Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Immaculate Conception and Israel as "Womb" of the Second Coming

Dear friends,

Happy Hanukkah!
Happy Advent, happy Hanukkah and happy Feast of the Immaculate Conception!  May the light of Hanukkah enlighten us this Advent as we prepare once again to celebrate the great gift of the Incarnation, of the Word made flesh, of a God so great yet so humble that He dared to leave the glory of heaven to dwell in the womb of the Immaculate Ark of the New Covenant, for the sake of our salvation!

Today I would like to propose a brief reflection on the link between Israel and the Immaculate Conception as "womb" of the Messiah.

A Short Story of the Divine Presence among us

The story of salvation and of mankind is the story of a holy God who breaks through the abyss separating heaven and earth so that He may dwell among His people - not only despite our sinfulness, but also precisely in order to overcome it and to impart His holiness onto us. Every given moment of this story is charged with tension, for it always simultaneously points to the past, present and future - through memory, presence and expectation: the memory of God's great salvific actions of the past, the present actualization of these events in the liturgy of the people of God, and the expectation of a future, ultimate, eschatological fulfillment of God's work of salvation at the end of time.

Already in the First and Second Temple periods, the people of Israel had in mind three "comings" of God - in the past, present and future:
  1. The Jews recalled God's revelation at Sinai as the great moment of the past when He revealed Himself to His people and formed His covenant with them, after the people, the priests, and the mountain had been sanctified and consecrated in preparation for this great encounter (Ex 19).
  2. The covenant and divine Presence were actualized and made present for later generations of Israelites in the liturgy of the Holy Temple of Jerusalem and more specifically in the Ark of the Covenant, the sacred vessel kept in the Holy of Holies. In this way, God was just as tangibly present among His people for every generation as He had been on Mount Sinai.
  3. At the same time, the divine Presence in the Ark and in the Temple was a foretaste of the future final redemption that would come in the days of the Messiah, who would be born and would come out of the "womb" - so to speak - of God's consecrated people, Israel.
In this way, Israel's role as consecrated dwelling place of God prepared the world for the coming of the Messiah, universal Savior and Word made flesh, Jesus. 

This three-fold pattern continues in the age of the New Covenant and of the Church. Especially now during Advent, we are often reminded of the three "comings" of the Lord Jesus into human history:
  1. Past: Jesus first came into the world through the one who is the personification and perfection of Israel: Mary, Daughter of Zion, Immaculate Ark of the New Covenant, and Queen Mother of Israel. It is no coincidence that the Mother of Christ is crowned with twelve stars in the Book of Revelation (cf. Rev 11:19-12:1), representing the twelve tribes of Israel. And so this first "coming" of Christ through the Immaculate Ark of the New Covenant is a fulfillment of the third "coming" of God that was expected and hoped for in the Old Covenant.
  2. Present: Christ remains present among His people in the Sacred Liturgy of the Church, and most especially through His Holy and Real Presence in the Eucharist.  Behold, the Immanuel - God is with us! - who not only gives Himself to us in a one-flesh union as we partake of His Body and Blood, but also remains perpetually present among us in the Church's Tabernacle - the mini-Ark of the Covenant where the divine Shekhinah continues to dwell with us.
  3. Future: Yet the Eucharist is not only a commemoration of the Paschal Mystery and the sign of the Real Presence of the Lord's Shekhinah remaining among us today.  As we proclaim at every Holy Mass, the Eucharist is also the promise and guarantee of Christ's future glorious Second Coming expected at the end of human history when He will bring God's redemption of mankind to completion and fulfillment.
Now what will be the consecrated "womb" that will welcome the Messiah at His Second Coming? The Church? Certainly - in a sense - but not only the Church. For it is not to the Church but rather to Jerusalem and to the Jewish People that Jesus said: "you will not see me again, until you say, `Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord'" (Mat 23:39). His return is expected to occur on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem (Acts 1:11-12; cf. Zech 14:4). And the Catechism of the Catholic Church confirms the key role of the Jewish people in preparing the Lord's return, telling us that "the glorious Messiah's coming is suspended at every moment of history until his recognition by 'all Israel'" - or in other words, until the "'full inclusion' of the Jews in the Messiah's salvation" (CCC 674).

In other words: the people of Israel, in a certain sense, will be the consecrated "womb" of the Lord's Second Coming.

Never mind the fact that they don't appear to be very holy right now (they were not any holier at the time of the first coming!). God is able - indeed, He has promised - to cleanse them and give them a new heart and Spirit after He gathers them from exile in preparation for their final redemption (cf. Ezek 36:24-28).

Opposition to God's Plan

Now, note that at every intervention of God in history - at every one of his comings, the great enemy of God and mankind unleashed his fury in a vain attempt at stopping God's plan of salvation, by "closing the womb", so to speak,  through which God's Presence was to reach His people.

Pharaoh and the Egyptians tried to annihilate Israel, first through slavery and then by trying to kill them in the desert. But God delivered them and brought them to Sinai where He established His covenant with them.

The Babylonians destroyed the Temple, and the Ark of the Covenant, seat of the Divine Presence, was lost. Israel, the "womb" of the Messiah, was taken captive to Babylon in humiliation - temporarily bringing to a halt their role as mediators of God's salvation. Yet God brought them back home, and out of the heart of Israel He raised up the Immaculate Ark of the New Covenant, Mary, out of whose womb came the Word made flesh who tabernacled among us.

Mary too was persecuted - by Herod - and the Holy Family fled to Egypt, the ancient place of oppression of the Israelites. But God protected them and brought them back to Israel. (The hatred of the ancient serpent towards Mary and her child is vividly and graphically depicted in Rev. 12).

Since then, the ancient serpent has relentlessly pursued his attacks not only on the people whom the woman represents - Israel - but also also on "the rest of the woman's offspring" (Rev 12:17), the Church, whether by means of assaults from the outside, or heresies and dissent from within - even causing large numbers of Christians and believers to lose the Real Presence of the Shekhinah in the Eucharist. Nevertheless, the Lord has still preserved His Church until this day.

Now where do you think the devil will particularly focus his energy in order to try to stop the Lord's final coming?

If Israel is to be the "womb" of the final and ultimate coming of the Divine Presence into the world, we can expect that the enemy of God will do his utmost to "close this womb" in a number of ways - not only by means of political and military threats to the very existence of Israel via hostile groups and nations, but also by delegitimizing and undermining the Jewish presence in the Holy Land - or by propagating hostility between Israel and the Church.

All this ties in with not only the work of Catholics for Israel but also with the vocation and mission of the universal Church and of every Christian.

You may think that you live very far from the Middle-East. But - in case you haven't noticed - more and more the Middle-East is coming to you. You only need to go through security at any airport to be reminded of that fact. Whether you like it or not, what is happening in Israel today is increasingly impacting the whole world. Why? Because Jerusalem is still the place out of which originate the "labor pains" of redemption.

