Tragic Events Worldwide

Photo by Wandrille de Préville [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]

On April 15, 2019 all were dismayed to see flames soaring above the cathedral Notre Dame de Paris! This work of faith that began 850 years ago was threatened in a way that went beyond the depredations of past wars and the French “Enlightenment.” This was an accident, perhaps due to human negligence but not the result of malice or wickedness. We are grateful that no lives were lost and thank the firefighters for their brave efforts to save great parts of the building and its precious contents!

On Easter Sunday vicious attacks on Catholic churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka evoke another depth of sadness among decent people everywhere. The communities gathered to celebrate their faith were overwhelmed by the horrific destruction of human life by people willing to die along with their innocent victims. Again we listen for clear denunciation of such atrocities by leaders of the larger groups from which these crimes have come.

More recently in the United States, this time in Poway, southern California, we are shocked to learn of another invasion of a Jewish house of worship with murderous intent, this time by a youth who has absorbed anti-Jewish bigotry from his surroundings.

We offer sympathy to the survivors and families of those whose lives were cut short. May people of good will everywhere be alert to those in our midst who manifest that they harbor malice in their hearts. May the latter be touched by a person who persuades them to seek help in dealing with their unwholesome attitude and other needs.  In the pulpit and classroom may educators provide avenues to share the gift of peace!

We join the Bishops of the Unites States in praying for the victims of the attack on ChaBaD House in Poway. See the President of U.S. Bishops’ Statement on Synagogue Shooting in Poway, California and the statement by San Diego Catholic Bishop Robert W. McElroy.

As we recall other situations of persecution of Jews in the United States, the continuing attacks on Catholics in parts of Nigeria over the past decade should be in our prayers as well. See “Archbishop Says Christians Slaughtered ‘Like Chickens’ in Nigeria” by Thomas D. Williams, Ph.D.

Rembrandt and Rubens

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), celebrated as painter, etcher and printmaker, died at the age of 63. He is commemorated in many places on this major anniversary of his death. Nina Siegal in the The New York Times essay, “The Relevance of Rembrandt 350 years later,” described the exhibitions. See also Russell Shorto’s essay, “Rembrandt in the Blood,” in the The New York Times Magazine.

Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) traveled widely in Italy and Spain in his younger years and quite early attained an international reputation. His story was presented by J.S. Marcus, “The Ruben Phenomenon,” in the The Wall Street Journal. The Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco offers an exhibit of young Rubens from April 6 – September 8, 2019; see

Verrocchio, Master of Leonardo

Andrea del Verrocchio (1435-1488) had the distinction of teaching Leonardo da Vinci and other great Renaissance artists of Florence, Italy. “Verrocchio shone as a teacher, draftsman and sculptor – as well as architect and musician – but his talents reached their apotheosis in bronze casting…” (Brenda Cronin, “Teacher of the Old Masters,”

An exhibition opened on March 9th at the Palazzo Strozzi and the Bargello Museum in Florence; see  Some works will be exhibited in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. from September 15, 2019; see

Birds in Art

Phoenix Futon Cover Japan, Showa Period (1926-1989). Cotton, yuzen resist-dyed indigo. Purchase 1983 Thomas L. Raymond Bequest Fund 83.91. Part of the “Birding in Art” exhibit at the Newark Museum.

The Newark Museum has celebrated its treasures of Asian Art in many exhibits.  From March 13, 2019 until February 23, 2020, “Birding in Asian Art” continues this impressive tradition.

Detail of a miniature of an owl (Bubo) being attacked by three smaller birds. Image taken from f. 47 of Bestiary, with extracts from Giraldus Cambrensis on Irish birds. Written in Latin.

This exhibit reminds us of the long history in the Mediterranean world of drawing moral and spiritual lessons from the wonders of nature. In Greek the Physiologos, a “discourse on nature” of approximately the third century A.D., gathered earlier traditions into a synthesis that became popular in the Latin bestiaries of the eleventh century and later.

Detail of a miniature of a crocodile. Image taken from f. 24 of Bestiary (ff. 3-141), Lapidary (ff. 141v-149). Written in Latin and French.

The Book of God’s Word and the Book of Nature offered insights into the meaning of life for many generations of people who looked for ways to teach guiding principles in regard to faith and morality. The developments in East and West complement each other and may still have lessons for people of the modern world.

Detail of a miniature of Adam naming the animals, with a stag, a lion, a donkey, a rabbit and a man riding a camel. Image taken from f. 34v of Bestiary (ff. 3-141), Lapidary (ff. 141v-149). Written in Latin and French.

