Zenit News Agency has long been connected with the Legionaries of Christ and more recently Opus Dei. Fr. Thomas Rosica is CEO of Salt + Light TV as well as the English language assistant to the Holy See's Press Office.
"With them we recall our common trust in Gods grace and mercy, which we have inherited from the Jewish experience of God. With them we honor the richness of Jewish prayer that is at the core of Christian prayer"
Rome, September 12, 2013 by Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
At sunset on Friday, Sept. 13 this year, the Kol Nidre service will gather the Jewish community in synagogues across the globe, to initiate a solemn day of fasting, reflection, and prayer. At sunset the following evening the Ne'ilah service will assemble the community once again to close the annual observance of Yom Kippur. Through this "Day of Atonement," they seek repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation in their relations with God and with one another. Many will remain at the synagogue most of that day for personal or communal prayer and reflection; others will spend much of the day at home, reviewing their lives and relations since last Yom Kippur, asking forgiveness from others where necessary. This is the 10th of Tishrei on the Jewish calendar.
As Christians, we remember more than 2,000 years that comprise the story of the Christian community, from its beginnings within the Jewish community in Jerusalem, through the dramatic evolution that occurred as the Church took root in gentile communities of other cultures, to its present situation as the largest faith community in the world. The early Church and Rabbinic Judaism both took shape about the same time, both rooted in Biblical Judaism. But very soon in the history of these sibling communities, negative stereotypes of Jews and Judaism dominated the Church's relations with the Jewish community. That led to the demeaning of Jewish faith and the persecution of Jews, culminating in the role that the Church's theology played in setting the scene for the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis during World War II.
Especially since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), Christian communities have begun to re-examine this tragic history and to recognize the anti Judaism that, for centuries, has poisoned the life of the Church and brought untold suffering on the Jewish people. This gives Christians every reason to want to be with the Jewish community in repentance this Yom Kippur, to share their fast, to stand before God with them, acknowledging our own need for repentance and seeking forgiveness, as an expression of our commitment to new relations with this community.
The Jewish High Holy Days
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak to the Israelites thus: 'In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts of horns.... On the tenth day of the seventh month is the Day of Atonement.... on which expiation is made on your behalf before the Lord your God.... It shall be a sabbath of complete rest for you, and you shall practise self denial, from evening to evening you shall observe this sabbath" (Leviticus 23).
The above biblical citations refer to what have become the Jewish High Holy days, in the seventh month, known as Tishrei. The first day has been expanded over time into a two day holiday which Jews call Rosh HaShanah, the New Year. Being in the seventh month it is obviously not the Jewish New Year, for that is in the first month, Nisan, which contains the Passover freedom festival. In the seventh month Jews celebrate the world's New Year, the anniversary of Creation. Often repeated throughout these days is the declaration: "Today is the birthday of the world. Today God will bring to judgement all the world's creatures. "
The second festival of the seventh month is now known as Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is celebrated as a complete twenty-five hour fast from sundown until the following nightfall. No water or food is consumed during this period. Traditional synagogues will have services in the evening, which last about three hours. Then, in the morning, services will begin early and last through the entire day until the sounding of the ram's horn [Shofar] at nightfall. Some pious persons will spend the whole night as well chanting the Book of Psalms and other readings.
Rosh Hashanah begins in a festive mood. "Blessed are you, Lord, Sovereign of the universe, who has sustained and supported us and enabled us to reach this moment." We are grateful for the gift of life during the past year. However, the mood is both happy and serious at the same time. It is the beginning of a ten day period of judgement and therefore of penitential reflection. One is encouraged to examine one's life during the past year, express regret for sins and errors, confess before God and resolve to improve conduct during the New Year ahead. We can then ask- and expect- God's forgiveness. However, if our sin was against another person, we must first secure their forgiveness before expecting that of God.
On Yom Kippur the penitential mood is dominant. The prayers move around a wide range of religious emotions: awe and reverence before God's majesty; tenderness and love as gifts of God's love; tears of regret and noble resolve. The congregation, many dressed in white throughout the day, alternately bow and sway, cry and laugh as they move through the liturgy. The final hours are filled with intense spiritual passions and ultimate exaltation. We believe that God has indeed listened to our prayers and will forgive us. Now the New Year can begin in joy.
