Monday, July 7, 2014

The Life of a Christian: Pouring Ourselves into It

Nay, even if my life is to be poured as a libation upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I rejoice, and I congratulate you all. (Phil. 2:17)
For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is at hand. (2 Tim. 4:6) 
He hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors.  (Is. 53:12)
Jacob set up a stone pillar at the place where God had talked with him, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it.  (Gen. 35:14)


A drink poured out upon the ground as a sacrifice is a libation.  All cultures have this custom.   It is a stark image of sacrifice, for the drink - or a portion of it - is literally wasted.  It is a gift of life deliberately sent back to death.

Compare the sin of Onan, who ...

... when he went in to his brother's wife, spilled his seed upon the ground, lest children should be born in his brother's name.  (Gen. 38:9)

To waste upon the ground life-giving drink or life-making seed is a kind of utter failure, an exercise in futility, in sterility and death.

But there's a difference between a libation and a sin.  For Onan was making not a sacrifice, not a gift of self, not a libation, but an act of hoarding, refusing to give to God and to others.  This is the emblematic act of all sinners, whose sins end in death, in selfishness, rather than in life.

A libation is a sacrifice to life; a sin is a hoarding and grasping unto death.

***

St. Paul tells the Philippians that if they hold fast to the Word of life he taught them, he will not have "run in vain or toiled in vain."  (Phil. 2:16)

But what if they don't?  What if the Philippians neglect God's Word and the grace of their baptisms?  What if, in 2,000 years, Philippi becomes a suburb and the Philippians lie, fornicate, abort, "gay marry", cheat and steal just like their pagan neighbors - while singing "Taste and See" and "On Eagle's Wings" at Mass?

What if Paul's tireless effort for all of his churches - efforts which include imprisonments, beatings, shipwrecks, and finally death - what if all of this is in vain, a pouring of his very essence unto the dry lifeless desert ground?

If it's all for naught, what then?  Will Paul fall into despair?  Will his life, his entire mission be filled with frustration?  Will he reap mockery and emptiness instead of hope and life?

Amazingly Paul says no.

He says that even if this is a waste, even if his soul (like that of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53, above) is being poured out unto death, even if all his effort and his very self is being wasted on the ground like spilled seed, or seed that is spread in vain, sown upon rocky soil or shallow soil or seed immediately eaten by birds (see Mat. 13) - he is nevertheless a libation.  

He himself and his very life and his very soul - everything he does - is a sacrifice.  

May we have the grace to live like that!  For elsewhere Paul enjoins us ...

... offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God--this is your true and proper worship. (Rom. 12:1)



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