Anti-Jewish Bigotry in Stone

Anglican Lincoln Cathedral. U.K. By JThomas, CC BY-SA 2.0

Since the Second Vatican Council, the Bishops in several European countries have led the effort to remove the carvings and paintings that portray the vicious canard that Jewish people used the blood of a Christian boy to make the maṣṣah (unleavened bread) for the Passover meal. For example, the Anglican Lincoln Cathedral has a plaque repudiating the case of “Little Hugh,” dating back to 1255.

Recently another statue in Wittenberg, Germany, the Judensau depicting Jewish people suckling a sow, has been in the news.

The laudable effort to contrast this insulting image with an information board message and monument commemorating the six million Jewish victims of the Nazis seems inadequate. Why? Because bigots could ignore the educational message and focus on the fact that a Christian church fostered and even now seems to endorse the idea of ridiculing the Jews.

It would be better to place this and other manifestations of such hatred in a place where a direct explanation by docents can deal with the enduring challenge to human decency. I hope that this can be accomplished by local leaders!

The American Identity- Crisis at the Border

The “Great Minds Dialogues” is a series of lectures that complements Seton Hall University’s celebration of students who have shown great initiative in their studies and other activities, laying a foundation for a stellar future.  The School of Diplomacy and International Relations relates the call for excellence to be completed by seeing leadership as service.

Within this series, Sister Norma Pimental addressed the “Crisis at the Border” on February 6th in Bethany Hall.  Her qualifications and a video of her lecture can be found here. As Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, Sister Norma has led in the organization of this service of the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas.

Sister Norma could have presented data to show the accomplishments of her team in terms of efficiency and cost-effective use of resources. That would impress people celebrating “Great Minds.”

However, Sister Norma’s approach was anecdotal, describing the great effectiveness achieved when the heart is touched. Then the attitude of people “just doing their job” may be lifted to recognize the innate humanity of those depicted from afar as invasive hordes. Could Sister Norma be permitted to visit the children herded into prison cells?  She asked to go into a cell to pray with the children. This simple act had the potential for the guards to see these children from a different angle. Did they recall the parable of the “least of my brothers and sisters” (Matthew 25:31-46)?

The opening prayer by Msgr. Anthony Ziccardi, Vice President for Mission and Ministry, places the challenge of our time in the proper prospective:

Almighty God,
long ago you commanded Abraham, our father in faith, to leave his homeland
and promised him and his descendants a new country.
You accompanied your elected people’s patriarchs in their migrations
and protected them in their wanderings.

You provided for them on their journeys
and in their long sojourn in a foreign land.
But suffering bitter oppression, they called out to you,
and you led them out of slavery with mighty hand and outstretched arm.
You settled them in the land of your promise
and commanded them both to fidelity and to welcome:
they were to remain true to their unity and identity as your people,
but they were are also to welcome the immigrant and the sojourner among them,
for thereby they would become a reflection of you in the world,
as Moses explained: “The Lord your God loves the alien,
giving him food and clothing. Love the alien, therefore;
for you yourselves were once aliens in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:18-19)

Having received from you the whole wide earth as its temporal habitation,
humankind remains through time both settled and on the move.
Whenever and wherever conflicts arise between residents and sojourners,
turn the minds of both to thoughts of peace
and move their arms to open wide in mutual embrace
in the assurance
that peace, not enmity, is your will for us
and in the conviction
that none of us has here an enduring homeland or fixed abode,
but that such is to be found only in heaven,
the place of our true citizenship,
that home of countless mansions prepared by Christ your Son
where we have all been invited,
as your children and as brothers and sisters of one another,
to sit with all patriarchs at your one abundant table in the eternal kingdom.
We pray through same Christ our Lord.

The Ghent Altarpiece

Van Eyck: An Optical Revolution
Museum of Fine Arts Ghent (MSK)
February 1 – April 30, 2020

Hubert (died 1426) and Jan (1390?-1441) van Eyck created the wonderful paintings whose centerpiece is “The Adoration of the Lamb,” completed in 1432. Peter and Linda Murray offer a description of this central panel as follows:

In the NT the vital words are those of the Baptist (John 1:29, 36), when he recognizes Jesus as the Christ: ‘Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.’ These are the words of the AGNUS DEI, said daily in the Mass, always with the invocation ‘have mercy on us, give us peace’. In Rev. (Apoc) 5:6, 12; 12:11; and 22:1, the stress is on salvation emanating from the Lamb, since amid the Beasts and the Elders ‘stood the Lamb as if it had been slaughtered’ and ‘the river of water of life flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb’. This is the theme of van Eyck’s Adoration of the Lamb, where the pilgrims approach the altar on which stands the Lamb with blood flowing from his breast into a chalice. (Oxford Dictionary of Christian Art (Oxford University Press, 1996) p. 388)

