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.

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.

Bees in the Great Context of Life

Over the centuries many people have developed a deeper appreciation regarding the connections of the creatures, large and small, which contribute to our lives. In recent decades the collapse of beehives in many regions of North America has caused great concern. Scientists note that one-third of our daily diet comes from plants pollinated by bees and other insects. The New York Times published a study in the Science Section about the focus on other pollinators whose services may assist to avoid a crisis: see “Plan Bee: The Rise of Alternative Pollinators” by Catherine M. Allchin. May the sources of the attack on bees be discovered so that perhaps the balance of agricultural and horticultural areas will recover soon!

The presence of bees in the Bible is noted in a number of places. In England a can of honey has the quotation, “Out of the strong shall come the sweet,” referring to the riddle of Samson (Judges 14:4-8).

The Hebrew word translated as “honey” can also mean “date syrup,” as in Psalm 81:17: “Israel I will feed with the finest wheat and satisfy them with honey from the rock.” This refers to the rocky ground unsuitable for vines on which date palms were planted. We recall the promise that the Israelites will come into a “land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8; Leviticus 20:24; Numbers 13:27), undoubtedly with reference to date syrup.

God’s Law and the gift of wisdom are “more desirable than gold, sweeter than honey from the comb” (Psalm 19:11; see Psalm 119:103), referring to the work of bees. The prophet Ezekiel was given the Word of God as a scroll, sweet as honey to the taste of Ezekiel but a bitter message to the disobedient (Ezekiel 3:1-3; See Apocalypse 10:9).

“In Christian art, the beehive suggested community, sweetness, eloquence, and sometimes the Virgin Mary and Christ. The bee also exemplified industry, diligence, and vigilance” (Judith Couchman, The Art of Faith: A Guide to Understanding Christian Images (Brewick, M.A.: Paraclete Press, 2012) p. 158). The mellifluous tongue of Saints Ambrose, John Chrysostom and Bernard of Clairvaux carried the wisdom of God to their generation.

A prayer extends this image to ourselves.

Dear Lord, may I think often of the bees and the honey they produce. And when I do, help me to remember that I too can produce sweetness by what I say. Teach me to use kindness in all my thoughts and actions. And please, Lord, help me to do it sincerely. Good honey must be pure, and so it is with kind words – they must be honest and true.

(Norma J. Perssen, God and Nature: A Book of Devotion for Christians who Love Wildlife (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1984) p. 57.)

From ages past people marveled at the complexity of the beehive and the wonderful cooperation of many to maintain their home and provide sustenance for all. Until the 17th century people thought that the leader of each hive was its king. In Shakespeare’s King Henry V, during the discussion of the king’s choices in governance, the Archbishop of Canterbury presents an analogy with a long reflection on the marvelous cooperation of bees.

Therefore doth heaven divide
The state of man in divers functions,
Setting endeavour in continual motion;
To which is fixed, as an aim or butt,
Obedience: for so work the honey-bees,
Creatures that by a rule in nature teach
The act of order to a peopled kingdom.
They have a king and officers of sorts;
Where some, like magistrates, correct at home,
Others, like merchants, venture trade abroad,
Others, like soldiers, armed in their stings,
Make boot upon the summer’s velvet buds,
Which pillage they with merry march bring home
To the tent-royal of their emperor;
Who, busied in his majesty, surveys
The singing masons building roofs of gold,
The civil citizens kneading up the honey,
The poor mechanic porters crowding in
Their heavy burdens at his narrow gate,
The sad-eyed justice, with his surly hum,
Delivering o’er to executors pale
The lazy yawning drone.

(Henry V. Act I scene 2, line 183-204)

The Easter Vigil Liturgy in the Roman rite begins with the lighting of the Paschal candle from the new fire. The beautiful Paschal Proclamation or Exultet can be traced to the early Middle Ages. It includes a celebration of the work of bees.

On this, your night of grace, O holy Father,
accept this candle, a solemn offering,
the work of bees and of your servants’ hands,
an evening sacrifice of praise,
this gift from your most holy Church.

But now we know the praises of this pillar,
which glowing fire ignites for God’s honor,
a fire into many flames divided,
yet never dimmed by sharing of its light,
for it is fed by melting wax,
drawn out by mother bees
to build a torch so precious.

O truly blessed night,
when things of heaven are wed to those of earth,
and divine to the human.

May the scientists of our time learn what has interfered with the life of so many bees and provide a remedy to the dilemma! Of course, every aspect of such research must be evaluated carefully from the perspectives of many experts from several nations. See Emily Baumgaertner’s pertinent article in The New York Times, “Viruses Spread by Insects to Crops Sound Scary. The Military Calls It Food Security.” We also might express gratitude for the little creatures who render great service as pollinators and then are robbed of their harvest so that we can indulge in a craving for sweetness.

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini

Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini

The Church celebrates the feast of the Patroness of Immigrants on November 13th each year. In a succinct text, the collect for the feast at the beginning of the Mass, draws attention to her legacy:

God our Father,
who called Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini from Italy
to serve the immigrants of America,
by her example,
teach us to have concern for the stranger,
the sick, and all those in need,
and by her prayers help us to see Christ
in all the men and women we meet.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

In his homily today in Seton Hall’s Immaculate Conception chapel, Msgr. Robert Coleman drew attention to the statue of Mother Cabrini directly behind Penn Station in Newark on a small triangle of land in the “Iron Bound” section of the city. As in many other cities with a large migration from Europe, Newark and Kearny were benefactors of her community’s care for strangers, widows and orphans.

During the 101st anniversary of Mother Cabrini’s death, Catholics are invited to pray for guidance in our efforts to express hospitality to those who seek refuge from oppression and other dangers to their families. “Whatever you do for the least of my brothers (and sisters), you did for me,” says the Lord (Matthew 25:40).

