Yom Kippur and Christian Liturgy

During a discussion among medievalists on prayer, I mentioned the ember days in the Church’s liturgy. Middle-aged participants asked: “What are ember days?”

My friend Frank Henderson and I gave some attention to the topic in “Jews and Judaism in the Medieval Latin Liturgy” (see p. 191-92).

In the proceedings of a conference The Ways That Never Parted: Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, edited by Adam H. Becker and Annette Yoshiko Reed (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007), Daniel Stökl Ben Ezra offers a wide-ranging study, “Whose Fast Is It? The Ember Day of September and Yom Kippur” (pp. 259-82 with charts of the Biblical readings in the Roman rite). He introduces his essay with a quotation from Pope St. Leo I (the Great), who reigned from A.D. 440-461:

Confidently encouraging you with fatherly counsels, dearly beloved, we preach the fast dedicated in the seventh month to the exercises of common devotion, sure that what was first the Jewish fast will become Christian by your observance. (Sermon 90:1)

Did this fast merely recall Zechariah’s mention of four times of fasting (7:5; 8:18-19), developing independently of contemporary Jewish practices in Rome?  Dr. Ben Ezra responds:

Particularly in light of Leo’s familiarity with contemporary Judaism and his references to the fast as part of the Jewish heritage of the church, the theory of a completely independent development of these Christian and Jewish readings seems highly unlikely. Competition with and influence from the Jewish Yom Kippur plausibly explains the dominance of Old Testament readings and the focus on repentance and propitiation.

Because detailed sources for Jewish practices in Rome in the fifth century are not available, Dr. Ben Ezra’s conclusion is tentative, but it seems that non-polemical contacts allowed for Christians in Rome to learn from and adapt the Jewish practices of fasting. In the modern period we can learn from each other, and Christians should learn from the Jewish background to Matthew 5:1-18 how prayer, fasting and alms-giving reinforce each other.

Hunger as a Challenge for All

A farmer at work in Kenya’s Mount Kenya region. Pic by Neil Palmer (CIAT).

The specter of starvation must be a horror beyond the imagination of those who are assured of ample food each day. We cannot be ignorant of this dimension of the burdens caused by poverty in so many parts of the world. Organizations such as Catholic Relief Services  describe the urgent needs of so many in various parts of the world. The current and ongoing challenge was presented by Pope Francis in his Message for the World Food Day 2018.

The prophet Amos presented an even graver situation for the people of ancient Israel:

Yes, days are coming, says the Lord God
When I will send famine upon the land:
Not a famine of bread, or thirst for water,
But for hearing the word of the Lord.
Then shall they wander from sea to sea
And rove from the north to the east
In search of the word of the Lord,
But they shall not find it. (Amos 8:11-12)

The Sacred Scriptures provide spiritual nourishment in abundance for people of faith.  Besides the Word of God as the foundation of the Church’s prayer, the Divine Office in English translation offers poetry and prose that manifest the way God’s Word is integrated into the lives of the faithful. Besides the classical poems of Latin and Greek, we savor how the English language is a vehicle of prayer. On Wednesday evening of the First Week of the four week cycle instituted after the Second Vatican Council, the introductory hymn reads:

O Father, whose creating hand
Brings harvest from the fruitful land,
Your providence we gladly own,
And bring our hymns before your throne
To praise you for the living Bread
On which our lives are daily fed.

O Lord, who in the desert fed
The hungry thousands in their need,
Where want and famine still abound
Let your relieving love be found,
And in your name may we supply
Your hungry children when they cry.

O Spirit, your revealing light
Has led our questing souls aright;
Source of our science, you have taught
The marvels human minds have wrought,
So that the barren deserts yield
The bounty by your love revealed.

From the Christian perspective, the ultimate human vocation is to give adoration and praise to God the Father through the Son and in the unity effected by the Holy Spirit.  We “own” or acknowledge that divine providence is the continuation of the divine act of creation. For Christians the food that sustains our bodily life prepares us for the Bread of Life (see John 6:48-58), the medicine of immortality.

The miracles of Jesus multiplying loaves and fish provide an example for his followers to act in his Name to attend to the hungry, especially among children, in our time. Our feeble efforts are placed within the context of prayer because it is God’s mercy that brings a solution to people’s true needs.

The Holy Spirit guides both the prayers of petition and the deeds of the faithful. “Source of our science” reminds us of Hannah’s hymn (1 Samuel 2:3) where the phrase “Deus scientiarum Dominus (An all-knowing God is the LORD)” became the motto of the University of Ottawa. The unifying spirit of all Christian universities should be expressed in the ordering of all knowledge to the service of our neighbor as the expression of a theocentric vision. May the human quest for knowledge be guided by the divine gift of wisdom so that our choices may bring a yield that truly serves human needs while respecting the way in which all creation is in the service of God. “For the elements, in variable harmony among themselves, like the strings of the harp, produce new melody, while the flow of music steadily persists” (Wisdom of Solomon 19:18).

