Posts Tagged ‘Yom Kippur’

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.”