"Catholics for Palestine" and "Catholics for Israel" 

Recently, we at Catholics for Israel got into a heated exchange with a Palestinian priest, Fr. Jamal Khader, about the right Catholic approach to take regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Fr. Khader is one of the authors of the now infamous "Kairos Palestine" document, an inflammatory declaration signed by some Christians of the Holy Land that attempts to delegitimize the biblical connection between the Jewish people and Land of Israel, squarely blaming Israel for all the problems in the Middle East and completely whitewashing Palestinian / Islamic terrorism in the process (and in fact coming close to condoning it). The document contains numerous exaggerations and factually incorrect statements, and it is considered to be so political and unbalanced that it was pushed to the sidelines of the October Synod in Rome, with most Church leaders declining to publicly endorse it. We published on our website some time ago a critique of the Kairos Document outlining some (but not all) of its problems and weaknesses.

The result of our recent debate with Fr. Khader was disappointing. Although we tried to be as conciliatory as possible, affirming that our support "for Israel" does not exclude the Palestinian people but rather presupposes our love for them and our support for a peaceful and just solution to the conflict, Fr. Khader refused to address the questions and issues we raised. We encourage you to read the (unedited) debate for yourself. Now that the dust has settled, let us try to draw some lessons from the exchange.
  1. The discussion became the occasion for one of our contributors, Yochanan Ben Daniel, to write an excellent article on the tension existing between "Catholics for Palestine" and "Catholics for Israel", highlighting the foundational differences in outlook and worldview between both sides. 
  2. As Yochanan explained, two issues are to be distinguished when discussing the Middle East conflict:
    1. The issue of God's irrevocable promises to the Jewish people, especially pertaining to the Land of Israel, based on God's covenant faithfulness and largely rooted in a prophetic and theological reading of the Scriptures.
    2. The issue of justice for the Palestinians, largely rooted in a socio-political reading of the Bible.
  3. Obviously, the two issues are not mutually exclusive. The Scriptures and Catholic Tradition simultaneously uphold both the prophetic/eschatological dimension of salvation history affirming the fulfillment of God's covenant promises to Israel, and also the grave imperative to extend social justice and righteousness to all people.  One can - no, rather one should be in favor of both. 
  4. The affirmation of God's promise of the Land of Israel to the Jewish people, therefore, should not be used as a pretext for any oppression and/or injustice directed against the Palestinians. Conversely, the legitimate desire to work in favor of the justice and dignity due to the Palestinian people should not be pushed at the expense of God's covenant promises to Israel. 
  5. We as Catholics for Israel embrace both those aspects. Though we affirm God's eternal covenant with the Jewish people, we are also for the Palestinians, hoping and praying for a just solution to the conflict. We have Palesinian friends, and we have no problem in criticizing Israel's actions when situations legitimately call for it.
  6. "Catholics for Palestine," however, tend to promote the cause of Palestinian nationalism in a spirit of animosity against Israel, not only by frequent attempts at rewriting history (one thinks of the latest, ludicrous attempt of the Palestinian Authority to deny the historical Jewish connection to the Western Wall!), but also by espousing supersessionist and neo-marcionist positions which would pretend that God's ancient promises to the Jewish people are no longer valid, therefore delegitimizing and undermining the biblical and theological connection between the Jews and land of Israel.  The result is that "Catholics for Palestine" in fact often appear to be really "Catholics against Israel."
  7. Moreover, one cannot help but wonder whether "Catholics for Palestine" and activists such as the authors of the "Kairos Document" are really acting in the best interests of the Palestinian Christians. First, we recall Jesus' take on political activism: he was rather lukewarm to the idea of revolt against the Romans, and He made it clear that political independance should not be equated with the furthering of God's kingdom (which is not of this world). Furthermore, do Palestinian Christian activists lobbying for the establishment of a Palestinian State fully grasp the implications of their stated goals? A Palestinian State would mean that they would one day wake up as a Christian minority in yet another Muslim-dominated State in the Middle-East. 
Hmmm. Let's recall the present situation of the Christians in some of the predominantly Muslim countries in the neighborhood:

Gaza: terrorist organization Hamas in power; Christians oppressed;
West Bank: Christians formerly over 10%; now 2% and shrinking;
Lebanon: 84% Christians in 1926; down to 40% in 2009; murderous civil war in the 1970s-80s; increasing Hezbollah domination;
Egypt: discrimination, oppression and persecution of Coptic Christians by Muslim majority;
Saudi Arabia: Christians forbidden to practice their faith openly; Bibles forbidden; conversions to Christianity punishable by death;
Iraq: frequent massacres, decimation and exile of Christian population;
Iran: Christians subject to discrimination and persecution; many have emigrated;
Pakistan: "blasphemy laws" - speaking against Islam or its prophet may be punishable by death.

Israel: freedom of religion, growing Christian population.

Given the grim situation of Christians in Muslim countries of the Middle East, and their comparatively good situation in Israel, one is at a loss to understand why some Palestinian Christians would be so adamantly pushing for the establishment of a Palestinian State with a Muslim majority.  I write "some" because it is well known that many Palestinians - Christians and Muslims - secretly prefer to live under Israeli rather than Palestinian rule.

We at Catholics for Israel do not claim to have the solution to the Middle East conflict. We know that dignity is rightly due to the Palestinians, and we pray for peace and justice for them. But we would strongly caution against any movement that claims to be "for" the Palestinians but happens to express itself chiefly in anti-Israel rhetoric, seeking to delegitimize and undermine the connection of the Jewish people to their land. Ultimately we must ask: does such a movement really help the attainment of peace and justice for the Palestinian Christians, or does it merely facilitate the advance of Islam in the Middle East, while at the same time closing the "womb" of the people of the covenant, in labor and expectation of the Messiah's final coming as announced in the Sacred Scriptures?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Intra-Catholic Tension on the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

This is the record of an impromptu discussion between Catholics for Israel and Fr. Jamal Khader, Professor of Dogmatic Theology at Bethlehem University and one of the authors of the Kairos Palestine document. It took place recently on this website, in the discussion forum under the article on Replacement Theology. We repost it here because it illustrates well the wide gap that exists between positions held by Catholics, and how, sadly, politics in the Holy Land too often overshadow theological discussion. Comments are welcome to continue the debate!

21/11/2010 Fr. Jamal Khader

What is Displacement Theology? It is a "theology" that uses the Word of God to justify the occupation of Palestinian land and the displacement of Palestinians from their land in the name of the prophecies and the promises of the Old Testament. In the name of fighting Replacement theology and Anti-Semitism, Christians try to amend for what they did to Jews (the horrible massacres of the Holocaust) at the expense of the Palestinians, and in their land. The Word of God is Good News to all, including to me, a Palestinian Christian. Remember that!