Kristallnacht and Other Anniversaries

Synagoge of Siegen, Germany, burning during Kristallnacht, November 9, 1938

The year 2018 has provided occasions to recall the tragedy of World War I, “the war to end all wars.” The folly of this conflict casts a dismal shadow over the rest of the twentieth century. On November 11th we will commemorate “Armistice Day” and think of “Flanders Fields” and other cemeteries where the deceased among the Allies lie in lands far from their homes.

Among the attempts to recover from this war, the people of Germany elected a minority government and in January 1933 Adolf Hitler was designated as chancellor. Only 85 years ago, this decision introduced another tragic era in European and world history.

On the night of November 9-10, 1938 the ferocious attack on synagogues and Jewish businesses throughout Germany and Austria manifested the intention of the Nazi government to destroy the Jewish hope that previous legislation, boycotts and other signs of bigotry were temporary aberrations which could be borne with patience. Loss of civil and human rights by laws against the Jewish minority were completed by a viciousness that was met with silence on the part of the majority of the German people. On the 80th anniversary of these atrocities, we are exhorted to stand with the Jewish and other minorities to offset the dangers they face.

Pope Francis, in an audience with a delegation of the World Congress of Mountain Jews, drew attention to two other attacks on Jews during the Second World War: The 75th anniversary of the destruction of the Vilna ghetto in Lithuania and the deportation of Jews from Rome to their death in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Regarding Kristallnacht, he noted:

November 9th will mark the eightieth anniversary of the Kristallnacht, when many Jewish places of worship were destroyed, not least with the intent of uprooting from the hearts of individuals and a people that which is absolutely inviolable: the presence of the Creator. The attempt to replace the God of goodness with the idolatry of power and the ideology of hatred ended in the folly of exterminating creatures. Consequently, religious freedom is a supreme good to be safeguarded, a fundamental human right and a bulwark against the claims of totalitarianism. (November 5, 2018. For the entire text, click here.)

The next paragraph of the Pope’s message resonates deeply with us in the context of the recent attack on the Tree of Life Jewish congregation in Pittsburgh:

Sadly, anti-Semitic attitudes are also present in our own times. As I have often repeated, a Christian cannot be an anti-Semite; we share the same roots. It would be a contradiction of faith and life. Rather, we are called to commit ourselves to ensure anti-Semitism is banned from the human community.

At Seton Hall University, the 65th anniversary of the Institute of Judaeo-Christian Studies leads us to recall that in 1953, fifteen years after Father John M. Oesterreicher fled from Austria, he was able to begin again and to mature in his vision of Christians and Jews collaborating in the service of the God of Israel and of our neighbors. Now with the entire Church, we can take up Pope Francis’s words of blessing:

I ask the Almighty to bless our journey of friendship and trust, so that we can dwell always in peace and be, wherever we find ourselves, artisans and builders of peace. Shalom aleichem!

Monasteries on Mt. Athos

The Monastery of Varlaam in Meteora, Greece.

A peninsula in Northern Greece, east of Thessalonica, has been the quasi-independent site for 20 monasteries for almost 1500 years. A story by Neil MacFarquhar in The New York Times offers a report on this unique religious site in Europe (you can read the story at www.nytimes.com/2018/10/20/world/europe/mount-athos-greece-russia-eastern-orthodox-church.html). This prompted a reflection on my experience.

After living in Athens for five months in 1965, I returned to Greece the following summer and traveled to the North by way of Meteora, a monastic marvel in central Greece.  From Thessalonica a bus came to Ouranopolis (City of Heaven) from which a boat provided access to the peninsula. Besides a tourist visa, I had obtained permission from the Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul for a Catholic priest to visit the monasteries. Many of the other visitors were men from northern Europe who seemed to be interested in the gorgeous scenery than in realities of the spiritual order. We were all guests of a monastery each night, a hundred cots in the large sleeping quarters. Because of thefts of icons in the past, the chapels and libraries were closed to visitors, except for religious services. Friends had given me the name of a monk of the Great Lavra, who shared with me the story of his previous life as a sailor and now his preparation for “crossing the bar.”

The rhythms of prayer in the chapel began in the wee hours of the new day with Matins and Lauds, a service using the ancient translation of the Old Testament in Greek (Septuagint) and the New Testament in the vigil that celebrated the spiritual illumination that comes when a community recognizes the inadequacy of natural light. The Greek language had two levels: The “pure Greek” of the monks and people with a high school education and the language of the people (demotiki) with the introduction of the auxiliary verbs like many other European languages. The military coup in 1967 not only abolished the monarchy but also eliminated “pure Greek” from the high school curriculum. We hope that many young people today make the effort to become familiar with the Greek of their ancestors, when it was the international language of the Mediterranean world!

The monastic communities continue to draw men from the world of Christian Orthodox lands and beyond. Undoubtedly some have experienced ambivalence of cultures that arose from the ashes of Communist oppression of religion or from the secularized western lands. May they continue to bear quiet witness to the Kingdom of God!

Vicious Attack on Jewish Community

The members of the Institute of Judaeo-Christian Studies express our deep sorrow on learning of the terrible attack on the Tree of Life congregation at prayer on this past Sabbath!  We join our sentiments with the statement below by Seton Hall’s Interim President.

The Jewish communities in Pittsburgh have been at the forefront of sustained efforts to reach the younger generation in Catholic and Jewish schools, along with service to the wider community.

Jewish-Christian Studies and many other programs at Seton Hall University strive explicitly to implement the teachings of the Church on Judaism and the Jewish people in the classroom and beyond. May all people of good will reach out to their neighbors who express anti-Jewish bigotry in words before anyone moves into deeds of terror.  May hatred be replaced with a common search for justice and peace!