March 23, 2012
Cities of Refuge, Sanctuaries, My Favorite Catholics and Medium Size Churches
The five nuns killed in the Liberian Civil War 1992
Numbers 35 describes six cities that were given to the Levites (the priests) that were to be regarded as cities of refuge. These were cities that one could run to if they had committed manslaughter and receive asylum. They were to stay in that city until the high priest died and then they could return home. In studying these cities I discovered that the cities were to be of medium size. The city had to be large enough so that there was enough food to sustain those seeking refuge so that wouldn’t have to leave but not so large that somebody who wanted to come after the person could easily hide. Being in the city was a form of atonement because it was believed that even if they committed a murder accidentally it must have been because of some sin and so being in the city was not just a place to hide, but a place to atone for one’s sins. This is why they had to wait for the high priest to die before they could return home.
This idea of “cities of refuge” evolved into the idea of “sancturary”. One of the definitions of sancturary is ” A sacred and inviolable asylum; a place of refuge and protection; shelter; refuge; protection.” (thinkexist.com). Churches today should be “cities of refuge” for those who feel they are on the garbage heap of society. The church is both a place of safety as well as a place of atonement. We have people in our church who have been rejected by society for past sins, but they find both shelter and forgiveness in the friendly confines of the church.
My favorite medium sized "city of refuge."
Maybe this is a good argument for medium-sized churches where there is enough spiritual food to supply our “discipleship” needs but not so big that we can hide out.
As a pastor, I need a sanctuary as well and when I do I go visit my favorite catholics. My favorite catholics are the members of an order of nuns called “the adorers of the blood of Jesus.” They have a retreat center in Ruma Illinois where the nuns go for retreats, but it’s also where they live when they retire. It was there I visited Sister Mary Bede on the last night of her life as she was very ill with heart trouble. I have found favor with these nuns and when I need a place to get away for “sanctuary” from the world, I go spend a couple of nights in Ruma. Visiting Ruma destroys my stereotypes of nuns. My stereotype was that nuns are dour people who sit around and pray all day.
My dear friend, Sis. Mary Morris
What I find in Ruma, however, are professional women who spent their careers in nursing, hospital administration, teaching, and mission work. I’m greeted by a statue of the five southern Illinois nuns killed in the Liberian Civil War in 1992 when I enter the building. I walk the grounds and talk to God and receive unconditional acceptance by my catholic friends there. I was there again just a few weeks ago and was moved by a piece of architecture portraying an angel delivering Jesus the cup of redemption which would cost him his life. He prays, “if it be your will, let this cup pass from me.”
Let this cup pass from me
In this sanctuary I remember that Jesus continued on when he felt like quitting. I visit the graves of my nun friends from Murphysboro and remember that I am dust.
My prayer partner for ten great years
I am reminded to return to my medium size church and become a city of refuge and a sanctuary for all who have been wounded and broken by the storms of life.
My dear friend Agnesene