21/11/2010 Ariel

dear Fr. Khader,

thank you for your comment. You are right that the Word of God is good news for all, including Palestinian Christians like yourself. As we state often, Catholics for Israel is against every form of injustice. We know that our Palestinian brothers and sisters have suffered much, and we pray that you may live in peace, justice and dignity. Although the Scriptures are clear that there is an inseparable bond between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel, we agree that this should never be used to justify the unjust displacement of Palestinians or other injustices.

However, many Palestinian Christians tragically sabotage their own cause by embracing replacement theology and rejecting their biblical connection to the Jewish people and God's promises to them. One example is the disastrous 'Kairos Palestine' document which has brought shame on the Christians of the Holy Land by its extremist political views, whitewashing of terrorism and minimizing the islamic threat to Christians, and unjustly blaming Israel for all problems in the Holy Land. We pray that Palestinian Christians will stop cutting themselves off from their own roots. By acknowledging God's promises to His people Israel you will not harm your cause; on the contrary, it will be the source of abundant blessings, for God is faithful to His Word, and He blesses those who bless His people Israel!

22/11/2010 Fr. Jamal Khader

I am one of the authors of the Kairos document. I don't see any "extremist political views" or any other accusations you state. You are uprooting us from our land in the name of the Bible. "By acknowledging God's promises to His people", your way, does not only harm our cause, but justifies occupation, humiliation and denying our rights; it is distorting the Word of God and is exactly what I meant by the Replacement Theology. How do you explain the Jesus is the fulfillment of the Scriptures? the Yes of God to His promises? how does Jesus explain the notions of "land", "promises"... Our Christian reading of the Old Testament should be through our faith in the New, according to Catholic teaching. If you see the Kairos as embracing the replacement theology, read it again, if you read it in the first place. How can see what is not there ?!

22/11/2010 Ariel

dear fr. Khader,

you are ignoring what I just wrote above. We are against every form of injustice, humiliations, and abuses of your rights. But the Kairos document has been severely criticized by many Christians - including those sympathetic to your plight - for being biased, unbalanced, unfair, and very political. The fact that the leaders of the local Church have not officially endorsed it should tell you something: even they think that it is extreme, political, and very imbalanced. By continuing to support this very bad document you undermine your own credibility and alienate many Christians who would otherwise like to help you.

As you know, the promise of the land of Israel to the Jewish people, very often repeated in the OT, is never revoked in the NT. God does not cancel his promises to His people or change His mind, for His gifts and calling to Israel are irrevocable (cf. Rom 11:29). To claim that God went back on His promise would be to attack His very character and covenant faithfulness. Yes, His promises are fulfilled in Christ, extending His blessings to all Christians, but they are a fulfillment and not a cancellation of His promises to Israel. One can support God's promises to the Jewish people, and at the same time support justice and dignity for the Palestinians. Why should the two be opposed?

We have published a critique of the Kairos document, and we encourage you to read also our address to our Arab Christian brothers. Perhaps it is time for a new approach, Fr. Khader. If perhaps instead of just angrily blaming Israel for everything, you and the other authors would reflect on God's covenant with Israel (as difficult as this may be), affirm His faithfulness to His people instead of denying it, humbly and clearly acknowledge the evils of Islamic Palestinian terrorism which caused the construction of the dreadful security wall, condemn the Hamas rockets as loudly as you condemn Israeli injustices, publicly ask our Jewish brothers for forgiveness for decades of Palestinian hatred and violence against them - now THAT would be a courageous and admirable approach in the true Spirit of Christ that would win you so many more supporters for your cause than your present anti-Israel approach. Remember that those who bless Israel will be blessed and those who curse them will be cursed. Choose blessings and let uswork together in upholding both God's covenant promises to Israel and in working for peace, justice and dignity for your own people!

22/11/2010 Fr. Jamal Khader

Simple questions: Do you support the occupation of the Palestinian Territories (what you will call Judea and Samaria)? Is that a Palestinian land or an Israeli land?

If God promised this land to His people, is His plan to displace the Palestinians from their land and make them refugees? Is affirming the faithfulness of God to His people means denying the Palestinians their national rights? Is the modern State of Israel, with its occupation, a fulfillment of God's promises?

If you see the Kairos document as "very bad", you are unable to understand what justice means. you can repeat ad nauseam that you want justice, but what you do is supporting injustice, in the name of God! and please, do not pretend that you care about the Palestinians, because you don't.

"Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth" (Jn 9, 41)

P.S. you can continue to blame the victims for their suffering, but this will not bring justice and reconciliation. just remember that the (Christian) West committed the Holocaust, not the Muslims; the (Catholic) west spread the "teaching of contempt", not the Palestinians. and now you pretend to teach us how to deal with the Jewish people?

22/11/2010 Ariel

Dear fr. Khader,

These are good questions but not necessarily “simple.” If they were that simple, then surely someone would have solved them by now. We do not claim to have definitive answers to them. We don’t support the difficult situation of the Palestinian Territories, but we also don’t think the term “occupation” is appropriate, for then why didn’t the Palestinians speak of previous “Jordanian occupation” (1948-67), “British occupation” (1917-48.), or even “Turkish occupation”? Since there was never a Palestinian state, we believe that the road to peace has to be based on correct facts on not on artificial revisions of history that falsely claim that Israel just “occupied Palestine” for no reason, ignoring the fact that every time territory has changed hands in the last 100 years it was a response to violence or acts of aggression from Arab countries against Israel. As you know, Arab violence and terrorism against Jews (already a problem from the 1920s through the 60s) came long before the “occupation” – so to find a just solution this too needs to be acknowledged and repented of.

Palestinian or Israeli land? Well, as you know, clearly according to the Scriptures God promised the land to Israel. But is it therefore God’s plan to displace Palestinians and make them refugees? No, certainly not, for He is a God of justice. We think that Israel should repair injustices when they have truly been committed. But we don’t understand why Israel has integrated hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab countries from the 1948 war and nobody talks about their “rights”, while Palestinian refugees are kept in camps as political playing cards to further a political agenda. There are two sides to the conflict. Blaming only one side and whitewashing the very wrong deeds committed by the other is not the road to peace and justice, which must be based on truth.

We are not sure about “Palestinian national rights” – Palestinian rights, certainly, but national rights… we are concerned about the danger of Islamism as a much greater threat to Christians than Israel. We also find the anti-Jewish incitement and hatred in Palestinian culture very disturbing, with all the talk one hears of “liberating all of Palestine” – including Tel Aviv and Haifa, meaning in effect the destruction of Israel. After all, Palestinians voted Hamas into power, so it makes us very reluctant to support the national rights of a people who would vote for and support an organization committed to the destruction of Israel. I have in fact personally spoken to many Palestinian Christians who prefer to live under Israeli sovereignty and democracy rather than the looming threat of an Islamic rule and Sharia law.

