In wake of violence, the heart of faith for Jews and Christians remains: Love God and neighbor always

  As published in the Northwest Indiana Catholic on November 4, 2018

 

   The horror of the synagogue shooting last week in Pittsburgh brings all of us together in a solidarity of prayer, sorrow and support to our Jewish brothers and sisters in the wake of this terrible hate crime.  Having recently visited Auschwitz on a pilgrimage to Eastern Europe and watched the film, “Operation Finale,” which details the bold kidnapping of Adolf Eichmann, the mastermind of the Final Solution, I am struck anew by the continued evil of anti-Semitism.  After the demonic genocide of the Holocaust, we would think that a profound lesson has been learned for all time.  Sadly, such is not the case.

     All of the first Christians were Jewish, as were Jesus and Mary. This fact may seem obvious, but I am always struck by people who do not realize it. Those first followers of Christ saw their faith in him as a profound and definitive completion or fulfillment of their Jewish faith. Jesus is the longed-for Messiah who ushers in the age of the Kingdom of God and expands the Covenant to an offer of salvation, forgiveness and love to all people, Jew and gentile alike. 

     This spiritual realization was the fruit of the theological reflection and pastoral labor of Peter and Paul.  The first members of the Church attended the synagogue on Saturday and celebrated the Eucharist on Sunday.

     Gradually, the Jews who accepted faith in Jesus as the Christ and those who did not separated, as Christianity came to be seen as a distinct faith following its own course through history. Sadly, many Christians including Church leaders were anti-Semitic, calling Jews “Christ killers,” forcing them to live in ghettoes and excluding them from the social and cultural life of the community. 

     This religious bigotry segued into racial discrimination in the ensuing centuries, reaching its horrible fulfillment in Adolf Hitler and Nazism’s evil attempt to annihilate all Jews from the face of the earth.

     Anti-Semitism has no place in the heart of a Christian.  As Pope Pius XI famously said, “All Christians are spiritual Semites”; Jesus, Mary, our understanding of God as one, transcendent and universal, the moral code of the Decalogue, the roots of the Eucharist and the priesthood, indeed our understanding of God, the Scriptures, the world and ourselves comes to us from the Jewish faith and experience. 

     How we believe, worship, theologize and act out our faith is deeply influenced by the same religious tradition that formed Jesus himself.

     The Church holds great respect for Judaism and its adherents; all of our recent popes have visited numerous synagogues, beginning with Pope John Paul II who counted many Jews as his closest friends, the documents of Vatican II uphold the continued integrity of the original covenant established between God and the Jewish people, numerous conferences, dialogues and encounters between Catholics and Jews help foster relationships of trust, respect and love. 

     Even though some Church leaders shamefully supported the Nazis, many others spoke out and boldly acted in opposition to their racial genocide.  When Hitler ordered all of the Jews in Germany to wear yellow armbands bearing the Star of David, Cardinal Faulhaber, who was the Archbishop of Munich from 1917-1952, ordered all of his pastors to place the armband on the statues of Jesus and Mary throughout the archdiocese. 

     He courageously confronted Hitler to his face in a fiery encounter, warning the dictator of God’s judgment if he pursued his path of destruction. Pope Pius XII saved hundreds of Jews by sheltering them in the Vatican and providing false baptismal certificates.  I am grateful for the conversations and encounters I have had with the Jewish community here in our diocese, especially a day of reflection several years ago. 

     In the face of anti-Semitism and hatred of any kind, whether it be racial, religious, sexual or ethnic, the Church stands up with a loud and clear denunciation. Every person is inherently worthy of life, respect, love and welcome which must go much further than mere tolerance, simply because we are all made in the image and likeness of God, a conviction that comes to us from the pages of the Jewish Scriptures. 

     In a very particular way, all Christians owe an enormous debt of gratitude to our Jewish brothers and sisters, as our common spiritual heritage is deeply intertwined and mutually fruitful.  We must continue to pray, speak and act to build relationships of support, trust, love and peace so that the vision of the covenants in both Testaments of Scripture will reach ever greater fulfillment.

     With heavy hearts, we must acknowledge that we still have a long way to go in mutual understanding and peace on so many levels and in so many contexts, but with hope we continue to strive to build a genuinely human culture which respects each person, allows religious freedom to flourish and breaks down all walls of discrimination, hatred and bigotry. 

     We pray for all of the victims, their families and the Jewish community as we mourn this latest act of senseless violence.  The heart of faith for all Jews and Christians remains: love God with your entire being and love your neighbor as yourself.

 

       + Donald J. Hying