Your “Chat with Pope Francis” (November 15) was a great spoof! Warmest congratulations to the editors. The introductory sentence alone is a gem—from the three translations to the discarded copy and the final reconstruction “from memory.” And the note in the zucchetto—blessing it and tossing it back—priceless. I’m still laughing out loud over the lines “I picked up so many bad habits in my Jesuit days” and “Please, call me Frank.” One more reason to love being Catholic. Who else can fully enjoy this marvelous writing? I suspect Pope Francis himself would be your greatest fan. Only in Commonweal would this be possible. The editors deserve a raise—but then, at Commonweal that would be impossible.
Text & Context
In his long, appreciative, yet in places critical review of David Nirenberg’s Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition (“Through a Glass Darkly,” September 27), John Connelly rightly insists on the importance of “context” in interpreting ideas and positions. At the end of the review, however, he makes a sweeping assertion that, to my mind, errs precisely by ignoring context.
Connelly claims that Benedict XVI, in revising the Good Friday Prayer for the Jews—that they “acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the Savior of all men and women”—”did not see the contradiction” of the prayer “with the teaching of Vatican II.” Unfortunately, Connelly does not indicate which teaching of Vatican II he believes the prayer contradicts. Instead, it appears that Connelly here fails to do justice to the full context and content of the council’s teaching.
Thus Nostra Aetate itself insists: “It is the duty of the preaching church to proclaim the Cross of Christ as the sign of God’s universal love and the source of all grace.” Moreover, Ad Gentes, on the church’s missionary activity, teaches:
Christ and the church, which bears witness to him through the preaching of the gospel, transcend every narrowness of race and nationality and so cannot be considered foreign to anyone or to any place. Christ himself is the truth and the way, which the preaching of the gospel opens up to all people, when it speaks to them the words of Christ himself: “Repent and believe the good news.
And, of course, Lumen Gentium begins with the joyful proclamation of Christ as “the light of the nations.”
One could go on citing other documents of the council, but the above should suffice to counter Connelly’s claim that “one of our time’s leading theologians” [Joseph Ratzinger] failed to appreciate the council’s teaching in this regard. For, if Christ is, as the council clearly affirms, the “light of the nations,” “the source of all grace,” “the truth and the way,” then it is completely consonant with that persuasion to pray that all people, including the Jewish people, come to realize this truth and share fully this grace. Indeed, is it not an imperative of discipleship so to pray? The Good Friday Prayer, I suggest, does nothing other than conform the church’s lex orandi to its lex credenda—both of which find their sustaining center in Christ.
(Rev.) Robert P. Imbelli
The Reviewer Responds
It is one thing for the church to proclaim the good news of Christ, another for the Jewish people to “acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Savior of all men and women.” The former is the church’s vocation; the latter involves the betrayal of a different and distinct vocation. Twenty centuries after Christ’s time on earth we know that those who follow Christ are not Jews. In his translation for the little-used Latin version of the Good Friday prayers, Benedict XVI was in effect praying that Jews cease being Jews.
It is a matter of freedom of conscience if this Jew or that Jew converts to Christianity, and of course all Christian churches welcome newcomers, but that is not what Benedict’s prayer is about. Look at the interviews in God and the World, where then-Cardinal Ratzinger said that Christ is the “Jewish Messiah,” and that Catholics therefore believe that Jews must “say yes” to this Messiah—not as individuals, but as an entire people. This must have been what young Ratzinger learned in seminary in the 1940s.
In fact, according to the teaching of Vatican II, Catholics are not compelled to look forward to the day when “Israel” says yes to Christ. In the summer of 1964 the council fathers rejected a draft (put forward by conservatives close to Paul VI) that contained the following words: “The church waits with unshaken faith and deep longing for the entry of that [Jewish] people into the fullness of the people of God established by Christ.” The next year they approved a text that included the following: “The church awaits that day, known to God alone, on which all peoples will address the Lord in a single voice and ‘serve him shoulder to shoulder.’” The latter formulation contained no script for how God or the Jews were supposed to behave at the end of time.
But if there had to be a new Good Friday prayer in Latin, why did the pope not simply translate the one that Catholics have used in the vernacular since 1970, which does not suffer from such presumption? It reads as follows:
Let us pray for the Jewish people, the first to hear the word of God, that they may continue to grow in the love of his name and in faithfulness to his covenant.
Almighty and eternal God, long ago you gave your promise to Abraham and his posterity. Listen to your Church as we pray that the people you first made your own may arrive at the fullness of redemption. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
The spirit of this prayer is very different from that of Benedict’s. It reveres Jewish faithfulness to a covenant that exists, rather than speculating impiously about what God might desire in the future.
But the Tridentine Rite not only gives God pointers on how his will should be done, it has the effect of impeding the spread of the gospel by involving the church in duplicity. Nostra Aetate, which is authoritative church teaching, says that God does not repent the “calls he makes” (Rom 11:28–29). These words have been understood (for example multiple times by John Paul II) to mean that God’s covenant with the Jews remains valid. Why then should Catholics pray to God to undo the existence of a people with whom he is united in an eternal bond?
No Strings Attached
I thoroughly enjoyed Mollie Wilson O’Reilly’s piece “Wild Thing: Taming My Two-Year-Old” (October 11). My son is now twenty, but I also used Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are for inspiration when he was young.
Arriving home from preschool one day, my son was definitely a “wild thing”—acting out, hitting his sister, and causing me to lose my temper. When I got control of myself, I said that he must have had a difficult time at school, but that now—borrowing a line from the book—he was home, “where someone loves you best of all.” At that point he broke down in tears and melted into my lap.
Reflecting on the experience afterward, I realized that in that moment I had not only expressed God’s unconditional love to my son, but my son had allowed himself to accept it. Thank you, Mollie. God bless you on your parenting journey!