Saturday, December 2, 2017

Our Role in Bringing Christ to All Peoples: Does This Include Practitioners of Judaism?

I recently got into a conversation with some people regarding on how to successfully undertake inter-religious dialogue, specifically with Muslims and Jews. In the last 50 or so years, and especially in just the 21st century, there has been a lot of confusion on this topic. Some go to one extreme and say that there are several ways to salvation; or, that for the Jewish people, there is a path to salvation through their understanding of the covenant and another path for Christians. On the other end of the spectrum, some claim that no Jews can possibly be saved unless they explicitly convert to the Catholic Church and become visible members of that Church while they are arrive on Earth. Both positions are extreme and false, so thankfully, the Church holds the logical, moderate position as she typically does.

One person mentioned that when trying to undertake this dialogue, particularly with Jews, the best way to do so would be to find some common ground on which to begin some kind of discussion. One could perhaps begin by recognizing that Jesus was a Jew, and a practicing one at that, before He founded the Catholic Church.  Another way would be to recognize that both Judaism and Christianity use the Decalogue as a foundation for morality.  I thought that these were some great observations. You have to find common ground when entering a discussion, such as recognizing that Jesus Himself was Jewish, and we have to always speak with charity, as St. Peter exhorts us in his First Letter. But another person made a troubling comment that gave me pause: the Church no longer asks (or teaches) us to actively convert the Jews. Is this really true? Where exactly does the Church teach this? As you'll see in a moment, the Church does not teach such a notion.

Since our Lord said "No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6), and "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them...(Matt. 28:19)", I would assume this includes all humanity. St. Paul also tells us that "our Savior... desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2: 3-4). The fullness of the Truth can only be found in Christ's mystical Body, the Church, and I believe the Jewish people must also have the opportunity to hear the Good News actively preached to them.

If Saints Peter and Paul, and the other apostles and first Christians, were called to convert both Gentile and Jew in the 1st century, would we not also be called to proclaim the Good News to all? Even to the followers of Judaism in the 21st century, and ask them to also come to a conversion to our Lord Jesus, if the situation we are in allows as with any non-Christian?

As Christians it's imperative that we bring Jews and Muslims to a belief in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God. Some today, however, can be uncomfortable with this; especially in a culture that hates having ideas "shoved down their throats". Of course, that's not what true evangelization is. Because of this fear of not stepping on any one's toes, so to speak, it's not uncommon to hear it claimed that ecumenism and/or inter-religious dialogue is not about conversion. But isn't that precisely the end game of ecumenism? That is, that all men come to a profound conversion in Christ and in His Church through baptism? The basic goal of ecumenism and ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue efforts is to build relationships so that we may all be one in Christ, and I believe this necessarily entails conversion, a conversion which includes accepting our Lord's spouse, the Catholic Church.

It's safe to say that ecumenism par excellence is made manifest in the recent creation of the Anglican Ordinariate. In the name of growing in unity with each other and our Lord, and in building relationships, swaths of Anglican laymen, priests and bishops converted to the Catholic faith. On the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter's website, it describes itself as "...a key ecumenical venture exemplifying the Second Vatican Council’s vision for Christian unity, in which diverse expressions of one faith are joined together in the Church." These men and women that converted "are fully Roman Catholic, but retain elements of Anglican traditions in their liturgy, hospitality and ministries."

 The best way we can grow together with other people, is to grow in the love of Christ Jesus, a growth which comes to fruition at baptism, and a growth which is perfected in the Sacraments which are dispensed by God's Providence through the Catholic Church. I truly believe we have a duty as Catholic Christians to proclaim that to all people; this is why I was honestly confused to hear it claimed that the Church has taught that we no longer actively convert followers of the Jewish faith. So where does such a claim come from? Let's go back a couple years to unpack that question.