The hymn’s text written by the Methodist Donald Wynn Hughes (1911-1967), the Headmaster of Rydal School in Wales, evokes at the closing of a day the sentiments of prayer guiding a life of service. It is sung to music by Erik Routley (1917 – 1982).

A Journey to Dialogue: The Sisters of Sion and Jewish-Christian Relations

On behalf of the Institute of Judaeo-Christian Studies, I am pleased to announce that  Dr. Celia Deutsch will be this year’s keynote speaker at the 26th Monsignor John M. Oesterreicher Memorial Lecture on October 31, 2019.

Dr. Celia Deutsch, N.D.S. is a Research Scholar in the Religion Department at Barnard College and a member of the Sisters of Sion, a small international Roman Catholic religious congregation with a presence in five continents. Her presentation, “A Journey to Dialogue: The Sisters of Sion and Jewish-Christian Relations,” will reflect on the Sisters’ activities during World War II, particularly their participation in rescue efforts in the context of pre-War conversations occurring in Europe, mainly in France. Dr. Deutsch will follow their path through the tragic years of the Shoah to the hard work leading to the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and The Declaration on the Church’s Relation to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate).

It has been more than 50 years since that milestone in Jewish-Christian relations and progress toward interfaith collaboration. In the decades since that time Roman Catholic understanding of Theology, Sacred Scripture and Church History has undergone significant changes, often in response to the ongoing conversations with Jews. We have come to appreciate the ways in which our relationships call us to the work of social justice and, together into new relationships with Muslims and other religious traditions, to strive for peace on the global, national and local levels.

The event is free and open to the public and will be held in the Nursing Amphitheatre in the Nursing Building at Seton Hall University (South Orange campus) from 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. Please RSVP here.

Just Peacemaking through Nonviolence

 

“Peace Studies” was the title of an initiative of professors at Seton Hall from 1977 to 1983. A group of 35 faculty members across all of the Colleges of the University wished to build on the University’s Masters programs and related academic work with a focus on the contribution that the major religious and philosophical traditions of East and West can make to peace. This was within the context of the United States Catholic Bishops Conference’s preparation of a “Peace Pastoral Letter” during this period. Bishop John J. Dougherty, former President of Seton Hall, was in residence here at the time. He was an early supporter of the World Conference on Religion and Peace, but we had to wait more than two decades for another President to guide the University in creation of the School of Diplomacy and International Relations, beginning with the undergraduate curriculum, soon followed by a Master’s program. This school developed several facets of our dream.

For many decades the Holy See has promoted the search for peace on every level. The elderly among us recall Pope John XXIII’s encyclical “Pacem in Terris” to all people of good will and the dramatic words of Pope Paul VI at the United Nations in 1964: “War never again!”

Seton Hall has plans to review the work of the three more recent popes who continue this sacred tradition. The lecture by Peter Cardinal Turkson of the Holy See’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development on September 30th will inaugurate a conference that presents a review of Pope Francis’ initiatives. In coming years the focus will be on the teachings of Popes Benedict XVI and Saint John Paul II.

The announcement of the 2019 conference brings an invitation to all our friends: https://www.shu.edu/diplomacy/peacemaking-conference.cfm. If possible, join with us for these events and keep the promotion of peace as a special intention in your prayers.

Wildfires and Human Responsibility

Amazon fires August 15-22, 2019. Satellite image taken by MODIS

In 1945 my family moved to a mountain valley in central British Columbia. One of the peaks nearby was called “Lookout Mountain” because a watchman was there all summer to warn the villagers about forest fires. The only telephone line in the town was to the mountain top, which allowed him to report any danger promptly.

Like the prophet Ezekiel (33:1-9), the watchman in any generation has a solemn responsibility, which relates to life or death for the community. In the world today concerns that seem to be local for some can have a grave impact on a world-wide range. In the recent weeks some news reports have focused on the Amazon. See the following New York Times articles:

How are the concerns of local populations for present needs and developmental aspirations being balanced with an educational perspective of the world-wide community? In October 2019 the Holy See hopes to grapple with such issues in a Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in the Vatican: “Amazonia: New Pathways for the Church and for an Integral Ecology.” See the preparatory document here. A brief report was presented by L’Osservatore Romano (English weekly on July 26, 2019).  That should be available soon at www.osservatoreromano.va/en.

