When I heard about the news about the Kansas City shooting at the JCC, I felt heartsick, and began to pray immediately. I thought of some dear Jewish friends of mine, and I ached with them at the thought of them hearing the news. Like many Christians, the day it happened, I was preparing to celebrate Holy Week and Easter, just as my Jewish friends were preparing for their Seder meal. This act of violence was a somber reminder of the hatred that Christ himself spoke out against.
The shooting was also a somber reminder that there is a history of violence against Jews at Easter. I’m not talking about hundreds of years ago; many acts of antisemitism have occurred in the recent past in the US, such as those mentioned in the above article in 2006 and 1999.
As a Catholic, it’s frustrating and bewildering for me to witness the violence, especially connected to any type of “blaming the Jews” for Christ’s crucifixion. How can anyone in this modern age attribute any scrap of legitimacy to such a statement? Perhaps only people on the outskirts of sanity are capable of such senselessness – Frazier Glenn Miller‘s website is definitely on extreme end of senseless hatred (I would not go looking for it if I were you - I wish I hadn’t seen it). But even people like that, people like Frazier Glenn Miller, whose extreme white supremacism makes him easy to dismiss as mentally unstable, aren’t formed in a void. They don’t come from nowhere – somehow they came out of the US culture, somehow they are a part of it and a product of it. Which I think in some way makes each of us responsible. We all creatively contribute to our culture, whether we want to our not. I think we have a responsibility to be extremely honest and active in how we engage friends, family, acquaintances, social media etc, to consciously build a culture that rejects such violence and the absolute hatred and ignorance from which they stem.
Catholics and Christians are especially accountable for living fully the faith they profess, which is founded in redeeming grace and love. Christians, least of all people, have absolutely no ground to stand on for judging anyone, including Jews. Although I claim to have no insight into the complexities of the eschatological destiny of Catholics and Jews, I will say in good faith that at the very least Christians should not be going around at Easter blaming Jews and insinuating that they are going to hell – as I have heard happen. Christ said, “Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?” (Mat 7:1-4). God alone searches human hearts!
Pope Benedict XVI brought this issue of blaming Jews again to forefront when he published Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection. An article from Time Magazine comments on this facet of the book, and why it matters:
“Indeed, the Catholic Church has considered the Jewish people free from blame since at least 1965, when the Second Vatican Council wrote that while “the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. The difference this time is that rather than being buried deep in a document of dense text, where it can easily be overlooked or ignored, the argument is being laid out by a man whose every word is pored over as an indication of church doctrine. “Most Catholics don’t read the church’s documents,” says Rabbi David Rosen, director of interreligious affairs at the New York–based American Jewish Committee. “The book will certainly be far more widely read.”
The Time article concludes saying:
“The Pope’s statements have been broadly welcomed by Jewish organizations. “It deepens and gives historians context crucial in having the doctrine expressed in [the documents from the Second Vatican Council] translated down to the pews,” said Abraham H. Foxman, U.S. director of the Anti-Defamation League, in a statement. “Pope Benedict has rejected the previous teachings and perversions that have helped to foster and reinforce anti-Semitism through the centuries.”
Furthermore, Benedict XVI was building upon the work of soon-to-be canonized Pope John Paul II, as pointed out in this article from Haaretz.com from around the time of Benedict XVI’s resignation:
Benedict XVI has been a true follower, in word and deed, of John Paul II regarding the Church’s relationship with the Jews. In fact, in many ways he consolidated the latter’s steps. One might have considered John Paul II’s visit to the synagogue in Rome or his pilgrimage to Israel, paying respects to the state’s highest elected political and religious leaders, to be the atypical actions of a pope who had had a unique personal connection with Jews since childhood. The fact that Benedict did the same confirmed these gestures as belonging to the Church as much as to individuals, and potentially made them a template for his successors.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI can be a model for how we are called as Christians to build dialogue, understanding and mutual respect between Christians and Jews. In the collection of texts, Many Religions, One Covenant, Benedict XVI says:
“Jews and Christians should accept each other in profound inner reconciliation, neither in disregard of their faith nor in denying it, but out of the depth of faith itself.In their mutual reconciliation they should become a force for peace in and for the world. Through their witness to the one God, who cannot be adored apart from the unity of love of God and neighbor, they should open the door into the world for this God so that his will may be done and so that it may become on earth “as it is in heaven”: so that “his kingdom come”
I think it’s important that Pope Benedict said that neither Jews or Christians should disregard or deny their own faiths, but seek reconciliation out of the depths of “faith itself.” Therein lies the potential for a rich dialogue that goes beyond superficial tolerance into real relationship.
I’d like to offer one last insight. Another tragic result of such a blinded vision of the Crucifixion being the “Jew’s fault” (beyond the obvious damage to the Jewish people and less noted but real damage such hate does to the hater’s own soul) is that the whole point of Christ’s Passion is missed. As Christians, when we read the Passion accounts in the Gospels, we are called to be honest with ourselves individually before God about how our own failings, denials, hatred and sin contribute to Christ’s Crucifixion. In other words, if I really believe Christian teachings, the only person I can judge guilty in contributing to Christ’s death is myself. He died for me that I might be set free. That is the mystery of the Crucifixion and Resurrection. As Paul said, “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures” (1 Cor: 3-4).
We each are invited to choose to die to our sins, that Christ might take them upon Himself into his death, and also raise us with Him. Again Paul teaches us:
“Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection…If then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.” Rom 6:3-5,8
To bring about peace and dialogue with other religions, including those of the Jewish faith, we must primarily grapple with our own inner conversion in this way of dying to ourselves and living in Christ. Then there will be no room for hatred or ego or judgement of others, but only a clear sighted and magnanimous compassion, out of which true reconciliation, relationship and understanding of the other can grow. In the grace of this Octave of Easter, may God lead us further into our own inner conversions, letting hatred die and new life arise, that we may be instruments of peace for our culture and for our world. Amen.
*** Disclaimer: This is a personal commentary blog and not an in-depth look at Jewish-Christian relations nor Pope Emeritus Benedict’s relationship with the Jewish faith. I encourage you to do your own research and engage in dialogue. For further reading, the Center of Councils on Jewish-Christian Relations has a whole list of documents written by Benedict pertaining to the issue.