Is the modern state of Israel with its “occupation” a fulfillment of God’s promise? Since God promised to return the people of Israel to their land, we would certainly see God’s hand behind the modern return of the Jews. We don’t believe the modern state of Israel is strictly speaking a “fulfillment” of those promises because it is still mixed up with human sin and the messy politics of the Middle East – which has caused a lot of hurt and heartbreak on both sides. Yet Israel’s holiness is not a prerequisite for God’s faithful action, as we see in His providence over Israel in the OT.

22/11/2010 Fr. Jamal Khader

Here is what I understood from you message: there is no occupation; Palestinians have no national rights; there was never an independent Palestinian State, so why create it now?; Islam and arab terrorism is the problem; and Palestinians need to apologize from Israel; and God's hand is behind the modern state of Israel.
You have the right to think whatever you want, even that the muslims are the incarnation of devil. but to pretend to say that in the name of God, the Bible and the Catholics is not consistent with your ideology.
What you are saying is pure zionist ideology that (ab)uses the Word of God.

If you don't recognize me as part of the Palestinian PEOPLE, I don't want your pity to my sufferings.
Besides your prayers, what do you do for justice to the Palestinians?

23/11/2010 Yochanan

Can I make a few points?

1. To speak about the Jewish return en masse to the Land of their forefathers ("the gifts and the call are irrevocable", Rom 11,29) is one thing, the administration of justice for its inhabitants is another. The two issues should be kept separate. We can perfectly well uphold the second, while accepting the first.

2. The whole issue of whether or not there will be a Palestinian State (rather than an Autonomy) has been under discussion for some years. After the Palestinian leadership rejected the Israeli offers of 2000 (Camp David), 2001 (Taba), and 2007 (Annapolis), and after the splitting of the Palestinian Autonomy into two rival parts (West Bank and Gaza), it is difficult to know what exactly the Palestinians understand by their 'Palestinian National Rights'. The latest opinion polls suggest that Palestinians want all the land West of the Jordan River for themselves (cf. 60% of polled Palestinians accept a two-state solution, but only as a step to a one state solution) and, of course, they already form the majority (70%) of the population East of the Jordan River, in Jordan.

3. According to Malcolm Lowe's review on this website, Fr. Khader's Kairos Palestine document subtly aligns itself with the Palestinian desire for one state in which they will be the majority: “A naïve reader will not notice here what a more attentive reading reveals: the authors want to see a single state embracing Muslims, Jews and Christians alike. Indeed, nowhere in the document does the term “two states” occur. Likewise, the term “occupation” is freely used, but without a clear statement of what areas are considered to be “occupied.” Thus the document delivers different messages to different audiences. Well-intentioned but unwary sympathizers can imagine that the authors subscribe to “two states for two peoples,” but insiders can be sure that the ultimate aim is the old one of a unitary Palestine”. In view of the present ascendancy of Fundamentalist Islam in the region, there is no doubt that such a state would rapidly come under Islamic domination and Sharia Law, as has happened in Gaza and is about to happen in Lebanon, for example. So the whole discussion of Palestinian statehood now revolves around whether this Land should be all under the Muslims or all under the Jews. With what is happening to Christians under Islamic regimes throughout the Middle East, but especially in Pakistan, Iraq, Egypt and Gaza, it is astonishing that Fr. Khader should be promoting a situation that would bring Islamic, or more likely Islamist, rule in this country.

4. Under these circumstances what should Christians be doing? What does Jesus tell us by his own example? Are not the Palestinians in a similar position to that of the Jews of his time, when the Romans ruled their territory? Just as the Jewish people in those days were driven by nationalist Jewish zealots to rebel against the Romans and expel them totally from the land of Palestine, so now the Palestinian people are being urged by nationalist Islamic zealots to rebel against the Israelis and expel them totally from the land of Israel. Far from inciting, or in any way supporting, the nationalist rebellion against the Romans, Jesus focused on bringing the Kingdom of God close to his countrymen. The degree to which Jesus set himself apart from the nationalist aspirations of his contemporaries is revealed by his uncommonly sympathetic attitude to the Roman occupiers: for example, he admired the Roman centurion's faith and was pleased to heal his child or servant (Mt 8,5-13 et par), he counseled his people to love their enemies and pray for their persecutors (foremost among whom were the Romans, Mt 5,43-48 et par.), he advised them to go two miles with the soldier who forced them to go only one mile (Mt 5,41), he recommended paying taxes to Caesar (Mt 22,15-22), he recognized that Pilate's authority came from God (Jn 19,11), and he begged the Father to forgive the Roman soldiers who crucified him (Lk 23,34). As the Israelis today stand in a similar position to the Romans in those days, it does not take much to imagine what our Lord's attitude to them would be. This also should be the attitude of our Church. Our purpose as a Church should be to win the hearts of the Jews for Christ, just the early followers of Jesus were instructed to win over the hearts of the Romans.

5. Fr. Khader's conclusion is immensely saddening: "If you don't recognize me as part of the Palestinian PEOPLE, I don't want your pity to my sufferings. Besides your prayers, what do you do for justice to the Palestinians?" If I interpret this rightly, Fr Khader is essentially saying he is first and foremost a Palestinian, before being a Catholic or a Christian. Nationalist concerns are uppermost for him and trump fellowship in Christ. He wants no pity or help from those who do not support his irredentist Palestinian cause. If the Church decides that it is essential for the Jews to be gathered here in this Land, at this time, for God's inscrutable purposes, whatever they are, then Fr Khader wants no pity or help from the Church. His idea of justice is a Palestinian State from the river to the sea, ruled by anyone except the Jews. This could be the position of a Nationalist Church of Palestine, but it does not resonate with the post-Vatican II Catholic Church as far I understand it.

23/11/2010 Ariel

thank you Yochanan for these comments. I totally agree with you. Fr. Khader I am also very disappointed with your reply. I went through the trouble of writing a response as balanced as I could, and you respond with an oversimplified caricature of my position. Of course we do recognize you as part of the Palestinian people, how else should we? What do we do for justice for the Palestinians (with our very limited means)? Try to maintain a loving and encouraging presence to all people of the Holy Land - affirming both God's promise for Israel, and the need to restore justice and dignity to the Palestinians. Again - why should these be mutually exclusive?

In all sincerity, what do you propose we should do to make you happy? Engage in anti-Israel activism like you? Deny God's promises to His people as affirmed by St. Paul? Bash and blame Israel for everything and pretend that Palestinians have never done anything wrong? Live in the illusion that Islamic hatred of Jews and increasing oppression of Christians is just a myth?