May the challenges of facing complex issues be met with a hope to bring justice for the poor in our time and the future needs of the human race at large in our common home!  Pope Francis calls for a World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. This is an alert for all people of good will!

The Blight of Racism

As we study the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and its Declaration on the Church’s Relation to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra aetate), we grapple with the anti-Jewish bigotry that has marred tragically the relationship of Jews and Christians over the centuries. The Council reminds us that education of the public requires our diligence generation after generation.

Originally, this document focused on Catholic-Jewish relations but was expanded to include a reflection on all major religions. My predecessor, Msgr. Oesterreicher, found this development to be very positive:

The Declaration [on the Church’s Relation to Non-Christian Religions of the Second Vatican Council (10/28/65) does not in the least indulge in a blind optimism that would bypass problems; it is rather the sign of a great hope…It has rightly been said that the Council is the end of the Counter-Reformation. It may be equally true to say that the Declaration marks the end of the Reformation. More exactly: the main concern of the Reformation is no longer our concern. Today, a devout Christian is no longer worried by Luther’s question: How do I get a gracious God? The question that troubles believers of our time is rather: How does God work the salvation of all creatures?

This throws new light on the reason for linking the Declaration on the Jews with the Church’s attitude on the religions of humankind. The whole Declaration makes it clear that all singularity exists for the sake of universality, all separation for the sake of commonality. Israel’s election, too, is directed toward the all-embracing kingdom of grace. Thus, the Declaration on the Jews has taken on a dimension far surpassing its original importance. It proved its value by becoming the nucleus around which old-new insights and expressions could gather. 

Msgr. John M. Oesterreicher, The New Encounter Between Christians and Jews (New York: Philosophical Library, 1986), p. 227.

The final section of Nostra aetate widens the call of the Church to her faithful in order to eradicate all forms of discrimination, let alone persecution, because of the inherent dignity of each person and the rights that flow from our creaturehood, in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-28):

5. We cannot truly call on God, the Father of all, if we refuse to treat in a brotherly way any man, created as he is in the image of God. Man’s relation to God the Father and his relation to men his brothers are so linked together that Scripture says: “He who does not love does not know God” (1 John 4:8).

No foundation therefore remains for any theory or practice that leads to discrimination between man and man or people and people, so far as their human dignity and the rights flowing from it are concerned.

The Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against men or harassment of them because of their race, color, condition of life, or religion. On the contrary, following in the footsteps of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, this sacred synod ardently implores the Christian faithful to “maintain good fellowship among the nations” (1 Peter 2:12), and, if possible, to live for their part in peace with all men,(14) so that they may truly be sons of the Father who is in heaven.

In 1997 the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace issued a fine statement on the problem of racism in contemporary society, The Church and Racism: Towards a More Fraternal Society. See the entire document here.

In the context of tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri and other places in this country, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a pastoral letter, calling people to address racism in our hearts and communities. This message of 2018 should be consulted again in the autumn of 2019. The text and many other resources can be on the Catholic Bishops’ Combating Racism page.

In recent years we have witnessed or learned about courageous actions of groups and individuals of many communities to stand with those suffering from bigotry. We salute the efforts of both Jewish and Christian groups to bear witness to the inconsistencies and acts of injustice within our society. We are to examine our conscience concerning the “sin of omission, when individuals, communities, and even churches remain silent and fail to act against racial injustice when it is encountered” (Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love, p. 4). These examples should inspire many who see the plethora of challenges not to be discouraged but to stimulate a response to the needs of those who cannot speak for themselves.

Father Gerard S. Sloyan – 75th Anniversary

Father Gerard Sloyan delivering the 2008 Gerety Lecture in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd at Seton Hall University.

Father Sloyan recently celebrated a major anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood for the Diocese of Trenton, N.J. Its paper, The Monitor, reviewed many highlights in his ministry, which focused on higher education, with an impact on the study of Sacred Scripture, liturgy, catechetics and Catholic-Jewish relations. The contribution of Father Sloyan to these interrelated areas was the subject of Sister Alice Swartz’s doctoral dissertation, “Gerard Stephen Sloyan: A Career in Bible and Liturgy and a Ministry to all People of God, 1950-1995” for Drew University, building on her Master’s degree in Jewish-Christian Studies.

The Monitor story by Lynnea Mumola, “A Lifetime of Love of the Gospel,” offers a delightful review of Father Sloyan’s life, but this should be supplemented to include his work for the Institute of Judaeo-Christian Studies. He is the only surviving member of the original editorial board that assisted Father John M. Oesterreicher in producing the five volumes of The Bridge from 1955-1970.