Fiftieth Anniversary of Augustin Cardinal Bea

At an age when many people have long since retired, Augustin Bea found himself thrust into the heart of some of the most controversial debates in modern Catholic history—and became one of the quiet heroes of modern Jewish-Catholic relations.The Church understands the day of a person’s death to be the birthdate of a person’s entry into life eternal. Thus the anniversary of death is an occasion for reflecting with gratitude for a person’s life, with review of the person’s accomplishments in the service of God and neighbor. Of course, no one here below is privy to the details of a person’s eternal destiny, but we assess the person’s life by the fruit that it produced. Thus the occasion of a conference to commemorate the work of Augustin Cardinal Bea (1881-1968) drew attention to his immense contributions to the progress of the Second Vatican Council in the areas of Christian ecumenism and interreligious relations.

On February 28, 2019 Pope Francis addressed the participants in the meeting that commemorated the major anniversary of Cardinal Bea’s death. For the text of the Pope’s address, visit the Vatican’s website here and for the events being held in Cardinal Bea’s honor, visit the Cardinal Bea Centre for Judaic Studies of the Gregorian University here.

With a focus on Catholic-Jewish dialogue, the Pope encouraged the widening of this dialogue for local parishes and synagogues to collaborate “in service of those in need and by promoting paths of peace and dialogue with all.”

The Call to Confront Antisemitism

Proteus, “Der Höllische Proteus, oder Tausendkünstige Versteller,” Erasmus Francisci (1627-1694)

The International Conference of Christians and Jews (ICCJ) recently issued “The Demands of Our Time: A Statement on Antisemitism.” This text reviews the history of anti-Jewish bigotry and the places where it rises today. We are surprised and discouraged at times by its manifestations. Like the sea-god Proteus in Greek mythology, antisemitism continues to take many shapes and forms. All who read this statement note its focus on Western culture. This is the context for our efforts to educate the younger generation, but other cultures can be infected by this “virus” as well.

After a two-year hiatus, President Trump has named Mr. Elan S. Carr to be “the State Department’s special envoy to monitor antisemitism.” See Ron Kampeas’ article, “Elan Carr comes to new post as anti-Semitism monitor with diverse skills,“ published by the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey.

Mr. Ira Forman, Mr. Carr’s predecessor appointed by President Obama, made a presentation at a meeting of the United States Catholic Bishops and the National Council of Synagogues four years ago. This was an impressive review of his efforts to collaborate with leaders in many European nations. Contact with the Catholic Bishops Conferences was often very helpful, so Mr. Forman was interested to develop such avenues for working together. We hope that Mr. Carr can build on these relationships!

The Fundamental Agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel of December 30, 1993 places this concern at the forefront of its goals. Article 2 reads:

The Holy See and the State of Israel are committed to appropriate cooperation in combatting all forms of antisemitism and all kinds of racism and of religious intolerance, and in promoting mutual understanding among nations, tolerance among communities and respect for human life and dignity.

The Holy See takes this occasion to reiterate its condemnation of hatred, persecution and all other manifestations of antisemitism directed against the Jewish people and individual Jews anywhere, at any time and by anyone. In particular, the Holy See deplores attacks on Jews and desecration of Jewish synagogues and cemeteries, acts which offend the memory of the victims of the Holocaust, especially when they occur in the same places which witnessed it.

Twenty-five years later this call to cooperate in education and service of justice and peace deserves our renewed attention!

Police in the Nazi Period and Now

A policeman (left) and his dog on street patrol side-by-side with a Nazi auxiliary.

The Jewish-Christian Studies Graduate Program is hosting the professional study day, “Police in the Nazi Period and Now,” on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, from 9:00 am – 3:00 pm at Seton Hall University. The event is offered free of charge, including lunch, but you must register at


The role of the police in a society has been defined in a way that is distinct from the nation’s armed services. When Sir Robert Peel was Home Secretary of England, the Metropolitan Police Force was created in 1829. For almost two centuries the “bobby” has been honored in England, but for the Irish the “peeler” was less than beloved!

How were the police in Nazi Germany and occupied lands perceived by minorities and others who refused to collaborate in building the Third Reich? How did the ordinary police differ from the infamous secret police (Gestapo)?

Our first speaker, Dr. Peter Black, will review the tragic history of police action in Europe of the Nazi period. The second speaker, Dr. Maria Haberfeld, will focus on police education in the United States and describe some of the ways police departments interact with local communities.

