25 February 2008

Another Letter to the Editor

What follows is the Letter to the Editor I intend to submit tomorrow in response to Associated Press article, "Interfaith leaders say Jewish groups may be overestimating impact of revised Catholic prayer." Your comments are welcome.

Clarification on the Church’s Prayer

On February 5, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI altered a prayer to be used in the celebrations of the Good Friday liturgy of the Missal of Pope John XXIII – the so-called Tridentine Rite - in Catholic Churches.

According to an Associated Press article published in the Effingham Daily News 22 February 2008, the prayer that was altered “had historically been used as an excuse for violence and discrimination against the Jews.” This claim simply is not possible since Pope John XXIII had already revised the same prayer in 1962.

When asked about the 1962 prayer, Cardinal George bluntly asked, “'Would you care to look at some of the Talmudic literature's description of Jesus as a bastard, and so on, and maybe make a few changes in some of that?”

The point the Cardinal makes is that people can offend Catholics all they want and nobody cares but when someone happens to be offended by a Catholic people go up in arms. The Anti-Defamation League has gone so far as to put Pope Benedict XVI on the same list as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The basic premise of the article - written two weeks after the prayer - comes down to the fact that some people – the media in particular – do not think the Catholic Church has the right to pray for the conversion of people of other faiths.

Three times each day in synagogues throughout the world the Jewish people pray for the conversion of the Gentiles, a fact not once mentioned in the article. If the Jews can pray for the conversion of Catholics – and others - why can Catholics not pray for the conversion of the Jews?
Rabbi Jacob Neusner, Professor of the History and Theology of Judaism at Bard College, does not agree with the AP’s article. He says:

Israel prays for the gentiles, so other monotheists – the Catholic church included - have the right to do the same, and no one should feel offended… I do not see how in spirit or in intent these prayers differ from the one [revised by the Pope] under discussion…. The proselytizing prayers of Judaism and Christianity share an eschatological focus [view to the end of the world] and mean to keep the door to salvation open for all peoples. No more than Christianity and Islam take umbrage at the Israelite prayer should holy Israel object to the Catholic one.
Professor Neusner’s remarks are very true.

The prayer written by the Pope may be translated into English thus:

Let us pray for the Jews. May the Lord our God enlighten their hearts so that they may acknowledge Jesus Christ, the savior of all men. Almighty and everlasting God, you who want all men to be saved and to reach the awareness of the truth, graciously grant that, with the fullness of peoples entering into your church, all Israel may be saved.
This comes directly out of the writings of Saint Paul.

It is difficult to see how this prayer hinders Jewish-Catholic dialogue since it contains nothing contrary to previous prayers and nothing contrary to Catholic teaching, despite what some have suggested. The remark by Philip Cunningham that the prayer in the Missal of Paul VI contains “no mention of Jews coming to faith in Jesus the Savior” is simply false.

If the Catholic Church cannot be allowed to pray for the conversion of people to the faith of Jesus Christ – whom she professes to be the Messiah – what kind of dialogue can there be? The dialogue that is asked for is not authentic theology but relativism, which says that all religions are equal. Such a position is neither authentically Jewish nor Catholic.
To pray for the conversion of people of other faiths is an act of great love because it is a desire for all people to come to the knowledge of the truth. The Catholic Church recognizes Jesus Christ as the only way to salvation and if she would not pray for the conversion of all peoples she would be denying her very faith. The Catholic Church takes most seriously the words of the Savior that “no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

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