In the Spring semester 1983 Father Sloyan was visiting professor in Seton Hall’s Department of Religion; during this time he taught a course on The Acts of the Apostles in the Jewish-Christian Studies Graduate Program. A loyal alumnus of the Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology and a good friend of the Institute of Judaeo-Christian Studies, Father Sloyan will celebrate his hundredth birthday on December 13, 2019. We wish him well, ad mea vesrim (to 120)!

Jewish Treasures from Medieval France

The Metropolitan Museum Cloisters in New York City has an exhibit “The Colmar Treasure: A Medieval Jewish Legacy” until January 12, 2020. See www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2019/colmar-treasure-medieval-jewish-legacy.

The Jewish Week has a special report by Diane Cole, which you can read at jewishweek.timesofisrael.com/jewels-give-voice-to-a-lost-community/. In The Wall Street Journal, Susan Delson described Hidden Treasures from the Middle Ages with a reproduction of a page from a 14th century Jewish prayer book. The major collection of hidden jewels and coins was discovered in 1863. In addition, “research in the Colmar municipal library recently yielded another hidden treasure: fragments of Hebrew manuscripts that were later incorporated into the bindings of other books.” Several of these pages are among the pictures on the Cloisters’ website.

As we strive to promote understanding and harmony between Jews and their neighbors today, we appreciate the poignant reminders of the past and its burdens of persecution and suffering. May the principle of the Golden Rule be effective for a better future!

Jean and Thérèse Vanier

Brother and sister, children of famous parents, their father being the first French-Canadian Governor General, Jean and Thérèse Vanier led extraordinary lives of prayer and service to those most in need. Many good people pray and offer assistance to the most vulnerable in our societies. But some recognize a calling to live and learn together.

Jean Vanier (1928-2019)

Jean Vanier founded L’Arche (The Ark) in France in 1964. “In the communities of L’Arche we live and journey together, men and women with disabilities and those who feel called to share their lives with them. We are all learning the pain and joy of community life, where the weakest members open hearts to compassion and lead us into deep union with Jesus.” (Jean Vanier, Befriending the Stranger (Mahwah: Paulist Press, 2010 p. vii).  L’Arche now has 150 communities in 38 countries.

Dr. Thérèse Vanier (1923-2014)

Dr. Thérèse Vanier first served as a physician in St. Thomas Hospital in London. During this time she supported the work of Cicely Saunders, the founder of the Hospice movement in England. In 1973 Thérèse opened the first L’Arche community in England and later coordinated the work of L’Arche in northern Europe. She shared a prayer that gives a profound sense of reciprocity needed to face the world’s inequities in a way that promises healing to our fragmented and broken world. See http://passionists-uk.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Therese-Vanier.pdf

Avoid Stereotypes and Generalizations

Recently a politician used the word “Pharisee” in a pejorative sense, drawing upon the passages in the Gospel where Jesus debated with some Pharisees and pointed to inconsistencies between teaching and practice. The challenge for all adults, whatever their heritage, is to examine their conscience in the light of prophetic ideals in ancient Israel. Jesus continued this call for people to move from faith into deeds of service (see Matthew 7:21). Rather than merely applying criticism to others we should look first at ourselves. Of course, in teaching, whether in the pulpit or classroom, we must point out that entire communities should not be labeled only in negative terms. The Second Vatican Council offered a sound principle: “All must take care, lest in catechizing or in preaching the Word of God, they teach anything which is not in accord with the truth of the Gospel message or the spirit of Christ” (Nostra aetate #4).

Webster’s New College Dictionary (Cleveland: Wiley 2009, p. 1079) notes that from the New Testament the adjective “Pharisaic” means “self-righteous, sanctimonious, hypocritical.” The American Heritage Dictionary (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993, p. 729) has an informative usage note on the noun “Jew” but unfortunately not on the word “Pharisee,” where Pharisaism is defined as “Hypocritical observance of the letter of religious or moral law without regard for the spirit.” An international conference “Jesus and the Pharisees” held at the Gregorian University in Rome on May 7, 2019 reviewed the long history of inner-Jewish as well as Jewish-Christian debates. See www.jesusandthepharisees.org.

I point out to my students that, in English from the reign of Elizabeth I, the term “Jesuit” and the adjective “Jesuitical” have a similar history. The noun is given the meaning “a crafty schemer, cunning dissembler, casuist.” It is noted in Webster’s Dictionary that this is a “hostile and offensive term, as used by anti-Jesuits” (p. 768). On the same page, the word “Jew” as a verb is defined as slang “to swindle, cheat.” A comment follows: “This is a vulgar and offensive usage, even when the speaker or writer is not consciously expressing an antisemitic attitude.”

The burdens of past expressions of bigotry should be exposed so that people will be alerted not continue to foster hostility toward their neighbor.