In other words, are you saying that a good Catholic must automatically embrace the Palestinian nationalist cause, and one who has sympathies towards Israel is automatically a bad Catholic?

Yochanan has asked a sobering but serious question that is worthy of consideration: as a priest, are you first and foremost a Christian and minister of the Lord, longing and working for the Kingdom of God, or are you primarily an anti-Israel political activist striving towards Palestinian nationalist ambitions - which, if they ever become realized, are not by any means a guarantee that life will become easier for Palestinian Christians?

23/11/2010 Athol

Father Khader you do not speak for all Palestinian Christians. I met many Palestinian Christians when I lived in Jerusalem who told me that privately they prefer Israeli rule to Muslim; however in public they had to pretend they supported the Muslims out of fear. The Muslims told them. "First we will get rid of the Saturday people and then you Sunday people." Many of them disliked the approach of Michel Sabbah whom they called the "Muslim Patriarch". Many of them were so disgusted with the worldly, materialistic and political nature of many of the priests and Bishops in the Holy Land that they only went to the church infrequently for special feasts etc.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Response to "The Catholic Liturgy and Supersessionism" by Fr. Brian Harrison

Dear Fr. Harrison,

Thank you for bringing your article “The Catholic Liturgy and Supersessionism” to our attention, in response to our recent newsletter (November 2010) which commented on the recent Synod of Bishops for the Middle East.

Despite a busy schedule, I have decided that your well-written article is worthy of a serious response, because it explains in an articulate way a theological position that we encounter frequently. This position is one that is well-motivated and makes an important point, yet it is also one which I believe has some very serious weaknesses and implications that I’m afraid might do more damage than good to the mission of the Church.

First, a summary of your article as I understand it:
  1. Although you do not state it in this way, it seems to me that the main objective of your article is really to refute dual-covenant theology, namely the idea that Jews could be saved by faithfully observing the Mosaic Law, while Christians are saved by the New Covenant instituted by Christ and perpetuated in the Church. We at Catholics for Israel fully agree with you in this regard.  Dual-covenant theology contradicts the faith of the Church. As you demonstrate quite well from the Catholic liturgical texts, the Church's faith clearly expresses that Jews are indeed invited to "enter into the New Covenant by means of baptism and faith in Jesus as the promised Messiah."
  2. However, instead of building your argument upon a refutation of dual-covenant theology, you present it rather as an affirmation of supersessionism, which you define as the belief that "the covenant between God and the People of Israel, established through the mediation of Moses at Mount Sinai, has been replaced or superseded by the ‘New Covenant’ of Jesus Christ. This implies that the Mosaic covenant, with its ritual and dietary requirements, Sabbath observance, etc., is no longer valid for the Jewish people." In other words, you appear to spend more time and energy denying the ongoing validity of the Mosaic covenant rather than affirming the message of salvation of the New Covenant.  This, as I will argue below, is not only an unfortunate emphasis, but also a disastrous one.
  3. Throughout your article, you affirm supersessionism by emphasizing an exaggerated dichotomy between Mosaic Covenant and New Covenant, using statements like the following:
    1. Reception of baptism and living according to the faith, worship and discipline of the New Covenant is allegedly "incompatible with the continuing observance of the Mosaic covenant."
    2. The conversion of Jews who come to believe in Christ would allegedly involve "replacing observance of the Mosaic covenant by the reception of baptism and participation in the Christian New Covenant."
    3. Baptism has "replaced" circumcision, and the first day of the week has "replaced" the seventh.
    4. "The subsidiary and specific covenant of Sinai under Moses has now been replaced or superseded definitively by the specifically Christian covenant."
Before I try to respond to your position, I invite you to read a new "parable" that I just wrote.  It was inspired by your article and by other expressions of supersessionism that I continually encounter.  It is called The Father and the Two Sons: A New Parable on Replacement Theology

Now my response.  I would argue that your methodology is not only unnecessary but also most regrettable and damaging for the following reasons:
    1. Your supersessionist position goes way beyond the position of Jesus and the New Testament authors, who are much more positive towards the Mosaic Covenant than you are.  True, the NT constantly reaffirms the superiority of the New over the Old; some passages seem to support the view that the time of the Mosaic Covenant has come to an end (e.g. the Epistle to the Hebrews); and Paul is adamant that observing the commandments of the Torah is not sufficient to be saved, but that faith in Christ is necessary for salvation (esp. Gal and Rom).  However:
      1. Jesus himself said that He did not come to abolish but rather to fulfill the Torah (Mat 5:17)
      2. At the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) the fact that the apostles decided that Gentile Christians are not obligated to be circumcised and keep the Torah presupposes that these customs were still practiced by the early Jewish-Christian community. Had this not been so, there would never had been the very debate about what to do with Gentiles who enter the Church.
      3. To illustrate this point, Paul has Timothy circumcised in the very next chapter (Acts 16:30).
      4. In Acts 21:20, the believers in Jerusalem are overjoyed that "many myriads of Jews" have believed, and they are "all zealous for the law" (the Torah).
      5. At the same time, Paul joins himself to men who have made a vow  to prove wrong his accusers who falsely claim that he is teaching "all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs."  On the contrary, Paul is purified with these men so that "all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law" (Act 21:24).
      6. I invite you to read more about the relationship of the first believers with the Law in our section on Torah and Gospel.
    2. Second, many important Church authorities today have a much more positive view of the Torah and Mosaic covenant than you do. To give you only one example, see the recent interview with Archbishop Raymond Burke, now prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, the highest judicial office in the Church. I hope you will have an open ear to hear what he says about the legitimacy of observing Jewish customs in the light of Christ for Jewish believers.  
    3. Third, your position essentially advocates a form of supersessionism that constitutes an almost insurmountable barrier to salvation for our Jewish friends. If supersessionism were true, it would mean that in order to accept the Gospel, the Jews would have to reject everything that they hold most dear. It would mean rejecting their own culture and customs which were not only given to them by God but also are the foundation of their very identity. This attitude, of course, flies in the face of everything the Church teaches about inculturation and evangelization: when missionaries evangelize new nations, the most foolish and counter-productive thing they could do is start uprooting the local people from their ancient customs and traditions as they try to make them Christians. Yet this is exactly what the supersessionist position does as it rejects any legitimacy for Jews to have the freedom to continue observing their customs.  This takes on even more disastrous proportions when one considers that many of these customs were divinely instituted! 
    4. Incidentally, the Code of Canon Law (23-28) affirms that local customs prevailing in a culture more than 30 years obtain force of law; and that centenary or immemorial customs can even prevail against some canonical laws.  "Unless it makes express mention of them, a law does not revoke centenary or immemorial customs, nor does a universal law revoke particular customs" (CIC 28).  How much more for the immemorial customs of Israel, instituted by God Himself!
    5. In short, if your position begins out of a good intention (affirming that Jesus Christ is indeed the way to salvation for our Jewish brethren), it really ends up having the opposite, catastrophic effect, of namely blocking their way to salvation. 
Perhaps the foundation for this damaging position stems from a confusion between the particular role of Israel and universal role of the Church.  I have noticed this in a statement you made in your email.  You wrote that it is a "fundamental part of our Catholic faith"
to hold that the secondary covenant with Moses established at Sinai has been superseded and replaced by the New Covenant. If that were not so, we would all still  be bound to Sabbath rather than Sunday observance, to observe all the dietary and ritual prescriptions of Leviticus, practise circumcision, etc.  (emphasis added)
The problem with this statement, Fr. Harrison, is that it is simply not true - or at least not for Gentile Catholics. We Gentiles were never bound by Sabbath observance, dietary and ritual prescriptions and circumcision. These were never given to Gentiles or to Christians, but only to Israel. To the first Jewish believers (as we see from the passages in Acts cited above) it was clear that the New Covenant did not abolish the covenant with Israel (including these observances), but rather universalized this covenant and extended its universal precepts to include all the nations. From the very beginning, Gentile Christians were not bound by the Torah because it was not given to them.  But just as the New Covenant never intended to judaize gentiles and make them Jews, the same New Covenant never intended to "gentilize" Jews and make the Gentiles.