The program is an accredited service provider in the State of New Jersey. Therefore all participating teachers will receive 5 “credit hours” for their participation. You can access the full agenda at

About the Speakers

Peter R. Black, Ph.D. is retired from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, where he served as Senior Historian from 1997-2016. Previously he served as Chief Historian for the Office of Special Investigations, Criminal Division of the United States Department of Justice (1978-1997). Dr. Black published Ernst Kaltenbrunner: Ideological Soldier of the Third Reich (1984) and has written several articles and chapters in books. Since 2016 he has been active as an independent historian and consultant.


Maria (Maki) Haberfeld, Ph.D. is Professor of Police Science in the Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. She received the Master of Arts in Criminology from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Her publications include Critical Issues in Police Training (2002), Contours of Police Integrity (co-editor, 2003), Police Leadership (2005), Introduction to Policing: The Pillar of Democracy (co-authored, 2014), and other books, including three on terrorism.

Week of Christian Unity Prayer Service

Ecumenical leaders of the Catholic Archdiocese of Newark and the Episcopal Diocese of Newark organized a prayer service for January 20, 2019 at the Church of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Roseland, NJ. The threat of bad weather caused the event to be postponed until February 3rd.

The 2019 theme of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, traditionally held from January 18-25 each year, was chosen by the Christians of Indonesia. They focused on the text of Deuteronomy 16:1-20. “Justice and only justice you shall pursue” (16:20) is a challenge that resonates throughout Jewish and Christian communities of faith worldwide. Originally this text applied to judges in Israel but can relate to all dimensions of leadership in service of humanity.

Cardinal Joseph Tobin, Archbishop of Newark, presided over the service with pastors of several congregations in the sanctuary with him. He introduced the service with a call to prayer. “As we pray together, we are reminded that our calling as members of the body of Christ is to pursue and embody justice. Our unity in Christ empowers us to take part in the wider struggle for justice and to promote the dignity of life.”

In his homily Cardinal Tobin drew upon the Gospel of Luke 4:14-21 with its quotation from Isaiah 61:1-2 as the basis for a challenge to Christians today. Referring to the Superbowl and its selection of heroes in the game, he drew attention to the 76th anniversary of the sinking of the USS troop ship Dorchester on February 3, 1943.  There was another kind of heroism in the witness of the four chaplains, Protestant, Catholic and Jewish, who gave their life-jackets to young sailors and perished, their arms linked in prayer.

You can read “No Greater Glory: The Four Chaplains and the Sinking of the USAT Dorchester” by Command Sergeant Major James H. Clifford, USA-Ret. to learn more about John P. Washington, Alexander D. Goode, George L. Fox and Clarke V. Poling and their brave sacrifice. Seton Hall University remembers its graduate Father John P. Washington, whose memory is recalled each year in St. Stephen’s Church in Kearny, NJ. (See

The service on February 3rd included the commitment of the many participants to bring the call to pursue justice into their daily lives in the coming year. Our prayer is that this would be expanded so that the search for Christian unity will be put into action by deeds of the justice which works for peace in the world.

Superpowers of the Ancient Middle East

The land of Israel lay between the great kingdoms of Egypt and Assyria, which often entered into battle on the territory of small countries lying between them. The hope expressed in Isaiah the prophet challenges people of faith throughout the ages:

On that day Israel will be a third party with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the land, when the Lord of hosts blesses it: “Blessed be my people Egypt, and the work of my hands Assyria, and my inheritance, Israel.” (Isaiah 19:24-25)

Over the past two hundred years local people and archaeologists have made amazing discoveries related to the history of these lands. Last month, The New York Times reported on the discovery of a priest’s intact tomb from the period well before Abram’s visit recorded in Genesis 12:12-20 (click here to read the NYT article).

The British Museum in London possesses extraordinary works of art from the Assyrian and Babylonian periods as the context for the biblical record of the reigns of David and his dynasty in Jerusalem.

An exhibit in the British Museum until February 24, 2019 has the title “I am Ashurbanipal, king of the world, king of Assyria.” Richard Cork reviewed this exhibit in “A Conqueror with a Taste for Art” in The Wall Street Journal. 

The O Antiphons at Vespers

As we enter the seasons of the Church’s life serving God and neighbor, we can examine riches of the past in specific prayers, in this case the antiphons before and after the Marian canticle (Luke 1:46-55) of Vespers (Evening Prayer) from December 17-23.

