the atonement of sins of the people. Yom Kippur became became associated with the forgiveness of sins rather than ritual purifications.  This is the only day of the year when someone could enter the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle.  In this case, is was the High Priest who could enter the Holy of Holies.  The blood of the sacrifice was applied to the people just as in the Theophany from Mt. Sinai (Ex. 19) to re-enact the Sinai Covenant (Ex. 24).  Yom Kippur was the yearly renewal of the Sinai Covenant.  The blood was applied to the people and sprinkled on the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant.

God Appears in Human Form?:
On Yom Kippur, Yahweh would “ra’ah” or appear in a cloud over the Mercy Seat.  Other instances of this Hebrew word (Gen. 12:7; 17:1; 18:1; etc.) that God would appear in human form on the Mercy Seat; that is, the High Priest Aaron would see God in human form echoing each year the face to face meeting on Mt. Sinai in the Theophany.

Ark of the Covenant / the Mercy Seat / God’s Throne Room:
The Ark of the Covenant had two cherubim with folded wings that acted as God’s footstool.  This is the Mercy Seat or the Purging Seat where God dwelt with Israel in the Meeting Tent.  On Yom Kippur, the one day of the year when the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies, he would sprinkle blood seven times on the Mercy Seat.  This was a means of expiation and purgation; originally for making Israel ritually pure, but later, for the forgiveness of sins.  Jesus’ blood and His Cross, of course, are the ultimate fulfillment of Yom Kippur and the Day of Atonement, and the forgiveness of sins. With God in, visible form, sitting on His throne seat, this, in fact, is a kind of “throne room scene” of God here on earth. The Throne-room of God from Heaven is now making an appearance on earth; “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Reset Button:
Once a year, God would remove all impurities from the Israelites, but later, it is seen as forgiving all sin.  It is the true “reset button” to make all things new.  Each year, no matter what happened, Israel could start over again on Yom Kippur.  The merciful God from His “Mercy Seat,” or “purgation seat”, forgives all of Israel’s sins.  Everything would be restored to its original condition. This is a “statute forever,” perhaps foreshadowing Baptism and Reconciliation (which continued it into the New Covenant times).  In Levitical terms, the Day of Atonement restored equilibrium to the Israel nation and made them new again in ritualistic purity and cleanliness.  [In Baptism, Christians are washed clean of original sin and made anew in the Blood of Christ, new creations; similarly, in Reconciliation, we are forgiven our sins, and made anew in the forgiveness of Christ.]

The Two Goats / Azazel and the Sacrifice Goat:
On Yom Kippur, two goats were chosen: one would be sacrificed, and one would be sent off into the wilderness bearing the sins of the nation, this is the Azazel goat.  The Azazel goat is where the notion of a “scapegoat” comes from, ie, the goat that bears the sins of someone else.  The first goat is a sin offering for the Lord and is slain.  The second goat, the Azazel goat, is an expiation, a purging of the impurities, or later, the sins, of the nation of Israel. The High Priest, the representative of the nation, laid his hands on the goat, a symbolic transfer of impurities and guilt, and then, the Azazel goat was sent off into the wilderness, presumably to its death.  The wilderness and the desert were the place of the demonic, wildness chaos, sin and death. It was the opposite of the Tabernacle, God’s place, the new Eden.  Everything outside the Tabernacle was wilderness, desert, chaos, sin, and death. [When Jesus is about to begin His ministry, He immediately heads out into the desert for 40 days and 40 nights to be tempted by the devil.]  Here, the Azazel goat is banished into the desert to take away Israel’s impurities and sins from the camp of Yahweh and the nation.  The Azazel goat removes impurities out of the sacred space of the Temple into the place it belongs, the demonic geography of the wilderness.  The goat is the vehicle for the removal of those impurities.

