Open letter from a “rigid” Hebrew Catholic to Pope Francis.

 

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Dear Holy Father,

There has been a lot of talk lately about Catholics who are “too rigid”.  Those who attend the Latin Mass have been derided for placing love of tradition over love of each other.  Those who follow the traditional teaching of the Church on the reception of Holy Communion have been similarly disparaged.  I can relate to this accusation. I love the Tridentine Mass. I go at almost every opportunity. I, too, struggle with the idea that someone who is objectively living in a mortally sinful relationship should ever receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ.

I can also relate to this accusation for another reason.  I am a Hebrew Catholic. That is, I am also Jewish. And as a Jew, I of course have something to say 😉

If ever one group were derided by the Church at large for legalism, it would have to be us.  Stemming from the accusations against the Pharisees in the New Testament, you have to admit, we Jews have faced all sorts of these accusations.  Indeed, are we not the ones who pass by the man on the road, leaving a Samaritan to care for him? Are we not the ones who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel, modern day Pharisees? As a Jew in the Church then, surely it is not surprising that I find myself in this “rigid” category?

The truth is that Jews are often misunderstood in their love of the Law.  So, too, are more traditional Catholics.  Being scrupulous is the plague of anyone trying to be holy, that is true, but attention to detail in keeping the Law, a desire to do what is right, is not the same as scruples, even if they might sometimes creep in.

In Judaism, when someone becomes Torah observant, we say that they are becoming “religious”. There is great rejoicing over this, not because it means people are finally “doing what they are told” and “obeying the Law”, but because they are entering into a deeper relationship with HaShem, or, as you might know him, the Lord.  Becoming religious in Judaism is a romantic experience: you fall madly in love with G-d and you want to do anything to please him.  You become aware of how small you are and how great he is, and how wonderful it is that he has chosen you.

Another way to look at it would be to say that you become more perfectly God’s child. Contrary to popular thought, the idea of G-d being Father did not begin with the earthly Jesus.  True, in knowing the Son we came to know and distinguish the Father of the Trinity properly speaking, but in terms of a paternal relationship, we have had that in Judaism as far back as Moses, if not beyond:

“Is not he your father, who created you, who made you and established you?” (Deu 32:6 NRSV) and everyone knows that “As a father has compassion for his children, so the LORD has compassion for those who fear him.” (Psa 103:13 NRSV).

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Let us go back to those passages above. Firstly, the accusation of scruples to the Pharisees is actually part of an inner Jewish debate. Look at Tractate Shabbat in the Talmud, and you can see it continued on for centuries.

Holy Father, the first important thing to note is that Christ is not correcting the Jewish Law itself. Rather, he is pointing out that at the heart of Judaism is God’s mercy by which He draws us to Him (a subject you have been focusing on intensely this past year within the church). That it is the Spirit of the Law that really matters because the Law is a tutor, and if you build the fence around the Torah too high, you will not be able to see the commandment, and the purpose of it, itself:

They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.” (Mat 23:4 NRSV).

In Judaism, this principle is still practiced: when one becomes religious, one keeps the basics of the Torah first and builds up until one is fully observant.  What matters is that you are trying, and you are on the road to holiness.

Finally, on the Good Samaritan, I say this: the priest and the Levite are travelling towards Jericho, not the Temple. Contact with blood is a matter of ritual not moral impurity, and the only need they would have had to worry about contact with it would have been if they were travelling towards the Temple: there is no problem in getting a bit bloody in Judaism. Just make sure you wash in a Mikhveh so you are clean to worship.

In fact, even if they had been travelling towards the Temple, they should still have stopped because the Law tells us to “love our neighbours as ourselves” (Lev. 19:18). Yep, that didn’t originate with Jesus, either! (Except as the Eternal Word, of course!)

You can break any law in the Torah to save a life.  The problem was not that they would have been breaking the Law had they stopped, but that they broke it by not stopping.

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Once we understand that the Law itself is not the issue, we see that at the same time as making sure you can still see over the fence, Jesus doesn’t mean you disobey the Law. Of those same Pharisees, he says, “do what they tell you” (Matt 23:3), after all. Indeed, you don’t want the devil jumping over and destroying the garden of your soul, and “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mat 5:20 NRSV). And anyone who truly loves God surely desires the latter with all their heart.