These hymnic texts incorporate phrases and themes of the Jewish Scriptures into the Church’s expression of hope in preparing for the feast of the Nativity of Jesus. Because these phrases have been taken out of context, we are reminded of the Second Vatican Council’s teaching in the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation about the Old Testament that “these books, divinely inspired, preserve a lasting value” (Dei Verbum 15). “God, the inspirer and author of the books of both Testaments, in his wisdom has so brought it about that the New should be hidden in the Old and that the Old should be made manifest in the New” (16). As we admire the impressive knowledge of the hymn writer, we might explore more deeply the images and allusions incorporated into the prayers celebrating the wonderful surprises that Christian faith celebrates as we contemplate the message that frames the hymn of Mary (Luke 1:46-55).

The Divine Office, with recitation of the Psalms over seven “hours” (see Psalm 119:164), complemented the Sacraments in the daily life of monks and religious women. Now many lay people use the Morning and Evening Prayer as part of their daily devotions.

The prayers in St. Luke’s Infancy Narrative became the Gospel passages for Lauds (Morning Prayer), Vespers (Evening Prayer) and Compline (Night Prayer) each day. These prayers are attributed to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist (Luke 1:68-79), the Blessed Virgin (Luke 1:46-55) and Simeon (Luke 2:29-32).

In the Divine Office a special prayer called an antiphon precedes and closes each Psalm or Canticle and these Lucan prayers. The antiphons in Latin for Vespers from December 17-23 may be traced back to the eighth century. The first letter of each title in these prayers seems to have a message if read in reverse order: ERO CRAS means “I will be [here] tomorrow.”

The English version of these prayers is now the Alleluia verse before the Gospel of daily Mass, so has come to the attention of people participating in the daily Eucharistic Liturgy.

December 17 Sapientia (Wisdom Solo 7:21-30)
O Wisdom of our God Most High,
guiding creation with power and love:
come to teach us the path of knowledge!

We all recall the Greek and Latin terms for wisdom – Sophia and Sapientia. In Jewish reflection on Genesis 1, the hymn of creation in seven days, God created in Wisdom – guiding the divine omnipotence into the ordering of the universe. The prologue (John 1:1-18) of the Fourth Gospel celebrates the Word of God, manifesting divine love through history. For Christians, Jesus is the power of God and the Wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24). The Wisdom of Solomon celebrates the manifold dimensions of Wisdom (7:22-30), as does the Book of Sira (24:1-22), identifying Wisdom and Torah. Jesus comes to show us the path to knowledge of God the Father.

December 18 Adonai (Exodus 3:14; Judith 16:16)
O Leader of the House of Israel,
giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai:
come to rescue us with your mighty power!

The Hebrew word Adonai is the common substitute for the sacred four-letter Name (YHWH) revealed to Moses in the burning bush at the foot of Mount Sinai (Exodus 3:14). Christians know the title from Jerome’s version of the Book of Judith, where the word occurs in Latin letters (16:16). Christians understood that the great mysteries of human salvation were encapsulated in this revelation to Moses (see Matthew 22:23-33, where Jesus teaches the doctrine of resurrection to a higher level of existence for eternity from Exodus 3:6). In Christian piety Byzantine artists portray Mary and the Infant Jesus in the burning bush. After God freed Israel from Egyptian servitude, Moses led the twelve tribes to Mount Sinai where they received the Torah (Law).

The Greek translation of Adonai is Kyrios, the title that is given to Jesus in the hymn which celebrates the Incarnation, Death-and-Resurrection whereby he rescued humanity from slavery to sin and “every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11). 

December 19 Radix (Isaiah 11:1)
O Root of Jesse’s stem,
sign of God’s love for all his people:
come to save us without delay! 

The future of the Davidic dynasty was assured through the divine promise mediated by Nathan the prophet. “Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever” (2 Samuel 7:16). Although the Babylonian exile seemed to crush this dynasty, people of faith looked for a new David anointed to bring this prophecy to fulfilment. “A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse (David’s father) and from his root a bud shall blossom” (Isaiah 11:1-2). In the future this king will reach out to the nations, bringing the promise that “all the families of the earth” would be blessed in the name of Abram (Genesis 12:3). “On that day, the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations, the gentiles will seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious” (Isaiah 11:10). For Christians, Jesus is the sign of God’s love for all his people, so the petition of each generation is “come to save us without delay!”

December 20 Clavis (Isaiah 22:22; Apocalypse 3:7)
O Key of David,
opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom:
come and free the prisoners of darkness!

