Posts Tagged ‘Yom Kippur’

A Beautiful Public Observance of Faith

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

One of the things I’ve most come to appreciate during my 5 ½ years as Archbishop of New York is just how seriously our Jewish neighbors approach their holy days.   Traffic is lighter, things quiet down a bit in this hectic City, as the observance of these solemn days begin.  Whether we are Jews, Christians, Muslims, or any religion – or no particular religion at all – this public observance of faith being lived out is a beautiful example that we can all admire.  It is a joy and an honor for me to be able to offer my prayerful best wishes to all the Jewish family, as today they celebrate  the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, followed by the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement, and, finally, the Festival of Sukkot, the ever-timely reminder of God’s providence and care for His people.

We are fortunate that, here in New York, there exists such a warm and close relationship between the many different faith communities that call this City home.  We saw that most recently when I was asked by Mayor DiBlasio to host a meeting of religious leaders, brought together to help find a way to reduce tension at a difficult time. We all agreed, however, that our gathering must not be simply in response to a particular “crisis” but must instead be the occasion for the beginning of an ongoing effort to continue and expand the efforts each faith group was making to serve God through our service to those around us.

Today, far too often, we see religion portrayed as being responsible for division and separation, and a cause for hatred and violence.  Last Sunday, in Albania, Pope Francis declared, “Let no one use God as a ‘shield’ while planning and carrying out acts of violence and oppression! May no one use religion as a pretext for actions against human dignity and against the fundamental rights of every man and woman, above all, the right to life and the right of everyone to religious freedom!”  Unfortunately, in some parts of the world, this twisted interpretation of religion is a reality.  We are blessed that we New Yorkers know from our shared experience that religion can be the foundation of tolerance, understanding, and unity.  Would that our experience be a model for others to follow!

Of course, Jews and Catholics in New York have long enjoyed a special relationship that extends back decades, built upon a joint dialogue that has resulted in mutual respect, and friendship.   I have personally come to appreciate the beauty of that friendship as, for instance, I have lit a candle on the menorah at Temple Emanu-El, hosted a gathering at my residence of Jewish leaders to discuss the visit of the Pope to a Synagogue in Rome, attended a Passover seder, or accepted the gift of a granite bench from the ADL in commemoration of the wonderful spirit of interfaith understanding between Catholics and Jews.  I am grateful to my predecessors as Archbishop of New York, as I am to those leaders of the Jewish community, whose work bravely brought us closer together at a time when relationships were not as strong, nor the atmosphere as open for dialogue as it is today.

While each of the Jewish holy days and festivals has special meaning, I am particularly inspired each year by Yom Kippur, the day of atonement for sins, and a recognition of God’s great mercy towards His people.  There are, of course, parallels in Christian practices.  I am reminded of Lent and Holy Week in the Christian calendar, where we reflect on our sins, and, for Catholics and many other denominations, are encouraged in a special way to participate in the Sacrament of Confession (Reconciliation), and to engage in fasting and acts of self-sacrifice.  Who can forget the many times that Pope Francis has spoken of the great and tender mercy of God.  All of these find their roots in the Jewish call for examining our lives, acknowledging our sinfulness, seeking reconciliation with God and neighbor, and undergoing a personal conversion of heart.

What message could be more timely for us today than one that reminds us of the need to own up to our shortcomings and seek God’s help for doing better in the future.  It’s easy to think of conversion of heart as something that other people need to do, and we are especially reminded during UN week that there are many troubled spots in our world, places like Syria, or the Ukraine, for instance, where it is easy to pray that God will bring about a change of heart and peace will come.  But what about conversion in our own hearts and lives?  Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, that shining symbol of holiness and self-sacrifice, said it best when she was once asked, “If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?” She replied, simply, “Me.”  All of us, starting with yours truly, need to ask: Am I living up to what I profess? Where do I fall short and what about my life needs changing?  It’s at the heart of Yom Kippur, and a welcome reminder to us all.

So, as we wish our Jewish brothers and sisters a peaceful and prayerful celebration of their High Holy Days, we also thank them for reminding us of the reality of sin and necessity of conversion.


Where is Our Catholic Yom Kippur?

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

We Catholics in New York enjoy the “high holy days” of our Jewish neighbors, and are inspired by the seriousness and sincerity with which they approach their feasts.  Join me in wishing them God’s blessings on their special days!

They began their observance last week with Roshashana, the Jewish New Year, and will conclude evening and tomorrow with Yom Kippur, the great Day of Atonement.

The message of their celebrations, if I understand it correctly, is one of spiritual renewal, fresh starts, and repentance. Our Jewish friends pray, fast, reflect, resolve, ask God to forgive their sins as they repent, and start anew with festive meals and gatherings with family and friends!

Not bad at all!

They are only being faithful to their Scriptures.  God so often coaxed His Chosen People, “Come back to me with all your heart!”  How is that done? God tells us:  “A humble, contrite heart I will not spurn.”

There it is again:  repentance! 

God the Son learned from his Father, because Jesus made repentance the core of His invitation to His followers.

What’s that mean?  Simply put, it means turning away from sin and turning to the Person, message, salvation, and call to discipleship of Jesus.

We Catholics used to be constantly aware of this repentance!
Reminisce with me . . .

. . .     An examination of conscience and act of contrition prior to falling asleep at night;

. . .     frequent confession;

. . .     Friday abstinence from meat as an act of penance for our sins, in union with our Lord’s death on that Friday called “good.”;

. . .     “Ember Days” – – remember! – – at the change of each season, with fasting and the invitation to the Sacrament of Reconciliation;

. . .     Fasting on the vigil of holy days, so we could feast all the better on the day itself;

. . .     Never receiving the Eucharist if conscious of grave sin, without first approaching the Sacrament of Penance;

. . .     First Friday union with the Sacred Heart of Jesus through confession and Mass;

. . .     First Saturday Mass and rosary in response to our Lady’s call at Fatima to conversion of heart and repentance;

. . .     Fasting from food at least three hours before Holy Communion;

. . .     And, of course, the season of Lent, intended as a forty-day Yom Kippur.

Am I on the wrong track in thinking that most of this is now gone?

Now, I admit, customs, traditions, practices change.  Often it’s good when they do.

What can’t change is the call to repentance and conversion of heart at the very core of the Jewish-Christian Scriptures, and of our traditions.  The how we respond might change; that we do penance cannot change.

Our Jewish friends have not forgotten about repentance and conversion of heart, as is so obvious in New York these “high holy days.”

Have we Catholics forgotten it?

An Evening of Recollection

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

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.”