Azazel:
As a matter of note, the term Azazel appears also in the Dead Sea Scrolls (4Q180), where Azazel is a demon; in fact, the leader of the fallen angels that sinned in Genesis 6:1-4 and 1 Enoch.  Thus, once a year, the High Priest would lay hands on the Azazel goat, and confess all the sins of the nation of Israel, symbolically transferring the sins of the nation to the Azazel goat.  The Azazel goat would then bear the sins (impurities) of Israel away from Yahweh’s sacred space of Israel and the Tabernacle, off into the godforsaken land of the desert wilderness.  The wilderness imagery is one of supernatural evil, non-holy ground; non-sacred space outside the Tabernacle.  It was a place spiritually sinister with forces of chaos and death, where the pagans offered sacrifice to goat-demons.  The Azazel goat would possibly be driven off a cliff too, in effect, the impurities and sins of the nation would never make it back.

Christianity and the Cross:
The first sacrificed goat would in the New Testament make Christians fit for God’s presence.  The second goat, the Azazel goat, would remove sins from Christians. In the New Testament, Christ fulfills the type of each goat.  Christ makes us fit to be in God’s presence, and removes sins from our lives.  Christ is the goat sacrificed for our sins on the Cross.  He is also the goat where our sins are laid upon His body and He bears them away from us. Christ becomes sin for us, by bearing our sins.  Azazel is the ultimate embodiment of evil, as the leader of the fallen angels/demons, who led the world astray.  This is reminiscent of Christ being foreshadowed by the bronze serpent raised upon the pole. The serpent (as the serpent from the Garden of Eden, who led mankind astray into Original Sin) was raised upon the pole, and all who looked upon it were healed.  Similarly, the demonic Azazel goat has the sins of the nation cast upon it.  It is Christ, who takes on sin for our sake, who is sacrificed and carried sin away from us.  This is the “suffering servant” of Isaiah, who is pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins, and by His “stripes” we are made whole.  Christ’s atoning death on the Cross is the ultimate fulfillment of the Day of Atonement. The goats of the Day of Atonement are just prefigurements of the real atoning death of the Messiah, the Son of God, to come.  Jesus is the true, sacrificial atonement.  Good Friday is the fulfillment of the Day of Atonement, which was just a prefigurement of the Cross. Jesus’ death on the Cross is the true “Reset Button” for all Christians and believers.  We are made new creations in Christ and His Cross. His sanctifying grace flowed forth as blood and water from His side, and perpetuated in perpetuity in through the Sacraments of the Catholic Church.

God’s Presence in Confession – January 24, 2017

A number of years ago I approached the confessional booth in the crypt church at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. It was there that something somewhat miraculous happened, or at least that is how it struck me.

I was a regular visitor at the crypt church for Confession and to attend Mass. On this particular day, however, I was also there to pray for my friend. At the time, a close childhood friend of mine had recently and unexpectedly passed away. He had become an avid mountain climber, and had gone on an adventure to climb one of the tallest mountains in the world in Pakistan. Then, one fateful day I received a phone call that he had gone missing after an avalanche. Soon after, our worst fears were confirmed. Obviously shocked and saddened I turned towards prayer and the Church.

After praying before the Blessed Sacrament, I went to Confession. Once I had confessed my sins, I spoke to the priest about concerns for my friend. I never once mentioned to him who he was or what had happened. I told him only that he had died outside the Church, and I asked if I should pray for him? His answer amazed me.

In part, he said, “sometimes I will pick up the paper and read, for example, about people who died while mountain climbing in Pakistan, and yes, I would pray for them.” I took this as a miraculous intervention of Christ in the sacrament, and as a direct response regarding my friend. The unknown priest, I am sure, had no idea of the prophetic words he had just spoken to me. Yet, his words resonated loudly in my soul.

As believers, we know that God always hears our prayers, even if sometimes it may not feel like it. As Catholics, we also know that God is present to us in a special way in the sacraments. The priest works in persona Christi Capitis, in the person of Christ the head, or as the Church teaches, “it is Christ Himself who is present.” (CCC 1548). This is of great consolation in Confession – the sacrament of divine mercy – when we are blessed to hear those most comforting of Jesus’ words, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” (CCC 1484)

The priest’s words that day had a number of effects on me. First and foremost, it powerfully reconfirmed the efficaciousness of the sacrament. Christ is truly present and truly forgives. It also affirmed to me that we are called to be intercessors, for our family and our friends, and in fact, for all those entrusted to us. This is our privilege and important responsibility as Christians. Lastly, we should not judge, but rather, entrust everyone by prayer and sacrifice to the divine mercy of God. Even today, years later, I pray for my friend’s eternal rest.