The painstaking work of restoration of the panels began in 2012; this is described in “Realism and Revelation” in The Wall Street Journal, from which I quote:

A few weeks ago, the most recent phase of the restoration was unveiled, including the large front panel showing a bleeding lamb on an altar, surrounded by Christian martyrs, Jewish prophets and pagan writers. The panel—from which the altarpiece takes an often-used title, “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb”—has been transformed by its cleaning, with the lamb’s face revealed to have an intelligent, nearly human expressiveness.

The Ghent Museum of Fine Arts will have an exhibit, “Van Eyck: An Optical Revolution,” from February 1, 2020. The Museum’s website offers an introduction to this masterpiece of the Belgian Cathedral of San Bavo.

Pope Francis to the City (Rome) and the World

At Christmas each year the Pope leads the faithful in prayer and proclaims a message “Urbi et Orbi” (to the City and the World).

Now that we have entered the year 2020 with hope, the grim realities of the past year were placed by Pope Francis in a context of prayer and an earnest search for peace.

I wish to share this message in case some have not read it. Among the “trouble spots” in various continents, we think of the Middle East and pray for peace among all nations so that ordinary people will find tranquility and order as a sign of hope, pointing to the angelic prayer for peace among all beneficiaries of God’s good will (Luke 2:14).

The paragraph on African nations is especially poignant with reference to Christians who have been kidnapped by extremist groups.  May those who have been snatched from schools over several years and recently from the seminary of Kaduna diocese be returned safely!

Prayer for Christian Unity

For more than a century Christians have fostered a week of prayer (January 18-25) for the peace and harmony that responds in an ever deepening way to the prayer of Jesus. “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.” (John 17:20-21, New American Bible).

This year the texts for use each day were prepared by Christians of Malta. Appropriately they draw upon the experience of St. Paul whose voyage from Caesarea to Rome was interrupted by shipwreck near Malta. Fittingly, the document quotes the statement, “The natives showed us extraordinary hospitality” (Acts 28:2, New American Bible). The various dimensions of hospitality are explored during the meditations and prayers for each day.

The suggestions for each day of the week of prayer are available on the website of the Friars of Atonement at www.atonementfriars.org/2020-week-of-prayer-for-christian-unity/.

Many years ago, in collaboration with leaders of the Jewish community, the Bishops of Italy promoted a “Day of Judaism” for January 17th each year, with a theme rooted in the Sacred Scriptures. This has been followed, with variations by the Bishops of Poland, Austria and other European countries. Over the decades there has been an enriching exchange among scholars of the Jewish community with Christians. The “Day of Judaism” complements these important initiatives with educational themes that are intended to reach parishioners in the Catholic churches of these nations. May both types of experience be multiplied!  In the meantime Christians are challenged to deepen and broaden their search to explore the roots of Christianity in its Jewish matrix.

Etching: A New Art Form

The paintings and sculptures of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance were shared widely when woodcuts or engravings reproduced these forms of art. In the Wall Street Journal, Barrymore Laurence Scherer presents an exhibit, “The Renaissance of Etching” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art until January 20, 2020.  His essay, “Outlining a Revolutionary Technique,” describes the advance: “But around 1500 printmaking itself was revolutionized when the technique of etching metal- primarily to decorate armor- was adapted to printing images on paper.”

The Met’s website of the exhibit allows us to explore the many Biblical scenes at leisure.

Tiffany Windows

The work of Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933) and his colleagues provides a delightful background for the celebration of Christian worship in many American Episcopal and Protestant churches from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Richard H. Driehaus Museum in Chicago offers an exhibit of these windows, “Eternal Light: The Sacred Stained-Glass Windows of Louis Comfort Tiffany,” until March 8, 2020.
 
Edward Rothstein offers a review, “‘Eternal Light: The Sacred Stained-Glass Windows of Louis Comfort Tiffany’ Review: A Vibrant, Luminous Faith,” in the WSJ. He quotes the introduction to the exhibit, “explaining how Tiffany’s experimentation with glass- its coloration, its texture and its manufacture- led to the revival of a Medieval religious art form.”
 
