More than 200 people seeking wisdom and guidance regarding the religious ritual of Sabbath attended the 38th annual Catholic-Jewish Women’s Conference at the Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles on Nov. 11, the conference’s largest attendance turnout in more than 20 years.

“Keeping Sabbath: Finding Sacred Time in a 24/7-Connected Culture” explored various aspects of the weekly observance of Sabbath from the perspectives of both the Catholic and Jewish faith traditions, featuring speakers Sister Edith Prendergast, RSC, director of the archdiocesan Office of Religious Education, and Rabbi Sharon Brous, spiritual leader of the IKAR Spiritual Community in Los Angeles.

According to Rabbi Brous, the practice of Shabbat — the Jewish term for the Sabbath, which Jews observe from sundown Friday until nightfall Saturday — is a centuries-old “life sustaining” tradition that “has the power to change everything.”

“Once a week — no matter what deadline you’re facing, no matter how stressed out you are — you stop everything and you dream again, you dream about what is possible in the world,” she explained. “Judaism asks us…to live dialectically” — both with a dream (i.e., praying for world peace), while also acknowledging the realities of the modern-day world that may threaten those very dreams. 

“Dive in and immerse yourself into the world as it is for six days, but then one day a week step out of it, and by doing so you…are given the opportunity, like God on the seventh day, to look in from the outside and to say, ‘This is what’s beautiful and this is what’s broken,’” continued Rabbi Brous. “That’s how our dreams stay alive…. We reinforce for ourselves what might be possible.”

To reinforce our dreams we must reinvigorate our minds, spirits and bodies by being “refreshed and renewed” on the Sabbath, and also during moments of spiritual mindfulness during the week, said Sister Prendergast in her presentation. 

“In our fast-paced society we live to achieve, to win and to possess,” she said. “Our culture has driven us into a whirlwind kind of existence, where we rush to produce and consume, and we have no time to stand and stare.… The challenge is to step off the treadmill of working, doing, buying and spending — especially in this season of Christmas — and disengage from the rat race of consumer culture.”

The goal, said Sister Prendergast, is to interrupt our “path of preoccupation, and return our hearts and our minds to the path of holiness [in order to] remain anchored in God’s presence.” To do so, we must slow down and “become spiritually awake,” and approach our human interactions and the ordinary activities of each day mindful of God’s presence and the beauty of his creations in our lives.

“We are called to a sacrament of consciousness [and] to fast from our fears,” she explained. “We need mental [and physical] rest to regain balance in our lives.”

Father Alexei Smith, director of the archdiocesan Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, described interfaith dialogue as an opportunity to “open ourselves to being enriched by others, and that’s what we’re doing here today.”

“I think the whole topic of Sabbath is something that we Catholics can learn a great deal about from our elder brothers and sisters in faith, the Jews,” he told The Tidings during the recent conference. “Many Catholics are still steeped in the idea of obligation — Sunday is an obligation, you must go to Mass on Sundays… and then you go off to a football game or you go do laundry or go shopping. 

“But the Jews have this wonderful tradition on Sabbath, that [the entire day] is, in fact, the Lord’s day,” he continued. “That’s the beauty of this type of gathering, with Jews and Catholics together, because we can learn so much from one another.” ŒΩ