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Nightly Examination of Conscience – January 22, 2016

Each day is a microcosm of our entire life. In the morning we are “born” into our day, and at night we go to sleep into our “death.” Each day is analogous to one’s life, and each night is analogous to one’s death. If we consecrate each morning and day to God, should we not also consecrate each night and sleep to God? In that way, our whole day, whether awake or asleep, is consecrated to God. Our sleep anticipates our death, and our waking in the morning anticipates our resurrection. What is more important at the end of one’s life, at the doorstep of death, than to review one’s life, and to ask forgiveness for all one has done or failed to do? If we seek pardon and forgiveness at the end of life, in anticipation of the final judgment, should we not seek to examine our lives and ask for forgiveness each and every day? After all, we do not know when our end will come, it may be fifty years from now, or fifty minutes from now. As Jesus cautions us, the end may come for us at an hour we do not expect, and so, we must be like the faithful servant, and always vigilant and ready. As Jesus warns in the Gospel of Matthew in the parable of the ten bridesmaids: “..the Bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with Him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut.  Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But He replied, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Mt. 25:10-12)

Even though this is a horrible judgment, Jesus gives us reason to hope. He tells us that we can be ready for the end and welcomed into the “marriage feast” of the Lord. But, how? We must remain vigilant and prepared for the return of the Master, either at the end of the world, or at the end of our lives. And, how do we remain vigilant and ready? We must remain faithful servants, obedient to the Church, living closely to the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Confession, have an active prayer life, read the word of God, and live a life filled with good and merciful deeds, in short, we must love God and our neighbor. All of these activities contribute to us having a well-formed moral conscience. Once we have a well-formed moral conscience we will better understand that we regularly fall short of the commandments of God, and are in constant need of His forgiveness. Moreover, the more we examine our lives and seek forgiveness, the more clearly we will know right from wrong, that is, have a “correct conscience,” and seek to perfect our lives. This is the idea of the nightly examination of conscience. As the Catechism quotes Gaudium et Spes, “ For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . . His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.” (CCC 1776) In the traditional canonical hours of the Church the nightly examination of conscience would be “Compline,” or night prayers for the last hour of the day. Before we go to sleep each night, we should examine in our minds, at least briefly, the events of the day, and everything that we did or said, or failed to do, good or bad.

So, how should we proceed? First, we should ask for the Holy Spirit to come upon us and enlighten our consciences, to give us discernment about the events of the day. Then, we should offer thanksgiving, by thanking God for all the good gifts and blessings that day. Where did we receive His grace and encounter Christ throughout the day? Where did we pray, sacrifice, be merciful or love throughout the day? Where did we fail to do so? Then, we should also confess directly to God, in the silence of our heart, all our sins and failures for that day, and ask forgiveness.(**see below) We can ask God to forgive us and to help us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to do better tomorrow, in renewal of our commitment to Christ. We can consecrate ourselves to God in our sleep, that even our rest may glorify God. After having examined our whole day, from beginning to end, and asked forgiveness for our sins, we should pray an act of contrition. This is a typical version of the Act of Contrition:

“O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended You, and I detest all my sins because of Your just punishments, but most of all because they offend You, my God, Who is all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Your grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin. Amen.”

It is also traditional to end your nightly prayer by saying the Our Father. We can also offer our breath and our heartbeats, in union with the breath and heartbeats of Christ, for the sanctification of the world. The examination of conscience and Compline prayers at night are the final seal of prayer and consecration of the day, finishing what we began in the morning, with our Morning Offering prayer, in that way the whole day is consecrated to God, where Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end of our life (for that day), sealed in God as one. In this way, we can go to rest in the peace of the Holy Spirit, at peace with our day and with our God, in hope of the resurrection to a new and eternal life.