The prayers throughout this period are heavily dependent upon Psalms as well as other Rabbinic and medieval poetic writings. These reflect a wide range of spiritual moods and theological attitudes and may vary from community to community.
Pope Francis and the Jewish Community
On the eve of Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) this year, Pope Francis wished Jews around the world a sweet and peaceful year 5774, called for increased dialogue among the world’s religious communities and opposed fundamentalism in any faith. During his first private audience with an international Jewish leader since being elected Catholic Pontiff in March, Francis asked World Jewish Congress (WJC) President Ronald S. Lauder to convey his New Year message to Jewish communities world-wide and said he also needed a sweet year because of the important decisions lying ahead. Using the Hebrew words for ‘Happy New Year’, Pope Francis wished a "Shana Tova" and asked the WJC to share that message with the Jewish people worldwide.
At their meeting, Lauder and the Catholic Pontiff spoke about the situation in Syria and agreed to speak out against attacks on religious minorities, such as Coptic Christians in Egypt and against trends to restrict well-established religious practices such as circumcision. The Pope specifically expressed concern about the bans on kosher slaughter in Poland and directed Cardinal Kurt Koch, the president of the Vatican’s Commission for Relations with the Jews, to investigate and host a follow-up meeting as early as next week.
Francis reiterated a statement made last June that “a Christian cannot be an anti-Semite” and said that “to be good a Christian it is necessary to understand Jewish history and traditions.” He added that Jews and Christians shared the same roots and that dialogue was the key to building a common future. Referring to the conflict in Syria, the Pope called the killing of human beings unacceptable and said “world leaders must do everything to avoid war.”
After the meeting, Ronald Lauder praised the Pope for his unwavering commitment to dialogue and said that “Pope Francis’ leadership has not only reinvigorated the Catholic Church but also given a new momentum to relations with Judaism. Never in the past 2,000 years have relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people been so good. The leadership of successive popes over the past five decades has helped to overcome a lot of prejudice. This allows us now to work together in defending religious freedom wherever it is under threat and whichever community is affected.” (Communication issued by the World Jewish Congress)
This past week, in a lengthy letter to the former editor of the Italian daily ‘La Repubblica’, Eugenio Scalfari, Pope Francis urged non-believers to engage with Christians in an open and sincere conversation. Reflecting on the originality of the Christian faith in relations to other religions, the Pope stresses the role of Jesus who renders us all sons and daughters of God, therefore also brothers and sisters to each other. Our arduous task, he says, is that of communicating God’s love to all, not in a superior way, but rather through service to all people especially those on the margins of our societies.
In that letter, the Pope also spoke of his deep respect and friendship for people of Jewish faith – especially those with whom he worked so closely in his native Argentina. Reflecting on the terrible experience of the Shoah, he said, we can never be grateful enough to the Jews who maintained their faith in God, thus teaching us too to remain always open to his infinite love.
As our Jewish brothers and sisters prepare to observe a day of repentance and reconciliation this year, and come before God with fasting and prayer, we join with them in expressing our fundamental solidarity of faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. With them we recall our common trust in God’s grace and mercy, which we have inherited from the Jewish experience of God. With them we honor the richness of Jewish prayer that is at the core of Christian prayer. With them we confess our sins, both personal and corporate. With them we name with sadness and shame the sins of the Christian churches towards the Jewish people, especially our contempt for their spiritual traditions. In solidarity with them we seek forgiveness and reconciliation and pray for peace among all people, cultures and religions.
