Wednesday, April 13, 2011


What do we, as Catholics, believe about the Jews? This question probably has at least two answers: first, what many Catholics may well believe; second, what the Catholic Church teaches. Let’s concentrate on the 2nd of these and leave any discrepancies to the consciences of those who think differently.

In the last 50+ years there has been a sea-change in attitudes expressed by the Catholic Church toward the Jews, and this has been not only all to the good but also utterly necessary. It begins by recognizing the obvious: Jesus was a Jew. It continues, centrally for us this week, with the admission that “the Jews” did not kill Jesus (slanders like “Christ-killers,” used for centuries which led to ghettos and pogroms and the Nazi ‘Final Solution,’ are just that: slanderous misuse of Scripture to justify hatred). Some Jews opposed Jesus; some Romans (particularly those in authority) also did. Many Jews supported Jesus; others were more than likely indifferent. In any event, this was an occurrence of the 1st century, not the 21st.

Are the Jews saved? Insofar as they are faithful to the Abrahamic covenant, then yes. St Paul tells us this (people need to read Romans 9-11 very carefully). Vatican II (in the document Nostra Aetate, paragraph 4) does so, as well. And the writings of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI confirm this. Will there be a great reconciliation in the messianic kingdom? Yes. But it is God’s place to achieve this, and so Catholics do not attempt to convert Jews, except in the sense of Bl Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who said: “Yes, I want to convert you: I convert a Jew to be a better Jew, I convert a Hindu to be a better Hindu, I convert a Muslim to be a better Muslim…”

A good word from the early preaching of the Church should help us here: Now I know, brothers, that you acted out of ignorance, just as your leaders did; but God has thus brought to fulfillment what he had announced beforehand…that his Messiah should suffer (Acts 3:17-18). St Paul again confirms this: …we speak of God’s wisdom…which none of the rulers of this age knew; for if they had known it, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory (I Corinthians 2:7-8).

So let’s be completely clear: the passages in the Passion (especially in Matthew and John, which are ours for this liturgical year) in which there are cries for Jesus’ death cannot be applied to all Jews of that time, much less of today. It is no accident that those words will be proclaimed liturgically by the mouths of the Catholics at Mass on Palm Sunday and Good Friday: it is our sins for which Christ died.

So find your Jewish friends this week (in which they are celebrating Passover), and wish them “Good Pesach!” They are our elder brothers and sisters, and if Abraham is our father in faith (Eucharistic Prayer #1), it is from him that we (spiritually) and they (physically) both claim descent. May God bless us all this great week, and bring us all into the Kingdom. To modify the final cheer of the Seder slightly:  Next year, together, in the New Jerusalem!!

[Footnote:  the illustration above is of Marc Chagall's "White Crucifixion," housed in the Art Institute of Chicago, and one of most important works of religious-themed art in the 20th century.]

1 comment:

  1. It is of interest, perhaps, during this holy time that there exists a particular ministry. It is the Chosen People Ministries, begun in 1894 in Brooklyn, New York. It began with a Rabbi Leopold Cohn when he first believed that Jesus is the Messiah and was gripped with the need to reach Jewish people with the 'Good News'. The ministry expanded over the years into a broad-based organization of Jewish and Gentile believers who are committed to this goal. Presently, Dr. Mitch Glaser is the President of Chosen People Ministries. Its international headquarters are located at 241 E. 51st St., New York, NY.