Bl. Pope Paul VI during the Second Vatican Council
In December of 2015, on the 50th anniversary of the declaration Nostra aetate of the Second Vatican Council, the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews released a reflection on theological questions pertaining to Catholic-Jewish relations. The secular media (as well as heterodox "Catholic" publications, such as the National Catholic Reporter), jumped all over this document, especially over one portion in particular. From paragraph 40:
"[T]he Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews."
This sentence was taken totally out of context by throngs of people and so-called news organizations,  as a careful reading of these documents (in light of Church teaching before and after) showed that neither document taught or claimed that we are to cease actively converting followers of the Jewish faith. At the time this reflection was released,  I specifically recall a lot of people mangling that quote and twisting it to mean something that it didn't. I remember the headlines from all the secular news outlets shouting that "Catholics Shouldn't Try to Convert Jews!" Just look at the first three pages of this Google search to see what I mean. Everyone just ran with it without reading the entire document by the Pontifical Council. Jimmy Akin caught on to that and put it more eloquently than I can:
"[The document] acknowledges that Christians have a duty to evangelize and that this includes Jewish people...  
"It then draws a distinction between the Church supporting particular efforts directed to Jewish evangelization and the ordinary, organic efforts of individual Christians in sharing their faith with Jews. 
"Regarding the former, the document says: 
'In concrete terms this means that the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews (GCGI 40).' 
"The key word here is 'institutional.' It’s saying that the Church doesn’t have a Pontifical Commission for the Conversion of Jews and that it does not provide support for independent institutions devoted to Jewish mission work (e.g., Catholic equivalents of Jews for Jesus).  
"Despite the fact that the Church does not conduct institutional efforts directed to Jewish evangelization, the document acknowledges that Christians can and must share their faith with Jews, stating: 
"'Christians are nonetheless called to bear witness to their faith in Jesus Christ also to Jews, although they should do so in a humble and sensitive manner, acknowledging that Jews are bearers of God’s Word, and particularly in view of the great tragedy of the Shoah [i.e., the Holocaust] (GCGI 40).'"
I think it is also important to note that the preface of the 2015 document also states:
"This document presents Catholic reflections on these questions, placing them in a theological context, in order that their significance may be deepened for members of both faith traditions. The text is not a magisterial document or doctrinal teaching of the Catholic Church, but is a reflection prepared by the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews on current theological questions that have developed since the Second Vatican Council."
So while I agree that we must respect the truths found in other religions, and of the faith of others insofar that it is not offensive to the Gospel and our Lord, we need to realize that, as then-Cardinal Josef Ratzinger pointed out in Dominus Iesus, "other rituals [of these religions], insofar as they depend on superstitions or other errors (cf. 1 Cor 10:20-21), constitute an obstacle to salvation."

Cardinal Ratzinger
Indeed, we are called to actively convert all nations. The way I define "actively" in this context of the conversion of practitioners of Judaism would mirror what Akin stated. For me, to actively bring the Good News to Jews so that they may one day convert, would be achieved by the "ordinary, organic efforts of individual Christians in sharing their faith with Jews." So essentially, the same way we should share our faith with non-Catholic Christians, Buddhists and Muslims. Regarding these "ordinary, organic efforts"... I think that's how we can actively proclaim the Good News and bring all people and nations to Christ. And of course, any conversion to the Catholic faith is the work of the Holy Spirit; He just uses us as an instrument of His will.

We can respect the truths found in other faiths and still work to bring our friends and neighbors to a full conversion, in accordance with God's will. I think the Ven. Fulton J. Sheen said it pretty well when he said that "Truth is like a circle. It has 360 degrees, and the fullness of the truth can only be found in the Catholic Church." He goes on to say: "A religion that started in Los Angeles just this afternoon has some good in it. It only has 10 degrees, but it's got some good." We always do well to keep that in perspective.

I think the revised prayers for Good Friday do a great job in bringing one particular shared truth (that is, the Jews knowing the true God before Christ came to Earth) to greater light, while still petitioning our Lord to lead the Jewish people to "arrive at the fullness of redemption", which is found in Him and His Bride, the Church. That's from the Ordinary Form, and I think the revised prayer for the Extraordinary Form, rewritten by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in 2008, is also a wonderful prayer where we more explicitly ask our Lord that the Jewish people acknowledge our Savior: "Let us pray also for the Jews: May our God and Lord enlighten their hearts, so that they may acknowledge Jesus Christ, savior of all men. Let us pray. Almighty and everlasting God, who desires that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of truth, mercifully grant that, as the fullness of the peoples enters into Your Church, all Israel may be saved. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen."

To those Catholics who would still disagree with the fact that we ourselves become a means of conversion for the Jewish people, I would say this. We as Catholics must never lose our missionary spirit and calling. Everyone needs to hear the Gospel. I think the late Cardinal Francis George put that really well some years back. I'll close with his words:
"The Church rejects the view that the call to conversion addressed to non-Christians is proselytism, for every single person has the right to hear the truth of the Gospel. It is not enough, as some would suggest, to limit one's missionary service to promoting human development and helping people preserve their own religious traditions. Confident proclamation of salvation in Christ flows from conviction that He truly holds the answer to the deepest human longings.”

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