What Jews, Muslims and Christians Long for Together
Rome, September 02, 2013 by Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
Today, on the eve of the Jewish celebration of Rosh Ha’shanah (New Year) Pope Francis met with a delegation of the World Jewish Congress.It is good to reflect for a moment on the meaning of the Jewish New Year celebrated this week. It has significiance for Christians as well. The Feast of Rosh Ha’shanah, meaning literally the “beginning of the year,” occurs on the first of the Hebrew month Tishre and inaugurates the solemn Jewish season which concludes with Yom Kippur. In the Bible, the Jewish New Year Festival is called Day of the Sounding of the Shofar and Memorial of the blowing of the Shofar (ram’s horn). This instrument is designed to sound the alarm of the forthcoming solemn season, to awaken Jewry to prayer and repentance. It serves as a call to remember the historical events which made Israel a people, whether at Mount Sinai or on its entrance into Israel, or on the occasion of the proclamation of the Jubilee year. In Jewish liturgy, this feast also has two other names: Day of Memorial and Day of Judgment. Each of the different names of the Festival conveys one of the special characteristics of the Festival.
Rosh Hashanah is not an opportunity for excess and mirth. If Jews rejoice in the festival, it is only in the knowledge that life still holds out the promise of better things. It is the occasion of self-examination, a time when, in the words of their prayers, all creatures are remembered before God. It is a day of Judgment, not only in the Divine sense, but in the sense that on this day all Jews should judge their own actions. It is also a day of remembrance, not only of great events of the dim past, but also of the incidents of the human journey over the past year. Rosh Hashanah invites all Jews to recall with gratitude the many times they have been delivered from mishap and pain by the unseen hand of the Almighty One.
One of the very happy memories of my years of study in Israel was the experience of the Jewish High Holy Days of Rosh Ha’shanah (Jewish New Year), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) and Sukkoth (Feast of Booths) in the city of Jerusalem. With those holidays upon us again over the next two weeks, I would like to recall one of the principal biblical texts read in synagogues on the Jewish New Year, and consider its relevance for us today, especially at a time when solid interfaith relations are essential and necessary for the future of humanity. It is the well-known Genesis story of the sacrifice of Isaac by his father Abraham (Genesis 22:1-19), referred to as the “Akedah” in Hebrew. Akedah is the anglicization of the Aramaic word for “binding.” The story is told in few sentences, and it easily provokes scandal for the modern mind: What sort of God is this, who can command a father to kill his own son? What would a contemporary father do if he were to be called on to sacrifice his only son to God? The point of the story is Abraham’s unquestioning faith and God’s acceptance of it as the occasion of his unconditional promise of future blessing to Abraham’s descendants.
The binding of Isaac is a symbol of life, not death – for Abraham is forbidden to sacrifice his son. Jews, Christians and Muslims exist to reveal the holiness of God’s name and God’s sovereignty over all creation. In a world filled with so many voices and things demanding first place, Judaism, Christianity and Islam all recognize God as ruler over all. We yearn for the day when God will be all in all, when swords will be turned into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks – in Jerusalem, in the Holy Lands that also include Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and Iraq, and throughout the whole world.
One aspect of the Akedah has much relevance not only for Jews, but Christians and Muslims as well: The location of this story. The event took place on Mount Moriah. “Moriah” in Hebrew refers to “the place of vision.” The ancient Israelites were drawn to the sacred high stone of Jerusalem because the Canaanites first worshipped it. The link between the two peoples is dramatized in Hebrew scriptures by the story of Melchisedek, the legendary Canaanite priest-king of Jerusalem who anticipated monotheism, the belief in but one God.
Later, the patriarch Abraham, obedient to the Lord, binds his son Isaac for sacrifice on the sanctified rock called Moriah. Eventually Moriah becomes the foundation stone of Solomon’s Temple, built as the dwelling place of God. The precious rock becomes the bond between Judaism and two other faiths, Christianity and Islam. It was on the Jewish Temple that Jesus prophesied Jerusalem’s destruction as prelude to the arrival of God’s Kingdom.
Six hundred years after Jesus, with the Jewish Temple in ruins, the Muslim conquerors of Palestine showed their own profound respect for the Abrahamic stone of sacrifice by building over it a magnificent octagonal shrine, naming it The Dome of the Rock. This stone on Mount Moriah is the source of Jerusalem’s religious unity and it is also the symbol of the world’s faith. I often saw pilgrims kneeling at Jesus’ tomb at the foot of another Jerusalem mount named Calvary, and Jews in prayer before the Western Wall, while the muezzin called the Muslim faithful to prayer!
