Lessons from Our Jewish Brothers and Sisters: Atonement

I offered the reflection yesterday at our Weekly Manna gathering at the law school. Because we are in the period that, for our Jewish brothers and sisters, is known as the Days of Awe or the Days of Repentance, my theme was atonement.

Specifically, I talked about the necessity of apologizing and asking for the pardon of those we have wronged. That included remarks about how we apologize and the process of reflection that helps us to recognize when we need to ask the pardon of another. With respect to the former, I am indebted to my friend Rabbi Norman Cohen, whose thoughts I shared with those who were present.

As Christians, we don’t have a particular time of year that we focus on our need to seek forgiveness from others (and from God), although some of us go through a similar process in preparation for receipt of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. But all of us, whether incident to a time of year like our Jewish brothers and sisters, incident to a sacrament or otherwise, need to engage in this kind of reflection.

You can access a recording of my reflection here or stream it from the icon below. It includes a guided meditation on a shortened version of an examen. (The podcast runs for 16:49.) You can find a copy of the handout I distributed and discussed about at the end of my talk here.

Atonement and Reconciliation

Today (sundown last night until sundown tonight) our Jewish brothers and sisters are celebrating Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. It is the “Day of Atonement,” on which those of the Jewish faith atone for their sins of the past year. The day is traditionally observed by fasting and prayer, and many of my Jewish friends spent a significant period of this day in their synagogues.

The day of Yom Kippur itself is reserved for atonement of sins between oneself and God. One comes to the day itself having already atoned for sins committed against other persons. To atone for those sins, one must seek reconciliation with that person, preferably doing something to right any wrongs one has committed against them. This is to be done before Yom Kippur.

We who are Catholics don’t have a single annual day of atonement. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is available to us all the time for us to seek pardon for our sins between ourselves and God and between ourselves and other perople (although it is a Sacrament frequently ignored by many except, perhaps, during Lent).

But one of the things I am drawn to by Yom Kippur and the days leading up to it is the emphasis on seeking reconciliation with those we have injured, on seeking pardon from the person and trying to do something to right the wrong. This is not something that should seem foreign to Christians; Jesus tells us to do exactly that. In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus says “if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your borther, and then come and offer your gift.”

We who are Christians can learn from the example of our Jewish brothers and sisters. Seeking absolution for our sins from God is important, but so is seeking pardon from, and reconciliation with, those against whom we have sinned.