Holy Father, faithfulness, strict adherence, is not something contrary to the Gospel spirit.  It is an outpouring of a desire to be with God, just as “becoming religious” is in Judaism. Moreover, it is how we should be. The possibility of over-caution in keeping the Law, and warning against it, is not the same as saying the Law is at fault and can, or should, be broken or changed.  Of course, as Catholics, we believe that the Law is fulfilled in Christ.  I am not saying don’t have your bacon sandwich on Sunday morning! However, let us never forget that it is fulfilled, and so in its new state, we must continue to keep it with all our hearts.

Time will tell what the Church will make of Amoris Laetitia.  Until then, we pray and trust in God.  But please let us end this nonsense over faithfulness to Tradition and Church teaching is blind “rigidity”. It isn’t.  In the same way Jews are blamed for being rigid, but are, in fact simply doing everything to please God for the love of Him, so, too are those of us Catholics who are standing firm on Church teaching, and entering more deeply into the faith through an immensely enriching liturgy.

Yours sincerely,

A Hebrew Catholic.

The Jewish roots of the Eucharist.

Very excited to introduce my mum – Julie Brook who has been reading the amazing book ‘Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist’ by Brandt Pitre, and has written this great article for Faith in our Families…

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By Julie Brook

Did you know that the Jews had Sacred Bread which the priests elevated in the Temple before the people every Sabbath saying, ‘Behold God’s love for you’? Or that at every Passover the sacrificial lambs were fixed on a kind of crucifix? Or that the Jews were expecting a new Exodus? Or that a cup of wine was missing at the Last Supper?

Did you think that the Jews were expecting a political figure? What they were really waiting for was the restoration of Israel in a new Exodus. The first Exodus ensured the freedom of the Jews to worship God. By sacrificing on Mount Sinai Moses and the people sealed their Covenant relationship with God concluding the ritual with a great feast. Soon afterwards the Jews broke the Covenant by worshipping the Golden Calf but a thousand years later the prophet Jeremiah foretold a new, everlasting Covenant.

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After the Exodus the Jews built a Tabernacle as the central point of God’s presence in their midst. It was a small, moveable building, the dwelling place of God on earth. The later Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem was permanent and far more splendid but it was destroyed by the Babylonians in 537BC. King Cyrus of Persia permitted it to be rebuilt but it never regained its splendor.

The prophets now forecast a new Covenant, a new Temple that God would build in the age of salvation at the time of a new Exodus. It would bring both Jews and Gentiles into a new Promised Land which they would possess forever. The new Moses would be a Messiah, a king, prophet and miracle-worker who would rain down bread from heaven. Redemption would take place on a Passover night and a new Covenant would end in a heavenly banquet.

This new Exodus would need a new Passover. The procedure for the first Passover was as follows: first, sacrificing an unblemished male lamb (a priestly action), spreading the blood of the lamb on the doorposts (averting the angel of death), and to complete the sacrifice, eating the lamb and finally keeping the Passover as a Remembrance.

Fifteen centuries later, at the time of Jesus, the lamb had to be sacrificed in the Temple and eaten in Jerusalem. The Jews would drive a thin smooth stave of wood through the shoulders of the lamb in order to hang it and skin it. Another spit would transfix it right through from the lower parts right up to the head. Jesus would have gone up to Jerusalem every year and seen lambs bled and crucified – thus prefiguring his own death.

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The last supper

There are similarities between the Last Supper and the traditional Passover which took place in Jerusalem after sunset on Passover night; wine was drunk, the meaning of the bread was explained and a final hymn was sung. The father of the family led the ceremony and explained the meaning of the lamb, unleavened bread and bitter herbs (which fulfilled God’s original command to keep the Passover as a day of ‘Remembrance’).

Jesus, however, acted as host and leader of the Apostles, not as their father. He focused on the New Covenant rather than on the events of the first Exodus. Without mentioning the body and blood of the Passover lamb he spoke of his own body and blood while handling the traditional food – bread and wine – stating ‘This is my Body’ and ‘ This is my Blood’, and commanding the Apostles to  ‘Do this in memory of me.’ Thus, Jesus deliberately changed the format.