**There are a number of standards by which we should judge our selves and our actions for the day. These are the same questions we should measure ourselves, in the examination of our consciences, when approaching the sacrament of Confession. They are all rooted in following the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes. The questions include (but, obviously not an exhaustive list): Have I humbled myself before God today and prayed? Did I fail to make acts of faith or charity today? Have I made an idol out of anything in my life? Have I taken the name of God in vain? Have I missed going to Church? Have I stolen anything? Have I lied? Have I hurt someone? Have I bore false witness against someone, or gossiped about someone? Have I cursed today? Have I committed sins of the flesh and lust? Have I been envious of others’ property? Have I lashed out in anger? Have I been lazy and wasted time? Have I engaged in gluttony? Have I been greedy? Have I harbored jealous or evil thoughts? Have I been stubborn or unforgiving today? Did I give into temptation today? Have I seen, said or watched anything sinful, or blasphemous? Did I respect and honor my family and my parents today? Did I fail to be merciful to someone? Was I joyful and nice to other people today? Was I arrogant and proud? Have I willingly not followed Jesus in any aspect today?

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The Sacrament of Divine Mercy – October 9, 2015

“then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” (Gen.2:7)

“When He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (Jn. 20:22-23)

The sacraments are the very heart of Christianity. They are the manifestation of Christ in the world. In them, Christ truly becomes present to us. They are the visible sign and the real symbol that are the very inward grace they signify. They signify the grace they cause, and cause the grace they signify. God’s grace is present efficaciously. (CCC 1084) They are our gateway to communion with God as well as our lighted guideposts to remain in communion. To stray from them is to risk walking in darkness and death. For, the seven sacraments are imbued with the sanctifying grace of Christ’s eternal act of redemption. In receiving the sacraments, that sanctifying grace of redemption is applied to our soul. It is the supernatural power that God uses to act in our lives. Sanctifying grace is what saves us. In the sacraments, Christ’s redemptive act is transmuted into a symbolic reality and transferred directly to our souls. This is miraculous and amazing. It is also the foundation of orthodoxy. The Church, as the administrator of the sacraments, is the holder and the dispensary of Christ’s miraculous grace. Although the priest acts in persona Christi, we know that it is truly Christ Himself, through the priest, who confers sanctifying grace. (CCC 1088)  This sacramental grace allows us to enter into an immediate relationship with the living God.

Yet, the application of that redemptive grace varies from sacrament to sacrament. In Baptism, we gain our initial entry into Christ’s salvific action. Our souls are cleansed of Original Sin and incorporated into His death and Resurrection. It is our entrance into eternal life, and makes possible our lifelong communion with God. In the Eucharist, Christ’s redemptive grace actually comes to us in bodily form. The very body and blood of Jesus are made present physically. In consuming Him, we are continually sanctified and remade into His mystical body. He is literally our sustenance to eternal life. In Reconciliation, Christ’s sanctifying grace restores our relationship to God and the Church through the forgiveness of our sins. In our fallen human nature, still beset by frailty, weakness and concupiscence, we regularly regress back into sin. Christ knew our nature, and so, afforded us His sacrament of forgiveness. Repentance becomes linked to life. In the book of Genesis, it says God formed man from the ground and breathed life into him. The Hebrew word used for breath is רוח (ruach), which also means “spirit.” When God breathed into man, He made him a living spirit. We see that same word רוח repeated when the Resurrected Jesus appears to His disciples and He “breathes” (רוח again) on them, and thus, institutes the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Jesus is implicitly, or some might say, explicitly, linking His sacraments and the Holy Spirit with God’s life giving spirit at Creation. Immediately after He breathes on them, He says, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” and any sins you forgive are forgiven, and any you retain are retained. Jesus transfers His divine power, the power to forgive sins, to His Apostles. Now, with the capacity to forgive sins, the Church has another restorative power to heal our spirits. Just as Adam was, originally before the Fall, a living spirit, a pure man in communion with God, so too now, we can be restored as living spirits through our Redeemer. We pass from death into life as new creations. God again breathes into man and reanimates us. Through grace in the sacraments He not only brings us to life, but also, sustains that life with His on-going and unlimited forgiveness found in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

