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).

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.

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)!

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.

Tragic Events Worldwide

Photo by Wandrille de Préville [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/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.

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!

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 https://ststephenkearny.com/father-washington-1).

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.