In a peaceful kingdom the descendant of David delegated authority to a “mayor” for the city of Jerusalem. When Shebna failed, the prophet brought the judgment of God upon him and he was replaced by Eliakim, son of the priest Hilkiah. “He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah, I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut when he shuts, no one shall open” (Isaiah 22:21-22).

Jesus is given the title “key of David,” with allusion to Isaiah 22, in the letter to the Christians of Philadelphia (Apocalypse 3:7-8). As Lord he assures each person who is faithful that the victor will enter the new Jerusalem. In the meantime Simon Peter has received a new name and has received the keys to the Kingdom of heaven, with authority on earth in relation to eternal goals (see Matthew 16:17-20). Jesus will come “to shine on those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death” (Luke 1:79). His mission “to proclaim liberty to captives and release to prisoners” (Isaiah 61:1) is completed when he opens the gates to the Father’s kingdom. 

December 21 Oriens (Jer 23:5; Zech 3:8, 6:12)
O Radiant Dawn,
splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:
come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the
shadow of death.

The contrast between light and darkness is linked to the moral order. Human beings alienated from God wander in darkness and live in folly until they are graced with the gift of spiritual light. The Greek word for “Radiant Dawn” also renders the Hebrew term for “the righteous shoot,” son of David “who shall do what is just and right in the land” (Jeremiah 23:5; see Zechariah 3:8 and 6:12). John the Baptist prepared for “the tender mercy of our God by which the daybreak from on high will visit us to shine on those who sit darkness and in the shadow of death (Luke 1:78-79). As the righteousness of God the Father, Jesus comes to all who are in awe of the divine Name “as the sun of justice (righteousness) with healing in its rays” (Malachi 3:2).

December 22 Rex (Haggai 2:8; Psalm 118:22)
O King of all nations and keystone of the Church:
come and save man, whom you formed from the dust! 

“The Lord shall reign forever and ever” (Exodus 15:18) constitutes the statement of Israel’s faith in the Song of Moses at the sea. God’s triumph over Pharaoh, who claimed divine kingship, is the beginning of Israel’s participation in the prerogative of royalty, “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6; 1 Peter 2:9; Apocalypse 5:10). The nations will acknowledge God’s royal authority and bestow gifts on the Temple as the great king’s house (Matthew 5:33). As Son of David “Jesus will rule over the house of Jacob forever and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:33), extended to all the nations in the context of eternity (see John 18:36).

The keystone or capstone is the one which completes the arch; usually it had to be cut to fit, but in this case it has been rejected by the builders for another place but finally was seen to fit this place exactly (see Psalm 118:22; Matthew 21:42; Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11; Romans 9:33; 1 Peter 2:7).

The work of Jesus reaches all humanity, and completes the vocation of the first human being, formed from the earth (Genesis 2:7). Byzantine artists portray the crucifixion with the blood of Jesus touching a small skull buried under the place where the Roman soldiers erected the cross. This depicts the legend that Adam took a seed from the tree of life and planted it near Jerusalem, in the valley where he was buried. This explains the meaning of Golgotha, the Place of the Skull (John 19:17), called Calvaria in Latin.

December 23 Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:14, 8:10; Genesis 49:10)
O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law:
come to save us, Lord our God!

The title Emmanuel (“God [is] with us” from Isaiah 7:14; 8:10) refers to the promise made by Isaiah to King Ahaz, a timorous descendant of Kind David. The Hebrew text speaks of a young woman (almah, not the technical term for virgin) who will give birth to a son who will be a sign that threats to the kingdom of Judah will evaporate. When the prophets were translated into Greek the noun Parthenos (virgin) enhanced the marvel of the prediction, seen in the light of Isaiah 9:5-6; 11:1-16; Jeremiah 23:1-7; Ezekiel 34:1-31 about the Davidic messiah. During a time when the Davidic dynasty seemed to be but a dead stump, the translator expressed hope for the future. Thus the early Christian community pointed to Jesus as Emmanuel (Matthew 1:23; 18:20; 28:20) as a key motif of the Gospel.

David’s descent from Judah is taken as the way to understand Jacob’s last words depicting Judah as a lion, the king of beasts (Genesis 49:10). Christians accept Jesus as their King and Lawgiver. The last petition in the series exhorting him to come with the gift of deliverance and salvation focuses again on us.

These prayers were created as a frame for the hymn of Mercy and place the Church’s hope around the celebration of Mary during her visit to Elizabeth. Placing them before the Gospel for the daily Mass between December 17 and 23 enables the faithful to savor them each year in two worship settings. May they bring the message of Advent to the faithful everywhere!

The antiphons are taken from Catholic Household Blessings & Prayers.