I’ve heard it said that the shofar (ram’s horn trumpet), with its curving shape, represents the way a repentant heart “bends” before the Lord in supplication.
When it’s blown, it has a unique sound that can trumpet victory or a mournful wail. In the liturgy of Rosh Hashanah, today’s Jewish “Feast of Trumpets,” three types of blasts make up the 100 that are blown. Together they remind the Lord’s people of his faithfulness; they also ring in the new year and yearn for the future coming of the Messiah.
Rosh Hashanah kicks off ten days of self-reflection and prayer that culminate in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. As Catholics, we find atonement in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. But we share with the Jews an understanding of the burden of sin and the need for repentance. We both look for new life to the One God, who reveals himself through his Word. Like them, we examine our consciences and bend our hearts in sorrow before him. We, too, trust in the mercy of God.
God’s mercy is always available
Some people believe there is a different God portrayed in the Old and New Testaments. They think (wrongly) that mercy shines only with the coming of Jesus, whereas God before Christ did nothing but judge. Rosh Hashanah provides a beautiful reminder that God has always been merciful. In fact, it reminds us that God is not only merciful, he IS mercy, to the core. Every day during this season, special prayers of repentance (“selichot”) are said that focus on the “Thirteen Attributes” of God. They are drawn from the way God described himself when Moses pled for mercy on Israel’s behalf after they rebelled by worshiping the golden calf:
The LORD passed before [Moses], and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, The LORD [that is, I AM, I AM], a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin….” —Exodus 34:6-7a
Those words are worth reading slowly. Allow them to sink in. This is what God IS! The Lord’s patience and steadfast love are on display not only then, in forgiving Israel when it rejected him, but throughout the history of Israel. And his patience and steadfast love are available to us today. God is the same now as he ever has been! (See Hebrews 13:8.)
Spend time in the Word
In the spirit of Rosh Hashanah, I offer the following Scriptures for reflection, from the Old and New Testaments both. Look them up in your Bible to get the context. Take one to prayer with an examination of conscience, and take advantage of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. God longs to forgive you. Turn to him!
- 2 Chronicles 7:14 — “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
- 2 Chronicles 30:9 — “For if you return to the Lord, your brothers and your children will find compassion with their captors and return to this land. For the Lord your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him.”
- Acts 3:19 — “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out,”
- 1 John 1:9 — “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
- 2 Peter 3:9 — “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
We all need the refreshment and new start that comes with true repentance and divine mercy. Join me in wishing our Jewish brothers and sisters a Happy New Year. And may their celebration serve as a reminder to us to examine our hearts and bend them before the Lord who forgives us and brings us new life.
© 2020 Sarah Christmyer
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Read Nostra Aetate (“In Our Times”), the Vatican II document that opened up Catholic-Jewish relations more than 50 years ago. “In her task of promoting unity and love among men, indeed among nations, she considers above all in this declaration what men have in common and what draws them to fellowship” (NA, 1)
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Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Catholic Edition now available from The Augustine Institute.