The National Catholic Review

Pope Benedict XVI met this morning at the Vatican with a delegation from the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. In the wake of his decision to lift the formal excommunications of four Lefebvrist bishops, one of whom has denied the Holocaust, it was important that Benedict hit the right note. As is often the case, the Holy Father played an entire symphony of right notes.

Benedict began by recalling the memory of happy meetings with rabbis and other Jewish leaders during his visit last year to the United States and on his first papal visit to Cologne. He recalled, too, his visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, and the horror of that place and the crimes committed there: He had made the somber pilgrimage, a pilgrimage that leaves no human heart untouched by the deepest pangs of shame, pain, and fright. These recollections amounted to an invitation to see the present controversy in the context of a relationship that is greater than one miscalculation. These men of faith know each other and respect each other and each others’ history, and no one should be rushing to judgment against one another.

Secondly, the Holy Father beautifully recalled that the roots of Christianity are inextricably intertwined with Judaism. "Indeed, the Church draws its sustenance from the root of that good olive tree, the people of Israel, onto which have been grafted the wild olive branches of the Gentiles (cf. Rom 11: 17-24). From the earliest days of Christianity, our identity and every aspect of our life and worship have been intimately bound up with the ancient religion of our fathers in faith." He did not explicitly say it, and I do not think Pope Benedict is inclined to speak in psychological terms, but these words of his suggest that a Christian anti-Semite is in some sense filled with self-hatred, which is always the most pernicious hatred to root out because its roots are so mired in unreasonableness.

Finally, the Pope said that the Shoah must continue to animate our memories because threats to human dignity persist. It is not enough to remember in a passive way. Memory must serve as a warning to the future. This most central theme of contemporary Jewish life and identity has special poignancy coming from any Catholic Pontiff, but especially from one born in Germany, as it did coming from a Pope born not far from Auschwitz. Benedict recalled Pope John Paul’s visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem and made his own his prayer for forgiveness for all the crimes perpetrated against God’s chosen people through the centuries.

In the life of faith, great advancements do not usually come from an entirely new source so much as they do from a new way of looking at an ancient source. Thus did the Second Vatican Council renew the Church by reaching back to the Patristic theology of the early centuries of the Church. Thus does the Shoah become not a historical shame but a current reality, animating us to a deeper respect and love for our Jewish brothers and sisters and a greater awareness of the threats to human dignity that plague us still.

Many years ago, the most learned priest I know, Father J. Augustine DiNoia, OP, was preaching at the Cathedral of St. Matthew on Good Friday. The readings of that day include the great Ur-text of anti-Semitism when the Gospel of Matthew reports that the Jewish elders of the day said of Jesus, "Let his blood be upon us and upon our children." Father DiNoia did not focus on the ways that the blood libel against the Jews contradicted other principles of Christian morality. He pointed out that, of course, we want that blood on us and upon our children for we believe that it is Jesus’ blood that brings redemption. Suddenly, the potential of this Gospel text to invite anti-Semitism was erased, replaced with a challenge to us Catholics to rethink the long, and often criminal, ways we have treated Jews. The Pope did something similar in his meeting today, using the recent controversy to renew his commitment, and that of the Church, not only to dialogue with Jewish leaders, but to a profound love of our elder brothers in faith, the chosen people, Israel.

 

 

 

Comments

Anonymous | 2/14/2009 - 6:42am
Freud tells the story of the priest who goes to the death bed of the insurance agent: The agent died unrepentent, but the priest went away insured. These endless dialogues are essentially monologues in which the RCC expresses its deepest apologies for offending. And the other side forgives... declaring, ''But the forgiveness is contingent on your never criticizing Israel. We expect silence or else.'' End of story, end of honor.
Anonymous | 2/12/2009 - 10:55am
This is a welcome acton on the part of our Pope. An aside. The blood libel is from the passion account in Matthew, not John. Isn't it? Mike
Anonymous | 2/13/2009 - 4:27pm
I heard an interview on NPR with one of the Jewish leaders right after he left the meeting with Benedict. In as diplomatic a way as he could manage, he expressed significant disappointment with the pope's skirting of the Williamson issue. The elephant in the room was completely ignored. Evasion seems a key component of the Vatican's approach. Recalling memories of prior happy meetings and visits to Auschwitz, etc, etc, just does not cut it.
Anonymous | 2/13/2009 - 4:19pm
I found the Pope's comments as reported on the Vatican website somewhat disappointing (according to the Vatican they were addressed not to the leaders of Jewish organizations in general, but only American Jewish organizations). Under other circumstances, perhaps, they would be moving. But Benedict appears to take no responsibility for his part in the furor surrounding the extraordinary pronouncements of the extraordinary Bishop Williamson. What does it take to have the Pope say outright that he has made a mistake? (In this case the mistake of not checking Bishop W. out, or of not taking seriously W's remarks). When was the last time a Pope apologized for his own actions? Are Popes afraid that the ignorant world will seek to undermine the dogma of papal infallibility, if a Pope were to say, ''I made a mistake, and I deeply regret its consequences?'' Would such a statement hurt the Church? Or would it (I think) actually help the Church?
Anonymous | 2/13/2009 - 8:48am
Thank You Mr. Iwanowizc for the correction. I have made the correction in the text.
Anonymous | 2/12/2009 - 9:32pm
I don't think the Pope presented a symphony, but a papalese- redundancy in a pedantic manner. Why can't he just say, "Within my attempt for reconciliation in the Catholic Church, I failed to appreciate the total picture of lifting an excommunication of a bishop whose ignorant views on the Holocaust were unknown to me. I wish I had done that differently and in no way want to endorse such an opinion and, as you know, have asked him to recant such a viewpoint that is obviously historically inaccurate and that feeds anti-Semitic sentiments. I hope that this will not impede progress on the gains made over the last 40 years and I look forward to continued dialogue and appreciation in faith of our witness to God's action in this world." Is that so hard?
Anonymous | 2/12/2009 - 10:57am
This is a well written report. I picked this quote out ot the New York Times article on this same meeting, "In his address to the pope, Rabbi Arther Schneier, who hosted the pontiff at his synagogue in New York last year, emotionally told the pontiff: "As a Holocaust survivor, these have been painful and difficult days, when confronted with Holocaust-denial by no less than a bishop of the Society of St Pius X ...." Now, to what extent is this whole matter a smokescreen for the slaughter of thousands that the present Israeli government just made in Gaza? How much of a smokescreen is it for the virtual concentration camp of suffering that the blockade of Gaza, etc. has caused to millions of civilians in Palestine lacking water, power, and the necessities of life? Is there a way to measure the proportion of bad and evil words against bad and evil deeds? Yes, a crackpot shoah denier can cause untold future suffering and this must be stopped, but so too must be stopped the untold actions of violence that, like a breeder reactor frankly produce fissle materials for a future holocaust. It is not necessary that the Pope openly bring this up, but believe that it is in the mind of the world. Is anyone listening?