While working with the network of Religious Communities in the past, I came to know the local Jewish community rather well. I spent time at a local temple and lunched with their rabbi, with whom I really enjoyed spending time in conversation. My supervisor at the time, who was not Catholic, challenged my Catholicism’s sacrament of confession. He referred to it as a “cheap grace.” He remarked, “Jews have to seek out who they offended and ask for their forgiveness. Catholics can just show up in the confessional and ask God to forgive them and they are so forgiven. It’s kind of a “cheap grace.”
While I don’t buy that the grace of the sacrament of reconciliation is by any means, “a cheap grace,” nor would I believe that someone who admits their sins in confession isn’t completely forgiven by God, I think my supervisor (A Protestant) was confusing the notions of forgiveness vs. reconciliation. It’s one thing to be forgiven for our sins. It’s another matter to work on reconciliation with those for whom we’ve harmed by our sins.
Yom Kippur brings this to the forefront for me. “Some Jews,” as my friend Rabbi Alex, informs me, “but not all, believe that you cannot ask for forgiveness by God, until you are forgiven by people.” (For the record, I don’t believe that he believes this). But regardless of the theology here, this is something to lean into as a regular practice.
“I’m sorry,” should be enough to heal wounds, but of course it is not. Harm requires time to be healed. Sin damages communities and the individuals within those communities. As aptly said, by my Anthropology Professor last night, “Sin has caused people to die. It’s cost people their lives.”
I stumbled upon this prayer from one temple celebrating Yom Kippur today, the day of atonement. I think it aptly sums up “the ask” for forgiveness from others. What would you add or subtract from this?
“For what we have done, for what we may do, we ask pardon; for rash words, broken pledges, insincere assurances and foolish promises, may we find forgiveness.”
FIND forgiveness. There’s an apt phrase. To find forgiveness, we must seek it out. We must be humble enough to admit our own broken humanity. To realize that we are far from perfect and to admit that when we think we are perfect and in no way need forgiveness, that we have made a graven image of ourselves as God.
Today, I hope I find the temerity to seek forgiveness for my faults. I pray to find hope in offering forgiveness when I really don’t feel much like forgiving someone else for the harm they have done to me. Grace requires mutuality in that like the Eucharist, we need to indeed become what it is that we receive. This Yom Kippur, may we Catholics take a page from our Jewish friends and seek forgiveness, for our sins, for things done in our name by other Catholics, for the failures of our church to protect children and the vulnerable, for the harm we have causes in public discourse, for our inablity to welcome others and care for creation. For simply not always taking the time to listen and try to understand just a little more about someone else. And to also have compassion, to “suffer with” those who have suffered much today and to have the grace to accept words of forgiveness from someone else. Amen.