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Manna in the desert

The manna in the desert was a miraculous bread from heaven. It appeared in the same quantity, about one litre, never lasted for more than one day, was provided for forty years and stopped the day after the Israelites reached the Promised Land. Some of the manna was preserved in the Temple as being holy, from God. The Jews came to believe that this bread existed in heaven before the world began, and it would return to earth again one day at the new Exodus with the Messiah.

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Bread of the Presence

The holy bread in the Temple – the Bread of the Presence – was in the form of twelve cakes for the twelve tribes of Israel; with the wine offering it was the sign of God’s Presence, his Holy Face, an everlasting Covenant, offered by the High Priest and eaten by priests in Jerusalem. At the Last Supper there were twelve apostles, there was the Bread and Wine of Jesus’ presence, offered by Jesus himself in a new Covenant and eaten by the Apostles (now priests).

The Last Supper was not just a new Passover, or new Manna; it was also the institution of the new Bread and Wine of the Presence i.e. Jesus. Like the priests in the Temple before him, Jesus was saying, ‘Behold God’s love for you’. A mandatory part of the Jewish Passover was the four cups of wine. The first cup was blessed before the food was brought in. The second was drunk after the father’s telling of the Exodus story. After the meal started the third cup was blessed and drunk, and the concluding rites were the singing of the Psalms and the drinking of the fourth cup. It was forbidden to drink any wine between the third and fourth cup.

Luke 22: 14 – 20 mentions only two cups. The first of these was drunk by the Apostles and Jesus said, ‘…I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ The second cup mentioned came after supper, so it was the traditional third cup. This was the moment when Jesus said, ‘This cup which is poured out for you is the new Covenant in my blood.’ The psalm was sung and they all went out to Gethsemane. There is no mention here of the fourth cup, and yet the Passover was not complete without it.

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A soldier offers Jesus wine with myrrh.

Imagine the bewilderment of the apostles. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed three times about the cup he must drink. This must be the fourth cup. On the cross Jesus was offered wine and myrrh, a traditional act of mercy to dull the pain of crucifixion, but Jesus refused it. Later he cried out, ‘I thirst’, thus asking for a drink, and was offered vinegar (sour wine) which he accepted. He then said, ‘It is finished’. This was the fourth cup, taken at the very moment of death.

By vowing not to drink the last cup at the Last Supper, Jesus extended his last Passover meal to include his own death, so uniting the Last Supper to his death on the cross. No Passover meal was complete without the eating of the lamb; now Jesus’ disciples might understand his insistence (John 6:35 – 58) that in order to have life we must eat his flesh and drink his blood. This is the Body and Blood of the resurrected Jesus, holy indeed and the source of everlasting life.

O Sacrament most holy, O Sacrament Divine, all praise and all thanksgiving be every moment thine.

Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist by Brandt Pitre. Doubleday.  ISBN 978-0-385-53184-9

 

Where’s the Cross Papa?

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This is the end scene from the Pope’s new video where each religious person holds out a symbol of their faith. The Christian is holding a baby Jesus.

Where’s the crucifix?

There is nothing wrong with a statue of the baby Jesus but the crucifix is the defining visual representation of Christianity. It is where our salvation occurred. It is the ultimate expression of love.

What a shame they decided not to include a crucifix. Come to think of it, due to the well positioned sheet of paper and folded hands, there is not one cross visible in the entire 1 min 30 second video. Why is this?

Was it done because of the politically correct fear of offending someone? Yes, this sounds likely. Is it because the death and resurrection of Christ blows all other religions completely out of the water? (Because it does, doesn’t it?!)

You see, the cross is the most incredible, loving, paradoxical event ever to have taken place – so much so that no other religion can even come close.

What I think has happened in this video is that they have watered down Christianity to appease and fit in with the other religions. This is firstly an insult to Christ, secondly an insult to the pursuit of  truth, and thirdly an insult to the pursuit of true tolerance.

The cross is too truthful, too loving, too challenging to be used in a politically correct video. Much better to present Christianity as the post Vat 2 fluffy little baby Jesus that anyone under the age of 50 got served up in primary school and few advanced beyond.

Presenting the different religions as equal is wrong. They are not equal, and they have very different interpretations of what LOVE means. If they really do want to see what brutal, real, honest, tough, agape is, then they need to take a good long hard look at the cross, because the cross IS love.

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