One of the most poignant stories in all of scripture is Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. It is so poignant and moving because Jesus gives us a glimpse in detail of the immense and unconditional love God has for us. In the parable, a son takes his inheritance early from his father, goes off to a distant land, and spends it all on “dissolute living.” After he had nothing left and was dying from hunger, he finally comes to his senses. He decides to repent of his sins and go back to his father’s house. As the son says, “I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.” (Lk.15:18) As the son is penitent and returning to his father’s house, we see the great mercy of the father: “But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.” (Lk.15:20) Even as the son was “still far off,” the father hurriedly went out to embrace him. And Jesus shows how great is the mercy of the father, who is superabundantly generous to the son. He says: “But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.” (Lk. 15:23-24) Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son is rich in the underlying truths of forgiveness and divine mercy. In the parable, we are the prodigal son, and God is the father. We, through Original Sin and committing sins during our lives, have lived lives unworthy of God, and consequently, squandered our inheritance, that is, eternal life. We were dead in our sins; outside of the Father’s house. Yet, when we recognize our own destitution and repent of our sins, God notices this, even while we are still struggling with sin “far off.” As soon as we repent and turn back to God, the Father embraces us immediately. As the son did, we must admit and confess our sins to Him with heartfelt sincerity. We should confess to God as he did, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.” Then, look at the response of God to our repentance and confession. God immediately welcomes us back into His divine friendship and adorns us with grace. This is represented in clothing the son with his best robe, putting a ring on his finger, and sandals on his feet. God immediately calls for a celebration. He orders the fatted calf to be killed so they can have a great feast. Jesus gives us a revelation.  He reveals God’s reaction to our repentance: He is ecstatic. Jesus mentions this in similar parables, on finding the lost coin and finding the lost sheep, that there is so much “joy in heaven,” even over one sinner who repents. (Lk. 15:7) We were dead in our sins, but when we repent, are made “alive again.” The prodigal son parable shows the compassion and forgiveness God offers us. It reveals the superabundant grace God waits to lavish upon us, if we but turn back to Him.

The Christian life is one of constantly turning away from sin and back towards God. The bible uses the Greek word “metanoia” [μετάνοια], or “a turning away” from one’s sins. We are called to a constant state of conversion. In Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, Dives in Misericordia, “Rich in Mercy,” he describes how when we come to see God’s tender mercy, we “can live only in a state of being continually converted to Him.” (DM, 13) This should be our “permanent attitude” and “state of mind.” Our consciousness becomes increasingly branded by our offenses against God, and this should lead us to repent. In the analogy of the prodigal son story, the son says to the father “I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” (Lk.15:19). As Pope John Paul II points out in the encyclical, we begin to realize our lost dignity in the severing of our relationship with the Father. He writes, “at the center of the prodigal son’s consciousness, the sense of lost dignity is emerging, the sense of that dignity that springs from the relationship of the son with the father.” (DM, 5) So too, should our consciousness reflect that deep connection between our sinfulness and lost dignity. Our sins sever us from our relationship with the Father, and we lose that inherent dignity as children of God. In the same way, turning away from sin, repenting, restores our dignity as sons and daughters of God. Jesus Himself preached this saying, “the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mk.1:15) Jesus calls us to an interior conversion of the heart; a contrite heart moved to penance and renewal, in order to be reconciled to God. (CCC 1428) So that, in this way, we can “be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27), and “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt.5:48)

But, how do we do this? The most effective, secure and efficacious way is to receive absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In the sacrament, we know that Jesus is truly present. We know it is an act that embodies our conversion, penance, confession, forgiveness and reconciliation. (CCC 1423-1424) These are Jesus’ requirements to regain eternal life. In Reconciliation, we receive sacramental grace with the absolute assurance of the forgiveness of our sins. In the Gospels, Jesus gives Peter and the Apostles the “keys of the kingdom” and the power to “bind and loose.” Jesus said to them, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Mt.16:19) As such, the Church has the authority directly from Christ to forgive sins. It is Christ, under the guise of the priest, there in the confessional who forgives our sins. How much better is life if we maintain that intimate friendship with God by regularly turning away from sin and turning towards God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation? Here, we find divine mercy. We are like the paralytic who Jesus healed, and whose sins He forgave. “He personally addresses every sinner: ‘My son, your sins are forgiven.’” (CCC 1484; Mk.2:5) What a wonderful assurance!

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