The root of redemption
Jerusalem is still the root of redemption. The vision of the one God united Jerusalem’s different peoples. What divides them is the daily, practical application of that vision, i.e., religion. The vision of God is given to human beings who speak different languages and see the world differently. Religion is born of these differences. There is no better place to experience this paradox than on the very stone which tradition identifies to be the place of the Akedah. For all three great world religions, this spot is a centre of focus and identity. One thousand years after monotheism vanquished idolatrous polytheism, believers in the God of Israel quarreled in Jerusalem over who was the true messianic agent to the One God, and in that quarrel Christianity was born. Later the prophet Mohammed, rejected by both Jews and Christians, inspired an army of zealots who conquered Jerusalem. To show their pride in the triumph of Islam, they constructed the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount, a shrine deliberately built higher than Constantine's Golgotha basilica. The births of Christianity and Islam from Judaism were painful and bloody. How could we not expect that Jerusalem would become the battleground of three monotheistic faiths? If today we criticize the senselessness of religious conflict in the Holy City, should we not also lament the foolishness of God who chose a hilltop town as his earthly abode? For what pagan or Jew or Christian or Muslim could resist dominating God's dwelling place and thereby come into conflict with his brothers?
There is no better place to experience this paradox than on the very stone which tradition identifies to be the place of the Akedah. For all three great world religions, this very spot is a center of focus and identity. We have already seen that it's the place that David bought to center his royal city of Jerusalem and, later, Solomon built the first beautiful Temple on that very spot. Later in history, at the time of Jesus, it was the place that Herod built his Temple, establishing a great platform and building on it the most splendid of all Temple buildings. So it is very sacred to Judaism as well as to the Muslim religion. But, because of the memory of Jesus, it's sacred to Christianity, as well. Here Jesus came, the great prophet from Galilee, at the climax of his ministry, to purify the Temple, the house of his God. Here was the crisis that precipitated the Passion of Jesus.
For Christians, this new, purified temple would not be of stone and wood and gold but a living temple of people (I Peter 2:4-6; Ephesians 2:19-22). All of the sacredness and beauty and longing that Israel lavished on the Temple, Christians now center on the Church itself. In this temple, not built by hands, were to be found not only the strong and the successful and the beautiful but those we are often tempted to exclude from our sacred zones: the poor, the disabled, the old and the unwanted. Jesus had never excluded them; they were his people and, therefore, they would have access to his new temple. For those who follow Jesus there is no place or building that holds us together.
There is no rock or inner sanctuary somewhere that contains God's essence. Our sacred city is neither Jerusalem nor Rome, despite the reverence we hold for these places. For us the zone of the sacred is a living community of people –united by faith in Jesus and the God of compassion he revealed to us. Long ago, Paul, who loved the Temple in Jerusalem, reminded the contentious and divided Christians of Corinth of a new reality: "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price" (I Corinthians 6:19-20). Therefore we are God's Zion; we are the Temple.
Both Mount Moriah and Mount Calvary are significant places of vision in the bible. For on both mountains, we see a God who never abandons us in our deepest despair, terror and death. God is with us through thick and thin, through day and night. Jews, Christians and Muslims exist to reveal the holiness of God's name and God's sovereignty over all creation. In a world filled with so many voices and things demanding first place, Judaism, Christianity and Islam recognize God as sovereign over all creation. Together we yearn for the day when swords will be turned into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks... in Jerusalem, in the Holy Lands, and throughout the world.
In conclusion, I offer the prayer of Blessed John Paul II written for the World Day of Peace in 2002.
O God, Creator of the universe,
who extends your paternal concern over every creature
and guides the events of history to the goal of salvation,
we acknowledge your fatherly love
when you break the resistance of mankind and,
in a world torn by strife and discord, you make us ready for reconciliation.
Renew for us the wonders of your mercy;
send forth your Spirit that he may work in the intimacy of hearts,
that enemies may begin to dialogue, that adversaries may shake hands
and peoples may encounter one another in harmony.
May all commit themselves to the sincere search
for true peace which will extinguish all arguments,
for charity which overcomes hatred, for pardon which disarms revenge.