I love opinionated non-PC people. This blog is to vent my opinions on life, the universe and everything. Which is 42 which in gematria is "My Heart" (LBY) according to Rabbi Abulafia. The Divine Heart is the centre of everything.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

To the Jew First: Catholic Evangelisation: A Hebrew Catholic Approach

Recently a non-Catholic Jewish believer in Jesus asked me about the Catholic approach to Jewish evangelism in the context of the new evangelisation. Evangelisation and new Evangelisation are two different things in Catholic thought. The new evangelisation primarily is directed to fallen away Catholics and nations to re-evangelise them with the Good News of Jesus who wishes to encounter them in an intimate and personal manner in the Eucharist. Evangelisation is an ongoing process and begins with the proclamation in teaching and action of the Good News to unevangelised people (non-Christians). This evangelisation can take place in two manners active and passive. What manner is appropriate differs on the calling or vocation of the person or group and the discernment of the Church. Some today believe that all evangelisation including the new evangelisation by the Catholic Church should be Eucharistic evangelisation. There is a mystical link between the Hebrew words "biser/ besora" (good news or tidings/ gospel) and "basar" (flesh) which share the same Hebrew letters BSR (beit, shin, resh). The Gospel we preach is "Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you will not have life within you" and "The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us". Thus the Incarnational mystery is intertwined with the Eucharistic mystery of the life, passion, death and resurrection of the Messiah.

In all regards for Catholics proselytism is wrong which is an aggressive, manipulative hard sell approach that doesn't respect the free will and integrity of the other and often targets vulnerable people. Catholics have been guilty of this at times both in the past and the present and we are in need of constant repentance and renewal which is part of the new evangelisation. All Catholics are called to evangelise- firstly themselves and then others. Among Hebrew Catholics there are those that favour active and passive forms of evangelisation towards Jews and those like the founder of the Association of Hebrew Catholics Father Elias Friedman who thought that active evangelisation towards Jews was inappropriate at this stage of salvation history. He encouraged Hebrew Catholics to focus on building their own Hebrew Catholic community that would be a light that attracts which is a form of passive evangelisation. In no way should Jews as a group be targeted for active missionary evangelisation and conversion. I would agree with him. 

Some Catholics and even Hebrew Catholics unfortunately see a Hebrew Catholic movement as a means to missionise Jews rather than a gathering place in the Church for those Catholics of Jewish background or ancestry to live out their dual vocations as Jew and Catholic in a supportive community. An over- emphasis of some Catholics on apologetics at the expense of spirituality and intimate and mystical  Eucharistic encounter can lead to a desire to see evangelisation as a convincing of others of the Catholic Faith as an intellectual and ideological matter. Of course apologetics has a place but an over-emphasis can create more division and misunderstanding with others. Recently Pope Francis reached out to our Pentecostal brothers and sisters in a simple video message of brotherly love via the Anglican Bishop Tony Palmer which did more for breaking down barriers than all the apolegetical arguments of many years.

The Jewish people are considered unique by Catholics in that Judaism is not seen as a separate non-Christian religion but is the roots and mother of the Catholic (universal) faith. In fact rather than evangelisation to Jews we see Judaism and its teachings and wisdom as part of our evangelisation of all peoples. We look to our Jewish roots in order to renew and see afresh the mysteries of our faith. A book helping Catholics to reevangelise themselves is Brant Pitre's "Jesus and the Jewish roots of the Eucharist".
Pope Francis wrote in Evangelii Gaudium: 

 "...We hold the Jewish people in special regard because their covenant with God has never been revoked, for “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). The Church, which shares with Jews an important part of the sacred Scriptures, looks upon the people of the covenant and their faith as one of the sacred roots of her own Christian identity (cf. Rom 11:16-18). As Christians, we cannot consider Judaism as a foreign religion; nor do we include the Jews among those called to turn from idols and to serve the true God (cf. 1 Thes 1:9). With them, we believe in the one God who acts in history, and with them we accept his revealed word.
Dialogue and friendship with the children of Israel are part of the life of Jesus’ disciples. The friendship which has grown between us makes us bitterly and sincerely regret the terrible persecutions which they have endured, and continue to endure, especially those that have involved Christians.

God continues to work among the people of the Old Covenant and to bring forth treasures of wisdom which flow from their encounter with his word. For this reason, the Church also is enriched when she receives the values of Judaism..."

To the Jews first and then to the Gentiles was Paul's pastoral approach. It has been interpreted differently at different times. Today we have had 2,000 years of Jewish and Gentile Christian interaction and the horrors of the Shoah that has to be taken into account. At Paul's time there was a fully Jewish centre or heart to the Church in which Jews could be evangelised to- in which they could be fully Jewish and fully Catholic. Unfortunately with the demise of the Jewish Church after the 4th century a pastoral policy began of assimilation of Jews in the Church to the now Gentile ruled Church and its customs. 

Since the Shoah and Vatican II the Church has started to move in fresh directions and now Catholics of Jewish ancestry have a lot more freedom to observe their Jewish way but the rest of the Catholics may need to be educated more about it. Unfortunately the assimilationist model is still popular with many Catholics. There are different theological understandings on these and many other questions in which Catholics are free to disagree until the Magisterium speaks in a definitive way.  Today the concept of "to the Jew first" is expressed by the Church treasuring its Jewish inheritance and the importance it places on its dialogue with Judaism and its leaders. The Church now teaches definitively that the Old Covenant has never been revoked- all true Catholics have to accept that teaching. What that teaching means is where Catholics have different understandings and opinions that will be thrashed out over time and the magisterium may give further definitive teaching on it over time as well. 

Pope Benedict XVI taught that the New and Eucharistic Covenant is the prolongation of the Sinai covenant, which has never been revoked, but is renewed by the New Covenant. Pope Benedict also mentions that this Sinai covenant's outward legal and cultic order is strictly for Israel not for the Gentiles. Thus he is saying that God has never revoked this covenant for Jews. However Sinai's renewal in the New Covenant does allow the Gentiles to share in the inner light of this covenant and Israel's inheritance through the mystery of the Cross. The New Testament reveals that the first Jewish Catholics continued to observe the Jewish outward legal and cultic order but with a New Covenant understanding or light of messianic perception. Cardinal Burke refers to this as "in the light of Christ" in his interview with the Association of Hebrew Catholics.