The website of the exhibit gives a few samples of the themes relating to the faith-filled prayer evoked in the light of the windows: http://driehausmuseum.org/exhibition/eternallight/.

“Jewish Genius” in The New York Times

On December 27, 2019 columnist Bret Stephens offered a reflection on “The Secrets of Jewish Genius” that received considerable attention. The Times published a short comment with a correction but The Jewish Week of December 31, 2019 provided a report that put the matter in a wider perspective: “Times Amends, Apologizes For Stephens Column.”

On December 22, 2019 The Wall Street Journal published Dominic Green’s review of Norman Lebrecht’s book, Genius and Anxiety: How Jews Changed the World, 1847-1947 (Scribner, 2019). Getting away from the dangerous theories of eugenics that contributed to Nazi ideology, Mr. Green has a point that is pertinent to the current discussion:

There is no Jewish gene, Mr. Lebrecht argues, only Jewish genius; no “Jewish exceptionalism,” only an exceptional situation. Jews’ minds were sharpened by the hermeneutical whetstone of the Talmud, their lives perpetually threatened.  They were conditional insiders and eternal outsiders, “driven by a need to justify their existence in a hostile environment and to do it quickly.”

Probing the questions posed by Mr. Stephens requires more than a brief essay or even a book or two. May these efforts to ponder the mystery of one community’s contributions to society be made with a humble and generous spirit!

Third Sunday of Advent: Custody of the Senses

Saint Augustine of Hippo by Sandro Botticelli (1445–1510)

Among the themes from the prophet Isaiah 35:1-10 and Matthew 11:2-11 in the Scripture readings for this Sunday is the ministry of healing as part of Messianic hope expressed in the ministry of Jesus. In my homily I touched on the ways that the Christian tradition has extended the work of Jesus throughout the ages and in virtually all parts of the world. Think of the hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and programs for people who are disabled as an extension of the healing hand of Jesus over the centuries. This present reflection develops another challenge of the Gospel for our time.

We very carefully strive to care physically for our five senses, especially sight and hearing. The Hebrew idiom protect “the pupil of the eye” (mistranslated by the phrase “the apple of the eye”) expresses how God protects his people from danger (see Zachariah 2:8, Revised Standard Version; 2:12 New American Bible).

The urgent moral and spiritual challenge to which I draw attention is to examine the way we use our senses, especially sight and hearing. These instruments of all that we learn should be guarded so that we avoid the near occasions of sin. I’m sure that parents are guiding their children in regard to the discipline that must be exercised so that their eyes and ears are not overwhelmed through exploitation by wicked merchants of immorality.  It seems that great advances in communication over recent years are being exploited much more rapidly than legal measures are enacted to preserve children from influences that attack our human dignity and that of the most vulnerable among us.  Parenthood has always been challenging, but now we need to be even more alert to dangers that may intrude surreptitiously into our homes or other places where children have access to the internet. May the Holy Family protect us!

As part of a beautiful prayer, St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) placed the five senses in the context of the way God brought him to faith:

You were with me, but I was not with you…You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for
you.  I have tasted you; now I hunger and thirst for more.  You touched me, and I burn for your peace. (Confessions, Book VII. 10.27)

The Book of Life (Exodus 32:33)

Robert W. Service circa 1905

Robert W. Service (1874-1958) was an Englishman who wandered widely and penned rollicking ballads of the Yukon gold rush days and poignant poems of the trenches of the First World War. He never claimed to be a poet. “I’m a rhymer,” he said, and yet his stories give evidence of a solid education and, at times, hints of his Christian faith

In May 1914 he described the beginning of each day as a clean page in the Book of Life. What we make of any given day will be seen on Judgment Day. The second stanza expresses the desire to re-write certain pages, and the third is a prayer for divine guidance so that his bearing reflects God’s image so that every day may be golden.

Another day of toil and strife,
Another page so white,
Within that fateful Log of Life
That I and all must write;
Another page without a stain
To make of as I may,
That done, I shall not see again
Until the Judgment Day.

Ah, could I, could I backward turn
The pages of that Book,
How often would I blench and burn!
How often loathe to look!
What pages would be meanly scrolled;
What smeared as if with mud;
A few, maybe, might gleam like gold,
Some scarlet seem as blood.

O Record grave, God guide my hand
And make me worthy be,
Since what I write to-day shall stand
To all eternity;
Aye, teach me, Lord of Life, I pray,
As I salute the sun,
To bear myself that every day
May be a Golden One.

Collected Poems of Robert Service (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1921) p. 454