True, there is "neither Jew nor Greek" - both are equal before God as regarding salvation. But just as the fact that there is "neither male nor female" never abolished the particular differences, complementarity and callings of man and woman, why should it not be the same with Jews and Gentiles - who each retain their particular calling in the One Church of Christ?

And so why should the invitation to baptism to Jews and their entrance into the new, universal covenant, imply the rejection, abrogation, or dismissal of circumcision, the sign of their particular covenant with God (which in this case is Abrahamic, by the way, and not Mosaic)? What makes them mutually exclusive?

Why should the celebration of the Lord's Day and new creation imply a rejection of the Sabbath day, divinely given to Israel, commemorating the first creation, whose importance is ceaselessly recalled in the OT as sign of Israel's faithfulness of God? Should the celebration of the new creation by the universal Church on the eigth day (to which Israel is of course invited) not reaffirm rather than dismiss the celebration of the first creation on the seventh day for Israel?

Do you not see why your view creates an almost insurmountable stumbling block to the salvation of the Jewish people?

Does Catholicism not usually embrace an attitude of both/and rather than either/or?  Why the false dichotomy between God's covenants - and why not adopt a more integrative approach?

In summary: God gave the Torah and its ordinances as the everlasting sign and guarantee of His covenant to Israel. It was never intended for their salvation, but its precepts constituted the grateful and loving response of Israel to their Creator who delivered them from Egyptian slavery and adopted them as His first-born son.  God gave the Torah to Israel, and not to Gentiles or to the Church. The universal New Covenant established by Jesus never abrogated the particular Mosaic covenant given to Israel, yet it was its perfect fulfillment.  Without the Gospel, the Torah remained and still remains incomplete, unfulfilled, for the Torah points to Jesus as the new prophet, Messiah and Savior of Israel.

But the Gospel was not only given to the Jews. It was intended for all men. It quickly became evident that the New Covenant did not require Gentiles to go first through the Old - to become circumcised and become Jews as a prerequisite to be members of the Church. At the same time, the universal covenant with the Church never required Jews to forsake the particular covenant of the Law of Moses - as long as it was clear that this particular covenant was not a final destination but rather a step - a very important one - on the way to the fullness of God's revelation and salvation revealed in Christ.

May we Gentile Christians learn to see the ancient covenant with Israel with greater humility, respect and appreciation, and may our own transformed attitude towards Israel and their heritage facilitate their encounter with Grace that Moses foretold long ago but has now been suspended for all too long.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Father and the Two Sons: A New Parable on Replacement Theology

A good father once had a firstborn son whom he deeply loved. As a token of his love for his son, the father gave him an old and beautiful family photo album.  This photo album was very special. It not only contained pictures, but also all the great stories of the family's past, as well as records of all their ancient customs and traditions - traditions which were still loved and cherished by the family to this very day, because they represented their very fabric and identity.  The firstborn son really loved this book.  He loved to read it hours on end, over and over, because it reminded him of the venerable traditions of his forefathers, of the great love of his own father for him, and of who he was today.  The old book shaped his identity and even inspired him and guided him in his day-to-day life.

Now because the father was very good and generous, he and his wife decided to adopt another boy - an abandoned orphan.  They lovingly took the boy into their family and he truly became another son to them.  At the same time, since they now lived in the modern age, the father bought a state of the art computer for his family. This computer not only had an archive of the family pictures and traditions, but of course it could do much more: it had games, Internet, graphics and music programs, encyclopedias, videos, etc.

The newly adopted son really loved this computer - and rightly so, because it truly was a beautiful gift that the father lovingly gave to his family. But for some reason, the firstborn son was not as enthusiastic about the computer as his adopted brother. The firstborn son was somewhat curious about the computer, but he still preferred to leaf through the yellowed pages of his old family album, remembering all the great stories of old and how these had shaped his family, who he is, and how they still lived today. 

The firstborn son's love for the old book began to annoy the newly adopted son, who was much more interested in the computer than in the book.  Instead of inquiring as to why the firstborn son loved the book so much, instead of showing interest for the heritage and customs of the family who had so kindly adopted him, and instead of expressing gratitude towards their heritage, he started to denigrate it.

After all, the computer was so much better than the old book!  Why hang on to the old antiquated thing? it should just be discarded. It served a purpose for a time but now we are in the computer age. Why stubbornly hang on to all the outdated traditions described in the book? The family should just let go of them and instead spend more time surfing the net.  Sure, the old book served a purpose before there were computers. It was a kind of preparation for the computer age.  As for now, we may want to keep the book somewhere on the shelves, as a collection piece, just to help us understand and appreciate the computer better, but it no longer carries real value of its own. Surely the firstborn son was retrograde and obstinate for hanging on to the old thing and not showing more interest for the computer.

Sadly, as a result of the adopted son's arrogant attitude, the firstborn son began to hate the computer and his adopted brother. He no longer wanted to have anything to do with the computer, and he hung on even more forcefully to his old book, the cherished sign of his father's love for him.  The result was a painful division in the family. Instead of both brothers joyfully sharing the computer (and the adopted brother appreciating and respecting the firstborn son's special love for the old book) as it should have been as a result of the father's goodness and generosity, there was now jealousy and animosity between the brothers - the adopted son boasting about the superiority of the computer and scorning the obsolescence of the old book, and the firstborn tenaciously holding on to his cherished album and no longer interested at all in the computer.

