An Evening of Recollection

It took a Jewish woman to remind me of the irreplaceable significance of prayer and penance in the life of a believer.

This is my third autumn with you here in New York, and each year I have been inspired by how seriously our Jewish neighbors take their high holy days.

On the evening after Rosh Hashanah, the New Year in the Hebrew calendar, I had the pleasure of an enjoyable evening out at an Italian restaurant.  (“Where is the penance in that?”  I can hear you ask!)

Around the table were Catholics, a Greek Orthodox gentleman, and a delightful Jewish woman at my side.

At my urging, she described to me the way she and her family observed the holy days upon them.  She was especially eloquent about the rigor and meaning of the then approaching Yom Kippur, the revered Day of Atonement.

On Rosh Hashanah, she explained, her people entered a period of reflection, examination of the just concluded year, and made some resolutions about the year ahead.

Then, with sundown on Yom Kippur, she and her family began an intense 24 hour period of prayer and fasting from all food and even water.

She went on to share with me what this was all about.  Part of it, she pointed out, was repentance for past sin through prayer and mortification.

Secondly, she went on, was a sense of solidarity with the suffering and hungry of the world whose hunger — unlike her own — was hardly voluntary, but part of a daily survival.

Finally, she concluded, was a sense of bodily hunger, thirst, and emptiness, which was but a mirror of the interior hunger and thirst we all have, an emptiness only God can fill, as the Hebrew psalmist so eloquently sang.

She then asked me, “Do you Catholics have such an experience?”

Sure, I was able to reply.  Every Friday is supposed to be a day of penance for us.  (But is it?  I thought to myself.)

Lent, I went on, was a forty day experience of what she described, with special penance on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and the other Fridays of that season.  (But is it?  I wondered to myself.)

Then I reminisced about the Ember Days, fasting before Holy Communion, and penitential vigils of holy days that we used to have.

I mentioned to her that Jesus, steeped in faithful Jewish tradition, told us that reflection, prayer, and penance were essentials in following Him.

As we left, I thanked her for what I described as an “evening of recollection,” listening to her elaborate on her Jewish faith.

“But I worry,” she concluded, “because I fear we Jews might be losing our tradition of sacred times of reflection, prayer, and penance.”

“You’re not alone,” I assured her.  “I fear we Catholics are, too.”

 

 

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6 Responses to “An Evening of Recollection”

  1. John G. says:

    Your Excellency,

    This blog raises similar questions to the one on “External Markers” of our Catholic Faith.

    Please raise this subject with your Brother Bishops in Baltimore when you meet on November 14 – 16 for your Fall General Assembly. There are many in the Laity who would support a return to the use of “external markers”, etc.

    On Sunday, November 27th we shall be “returning” to some aspects of the “old liturgy” when the Third Edition of the Roman Missal is implemented in the United States. Perhaps we should also return to some of our Church Traditions that were thrown out for simplification.

    Please also ask you Brother Bishops for permission to insert a “Petition” into each Mass to ask God to guide our Country, its leaders and its people on the paths of justice and peace.

    Thank you.

    Respectfully

  2. Rushad Thomas says:

    Your Excellency, I love you tremendously! You’re an amazing leader for God’s people. I just wanted to alert you to a stunningly awful article written at the Huffington Post blog slandering your good name, and I wish you’d write a blog post in response. I’m also going to alert Bill Donahue at The Catholic League about the anti-Catholic screed at HuffPo’s blog. God Bless you, Archbishop, and know that you are in my prayers as you continue to preach the Savior’s everlasting Gospel, both in season and out of season. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michele-somerville/catholic-bishops-doma_b_1001524.html

  3. Ryan C. says:

    Your Excellency,

    I think you’re really on to something with your ponderings about external markers of the faith and a renewal of penance in our Church today. Perhaps it’s time for a discussion among the USCCB regarding the restoration of the Friday abstinence for every Friday of the year like the bishops of England have recently done?

    Please be assured of my prayers for you as well as my gratitude for the many spiritual insights I gained from reading your book “Priests for the Third Millenium.”

    Yours in Christ,
    Ryan

  4. Thomas says:

    “It took a Jewish woman to remind me of the irreplaceable significance of prayer and penance in the life of a believer.” The Archbishop of New York is stating this. Just another example of the crisis in the clergy. If an Archbishop does not realize this and live this then we as a Church are in greater trouble then I thought. Wow. That’s right up there with the Archbishop’s surprise when “gay marriage” was passed into law when pro abortion, radical liberal politicians assured him that it wouldn’t (apperance on EWTN with Raymond Arroyo).

  5. Brad Karpenko says:

    Thanks, Archbishop, for the interesting blog. I hope that our American bishops will consider restoring meatless Fridays throughout the year. It was a small sacrifice to make, in the days when we had it, but a meaningful one, and a good place to start to restore the concept of penance and sacrifice. It would also help to restore the pascal balance between the joy of Sunday mass and the sacrifice of Friday penance which has to come before it.

