Faith Matters – Atonement

Brendan Nicholl 9 October 2019

As we move into the final term we have around 40 days to achieve our goals for the academic year and reflect on our growth, and identify the times we have failed to live as God intended us to.

With our final term of the year we enter into an extended period of reflection and celebration of a year lived well, the successes we have enjoyed and the growth we have experienced.

Our Year 12 students in fact ‘finish up’ before the next newsletter is published. The school year always seems to go by quickly!

When I was a student I clearly remember writing in my diary the number of days left in my diary. The excitement and joy that countdown gave me was immense and at times became almost an obsession. Knowing there was an end and that I would be free to do with my time what I pleased was a vision that balanced the demands and pressures of school.

I would think that not that much has changed between now and then. Today this approach isn’t as visible in the classroom as it was when I was younger, but I am sure the anticipation of finishing the year off is just as strong a theme for many of our students. Although I don’t mark the days in my diary anymore, I can tell with some degree of accuracy that we have around 40 days of school left.

Time for reflection

With these thoughts in mind we consider the Jewish celebration of Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement [held 8-9 October this year]. Inspired by this Jewish holy day we should take some time to pause and reflect on what has passed. When we review our thoughts and actions we can objectivity discern the error and sin that we need to atone for.

As we celebrate in our own way Yom Kippur we also should consider the connections between Judaism and Christianity.

Our roots are Jewish. Jesus was born, lived and died a Jewish man. His revelation of the Kingdom of God and his commandments to Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another’ (John 13:34) and to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ (Matthew 22:37), completed the law and through his sacrifice Jesus sanctified a new covenant between God and all of humanity.

Reverence of tradition

There is much we can admire within Judaism today. The deep respect the community have for God is shown in the reverence for the most holy name revealed to Moses, ‘I am who I am’. This unspeakable name was converted to the tetragram WHWH or Yahweh.

In admiring the Jewish reverence of the holiness of God we, through Jesus, seek a more personal relationship with our loving and merciful Father. His name is one we cherish and should not use as an announcement of exasperation or frustration. We can certainly apply some of the reverence of the Jewish tradition to our own I would suggest.

The Spiritual Exercises align well with the Jewish intent of atonement and the desire to unify oneself with God and his ways.

The first week of St Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises and the examen are based on looking forward, reflecting on the past, awareness of the need for reconciliation and the desire for atonement. The Exercises, and our faith more generally, does not have a morbid obsession with sinfulness or an attachment to a sense of shame or guilt.

Explore thoughts

Rather the Exercises seek to assist those making a retreat to explore their thoughts, words and deeds and then respond to three reoccurring hope filled positive questions;

  1. What have I done for Christ?
  2. What and I doing for Christ?
  3. What ought I do for Christ?

As we begin the final term of the year we have around 40 days to achieve or goals for the academic year and reflect on or growth and identify the times we have failed to live as God intended us to.

Biblically the number 40 signifies a period of testing. The number occurs more than 100 times in the Bible. Today, with about 40 days remaining, we can apply this meaning to the final tasks and challenges of this school year. During the next 40 days we need to rely on the presence of Jesus to achieve what is possible and on the mercy of our forgiving God to atone for the mistakes of the past.

As we enter into the final term of the year I encourage you to take a moment reflecting on the past. Seek to identify the areas of your life that you need to atone for and seek God’s forgiveness. Then with great positivity and hope enter into this period of testing seeking to achieve all that is possible through regularly considering: What have I done for Christ? What and I doing for Christ? What ought I do for Christ?


Brendan Nicholls is Liturgy Coordinator at St Ignatius College, Geelong.




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