The reader will forgive me if the parallels are somewhat limping (suggestions for improvement are welcome) - but I think you will perceive the analogy:

The father is God. The firstborn son is Israel. The old album is the Torah, deeply loved by Israel as the sign of the covenant between God and His people. The computer is the Gospel.  The newly adopted son is the Church (or rather Gentile Christians). Obviously, there was no need to set the computer against the book - the Gospel against the Torah.  Both were beautiful gifts, lovingly bestowed by the father onto his sons.  True, in many ways the computer is vastly superior to the old book. But as the firstborn son had a particular historical and cultural attachment to the old book, so Israel has a great love for the Torah, because it is not only the sign of God's covenant love for them but also their history book and the record of their customs which have shaped their very identity to this day. If the adopted son had truly desired to share the computer with his brother, the firstborn son, he could have simply told him about it and all the great things that it did, with enthusiasm and excitement.  But he also could have shown some interest, respect, and appreciation for the old family album and everything it represented.  This surely would have strengthened the friendship between the two boys and caused the firstborn son to be more interested in the computer.

Likewise, many supersessionist Gentile Christians rail against Israel for having rejected the Gospel. Instead of proclaiming the good news of Christ with joy and love, with gratitude and appreciation to the Jewish people because they as Gentiles have now been "adopted into the household of Israel" (Eph 2), demonstrating a humble eagerness to learn about the rich Jewish traditions (many of whom not only were divinely revealed but also shaped who Jesus was and is), they spend more time denigrating the Torah and the Mosaic Covenant - appreciating it, perhaps, for its historical value as a preparation for the Gospel and retaining the moral foundation of the Decalogue, but dismissing the rest as outdated and superseded - certainly of no practical use today for the people to whom it was given.  These advocates of replacement theology are blind as to why Israel would still love and cherish the Torah, not realizing that it is their own arrogant attitude that constitutes the chief obstacle to the Jewish people accepting the Gospel.

Before we may hope to see Israel's eyes opened to the light of the Gospel, may we pray that the veil of arrogance over too many Christian eyes be lifted, that we may come to a more humble appreciation of the root into which we have been grafted:
And if some of the branches [unbelieving Jews] were broken off, and you [gentile Christian], being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, "Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in."  Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear.   For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either.  Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.  And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.  For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?  (Rom 11:17-24)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Entering the Age of Social Media

The October events have convinced us here at Catholics for Israel that we need to be ready to respond in a quicker way to current issues when they arise.  And so in the last weeks we have significantly upgraded our internet presence by joining the age of social media. Here is a little summary of our new services, which we have customized with pictures of Israel so that you may at the same time catch a glimpse of some of the Holy Land's beautiful sites and sceneries:
  • The Catholics for Israel website remains the center and hub of Catholics for Israel's presence on the internet.  This is where you will find general information about us, our mission statements, our unique online course for evangelization and catechesis (with PowerPoint presentations and handouts), Church documents, and articles and essays on biblical and theological topics pertaining to Israel, the Messiah, and the Church.  These resources are available in up to five languages (English, French, Italian, German, Hebrew).  Brief, moderated comments on the articles are also welcome.
  • The other CFI "veteran" on the web is our discussion forum. This is your place - where you can join in or initiate discussions and debates on the topic of your choosing (hopefully in some way related to our mission).  Animated and even heated discussions are welcome - of course all carried out in a dignified and respectful manner.
  • The first new kid on the block is our blog (which you are reading now), set over the background of the beautiful hills of Judea.  Why do we need a blog in addition to the website, and what will be the difference between them?  The website will now be the home of our more permanent and "timeless" resources and materials (theology, Church documents, biblical exegesis, catechesis, testimonies, history, liturgy and prayer, etc.). The blog, on the other hand, will treat of more current events, such as commentaries and opinions on items in the news, and more personal entries such as journaling and the sharing of daily life and experiences in Israel, etc...  From now on, our newsletters (such as the one you are reading now) will also be posted on the blog.
  • Catholics for Israel has also created its own YouTube channel. Set over the calm waters of the Sea of Galilee at sunset, watch videos from our collection of favorites on topics ranging from the Bible, Judaism, Israel's history, land, people, and culture, the Middle East conflict, the Messiah, the Catholic faith, the pope and the Jewish people, testimonies, and more.  Most of these videos are now directly available from our homepage, easily accessible under a row of tabs.
  • Of course, no social networking would be complete without Facebook and Twitter, and Catholics for Israel is now present on both of these platforms. They will serve as forums for posting current events and news as well as publishing our responses.  Facebook posts will be open for reader comments and discussion, while our tweets, set  over Mount Scopus, the Mount of Olives and Temple Mount in the Holy City of Jerusalem, will also be reposted on our website and blog. 
Additionally, we also recommend signing up to Holy Land News, the video news broadcast of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, produced from Jerusalem and posted weekly on YouTube.

Please support us in our work of furthering the reconciliation of Israel and the Church!  There are a number of ways by which you can do this.  First, follow us on  Facebook and/or Twitter to stay abreast of current events, and visit our website and blog regularly. Second, please consider making a donation.  A few $50 donations or purchases of our online course can go a long way in supporting our translation work and in helping us to spread the Church's message of reconciliation to Israel. Third - and perhaps most importantly - please pray for us!

Between Prophetic Vision and Politically-Induced Myopia

October was a significant month for the relationship between Israel and the Church.  It began with a relatively low-key event in a hotel in Missouri, and ended with a high-profile gathering of key leaders in the heart of the Church.  Both events managed to generate controversy - the first (in my humble opinion) because of its remarkable prophetic vision, and the second because of the astounding short-sightedness of one of its participants.

Although the two controversies seemed related to two very different issues, I believe that both, in fact, are closely related, and I will tell you why below.

The first event was the conference hosted by the Association of Hebrew Catholics in St Louis from October 1-3.  The second event was the Synod of Bishops of the Middle East that took place in Rome from October 10-24. I had the privilege of being present at the AHC conference, but I was not in Rome for the synod.

AHC Conference

The AHC conference hosted a variety of speakers from widely different backgrounds.  All found their way to the fullness of truth in the Catholic Church, albeit with a way there unique to each one.  Some were Jews, some were Gentiles.  Some came from agnostic, atheistic or communist backgrounds, others had been raised as religious Jews, while others had previously served the Lord in the Messianic Jewish movement or in other Christian denominations.