  6. This is Today’s Article in “The Catholic Thing”:
    http://www.thecatholicthing.org/

    Please address these issues at the USCCB

    I beg you

    Your Brother in Christ – Joe
    (I pray the Rosary for you every night)

    Data Mining and Stock Grading

    By Brad Miner
    MONDAY, 24 OCTOBER 2011
    The website of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life offers a goldmine of much interesting data, although some of it may give you the intellectual equivalent of black lung disease.
    For instance, Pew’s survey of Catholic attendance at Mass found the following percentages:
    Never 6
    Seldom 13
    A few times a year 20
    Once or twice a month 19
    Once a week 33
    More than once a week 9

    Looking at these figures, you wouldn’t be wrong in concluding that, among America’s nearly 80-million Catholics, only a smidgen more than 40 percent is actually, well, Catholic, in the sense that they recognize the obligation to attend weekly Mass.
    Do the rest not know that every Sunday is a Holy Day of Obligation? Fifty-eight percent clearly don’t or don’t care – and, if you don’t care, how it is you are Catholic? But I’ll bet the proportion of Catholics unaware of the Sunday obligation is actually much higher; that many of those who say they attend weekly are ignoring vacation days or business-travel days – or “lazy” days – when they skip Sunday Mass. I missed Mass this year on one vacation Sunday, and when I confessed it on Monday the priest gave me the most elaborate penance I’ve ever received.

    Not that mere attendance guarantees the believer is properly in communion with the faith. At my church, where Sunday attendance is high at five of the seven Masses (the Vigil, 8:00, 9:30, 10:45 and noon), about 100 percent receive Communion. But as I’ve often observed, I’m pretty sure that fewer than 10 percent have been to confession in many moons. So although they meet the obligation, they’re not necessarily accepting of the burden.

    There’s a Pew chart that shows “Religious Composition of the U.S.” and displays the legacy of Christian disunity after the Reformation. Most of the chart is taken up by designations of Protestantism. There are three main headings: Evangelical Protestant Churches (26 percent of the U.S. population), Mainline Protestant Churches (18 percent), and Historically Black Churches (7 percent). But under those categories are more than 100 different denominations. The single “Catholic” line, with no sub-categories, seems almost insignificant . . . except that we are 24 percent of the U.S. population – by far the largest single “denomination,” as I suppose sociologists would term the One True Church. By other ways of measuring, we’re equal in size to the next fifteen denominations combined.

    If you add up all evangelical and mainline Baptist groups, they equal about 13 percent of the U.S. population. But the data also show them shrinking, while Catholics are growing and will soon be double the number of Baptists.

    Buddhists, Muslims, and Orthodox churches have more-or-less equal numbers of members (0.6 – 0.7 percent), and Jews constitute 1.7 percent. A friend of mine, a Jew, married an Asian woman shortly after she came to America – he’s a native New Yorker, and she’s from a Buddhist family in Burma, although educated in Catholic schools there. After she’d been in New York a while, her husband asked her to estimate the Jewish population of America. She guessed 50 percent. “You need to get off the Island of Manhattan,” he said.

    Speaking of faith by locale, the most religious state – as determined by questions about the importance of faith in your life – is Mississippi, and tied for last are Vermont and New Hampshire. Sad to say, except for Nebraska, states with the highest Catholic populations tend to rank among the lowest on the “very religious” scale.

    But it’s when you dig down into core measurements of Catholic belief that you get covered in soot. I’m not referring to what the Church actually teaches, but what American Catholics tell pollsters they believe. Here’s a truly depressing datum: among weekly communicants, 26 percent believe abortion should be “legal in most cases.” True, 67 percent of weekly Mass attendees do not favor legalized murder of innocent children. But they are the most observant Catholics.

    Among remaining “Catholics,” 65 percent are pro-choice. The figures for all Catholics come out 45/45. I suppose it’s the result of an educational system based upon the notion that it’s okay whatever you choose to believe, as long as you’re sincere! One bright spot: support for abortion has actually been declining, albeit slightly, among all grades of Catholics (and also among all religious groups.)

    Maybe we need formal grading of Catholics from the USCCB, just as the FDA classifies beef: step-down ratings from Prime-plus, through Choice and Select, to Standard-minus.

    What about same-sex marriage? Among all Catholics: 46 percent favor, 42 percent oppose, an exact flip from just a few years ago. Despite pro-life gains, support for same-sex marriage seems inexorably on the rise – pretty much among all Catholics, although more so among whites than Hispanics. These are Catholics in need of catechetical marinating. Better that than they should continue to stew in their own juices.

    To borrow Occupy Wall Street rhetoric, I intend to proclaim: “I’m the 9 percent!” – meaning I’m among the marbled more-than-once-a-weekers at Mass, which is good. But if saints are Prime-plus, I need a bit more time on the feedlot, by which I mean at prayer and by visiting my local purveyor of malted-barley beverages. That should fatten me up.

    Brad Miner is senior editor of The Catholic Thing, a senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute, and a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA. One of his books, The Compleat Gentleman, was published in a revised edition in 2009