Some gave their testimony and shared how they found their way to the Lord and to His Church (Mark & Sue Neugebauer, Mark Drogin, Ken Wilsker). Others spoke on biblical or theological topics such as the mission of the Jewish people in salvation history and their role in the Church (Roy Schoeman), the salvation of Israel and the Second Coming (Larry Feingold), the biblical reasons why the Church today is based in Rome and not in Jerusalem (Taylor Marshall), or the connection between the Jewish people and Land of Israel today (myself).

Despite the variety of backgrounds, there was a remarkable convergence and unity in the common longing to work towards the reconciliation between Israel and the Church and to overcome centuries of division and separation that were never meant to be (though mysteriously permitted by divine Providence for the sake of a greater purpose).

Perhaps the most remarkable moment of the conference was the showing of the video interview with Archbishop Raymond L. Burke, former archbishop of St Louis, now Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura in Rome, and recently appointed cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI.  In this fascinating interview, conducted by David Moss, president of the AHC, Archbishop Burke spoke about the continued election of the Jewish people who are baptized and enter the Catholic Church, about the legitimacy for Catholic Jews to continue celebrating their Jewish traditions in the light of Christ within the Church, about the relationship between Old and New Covenants, and about the life of Hebrew Catholics in the Church today.

Most extraordinary was Archbishop Burke's positive disposition towards baptized Jews who wish to continue to observe Jewish traditions and customs in the Church in the light of Christ.  What better sign could there be than this to affirm the fact that the Catholic faith does not represent a break with the Jewish faith but rather is its fulfillment? Archbishop Burke demonstrated remarkable prophetic vision in encouraging the preservation (or restoration) of Jewish identity in the Church as one way to make Jews feel at home while being in full communion with the Body of Messiah.  You may view the complete interview here.

Rather predictably, the conference generated some amount of controversy, apparently ruffling the feathers of the local Jewish community who suspected that the conference had a secret agenda to proselytize Jews. Some of the local media got involved, fanning the flames of the controversy, and all of it was brought to the attention of the Archbishop of St. Louis, Robert J. Carlson.  Although the conference, in fact, had no such hidden agenda and none of the speakers spoke in favor of proselytism, I noticed that there seems to be a fair amount of confusion going around as to the distinction between proselytism (which the Church rejects), and evangelization (which is not only encouraged by the Church but is the reason why She exists). This, however, is a big topic that deserves a newsletter of its own, and so I will save it for next time.

Synod of Bishops

A week after the end of the AHC conference, the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of the Bishops began in Rome. Intended to deal with pastoral rather than political questions, it touched upon the many problems, challenges, and hopes of the dwindling Christian population of the Middle East. The synodal work proceeded relatively peacefully until the very end, when the synod's final statement condemned the Israeli "occupation" of the Palestinian territories, and Greek Melkite Archbishop Cyris Bustros added that
"we Christians cannot speak of the 'promised land' as an exclusive right for a privileged Jewish people. This promise was nullified by Christ. There is no longer a chosen people."
This offensive and heretical denial of the core of Jewish identity of course set off a storm of protests from not only Jewish individuals and organizations around the world, including the Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister and Israeli Embassador to the Holy See, but also from many Christians.  Personally, I was quadruply - no, make that quintuply - frustrated by the whole affair.

First, I was irritated by the archbishop's statement, an unsophisticated rehashing of the old heresy of supersessionism (replacement theology), bluntly contradicting the official teachings of the Catholic Church which state that "God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers; He does not repent of the gifts He makes or of the calls He issues" (Vatican II Declaration Nostra Aetate, echoing Rom 11:28-29).

Second, I was annoyed at the poor reporting in some of the media who confused the bishop's opinion with the official Catholic position. One article, for example, carried the dismaying headline: "Catholic Church: Christ Nullified God's Promises to the Jews".  (After a day of heated email exchanges with the journalist he finally relented and changed 'Catholic Church' to 'Catholic Cleric').

Third, I was vexed by the online comments of many readers who uncritically swallowed the misleading headlines and used them as a pretext to go on rambling about the "spiritual darkness" of Catholicism that (allegedly) made void God's covenant faithfulness to His people.

Fourth, I was aggravated by the tepid and indecisive response that came from the Vatican, limited to a bland clarification from Holy See Press Office director Federico Lombardi who denied that the synod had an anti-Israel bias, and urged the public to stick to the officially promulgated text rather than focus on personal declarations that are not representative of the synod at large.

Fifth, I was exasperated by the attitude of local clergymen here in Jerusalem who lightly brushed aside the matter, showing little or no concern that an archbishop could publicly proclaim with impunity such a distasteful heresy which reflected, as the Jewish representative at the synod Rabbi David Rosen stated, "either shocking ignorance or insubordination in relation to the Catholic Church's teaching on Jews and Judaism."

One cannot help but ask: why is it so hard for the Vatican to clarify a doctrine that is firmly established officially, yet not sufficiently well-known or assimilated by the faithful and common people, and therefore still prone to attacks of this sort?

Consider the result of the controversy: the archbishop got away with murder, gravely undermining the essence of God's covenant faithfulness to His chosen people; advocates of replacement theology wrongly think they are right; anti-Israel political activists are delighted that the Church is "on their side"; Jews are angry; the average Catholic faithful are confused; anti-Catholic fundamentalists are triumphant at yet another (apparent) manifestation of Catholic apostasy; and the Muslims who oppress Christians in the Middle East are satisfied that Catholic clerics will go to any length to avoid saying anything positive towards Israel in order not to offend them. 

I may be exaggerating a bit - but only slightly so. Concerning the last point: note that none of the Middle Eastern Muslim countries where Christians are severely persecuted (or even massacred) is mentioned by name in the synod's final report.  Only one country is explicitly singled out for criticism and - quite absurdly - it happens to be the one where Christians can practice their religion freely and where the Christian population is actually growing. You guessed it - it's the usual suspect: Israel.

What, then, might be the connection between controversy nr. 1 (the AHC conference) and controversy nr. 2 (the synod), you ask? Well, both have the effect of blocking the way to salvation of the Jewish people and the reconciliation of Israel and the Church. The first - by neutralizing the Church's work of evangelization of the Jewish people.  The second - by denying or rejecting their divine election and calling, resulting in their further disillusion with and alienation from the Church.  Both are driven by political correctness: in the first case, by not wanting to offend our Jewish friends by proclaiming the Messiahship of Jesus; in the second, by not wanting to offend the Muslims by showing any affirmation or support of the Jewish people's biblical connection with the land of their forefathers.  In both cases, what begins - perhaps - out of a good intentions ends up causing more damage than good.

Perhaps it is time for new approaches that will be a little less politically correct and a little more bold in affirming both the Gospel message of salvation and the permanent divine election of Israel?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Welcome to the new Catholics for Israel blog!

This blog is intended to complement our main website with postings regarding current events, as well as publishing our newsletters.  Stay tuned for more soon!