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Catholic Teaching on Evangelizing Jews
Marty Barrack

© Copyright Martin K Barrack, 2002. All rights reserved. This article appeared in “The Hebrew Catholic”, #77, Fall 2002, pp. 23-25. Marty Barrack is the author of Second Exodus, the book most used by inquiring Jews to learn about the Catholic Church, as well as numerous magazine articles. His web site is at Second Exodus is available in our store.

Delegates of the Bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (BCEIA) recently set off a firestorm in the Hebrew Catholic community, and in the larger community of faithful Catholics, by asserting, in Reflections on Covenant and Mission, that “campaigns that target Jews for conversion to Christianity are no longer theologically acceptable in the Catholic Church.” The idea is that Jews already live in a separate saving covenant apart from Jesus and therefore do not need baptism.

Campaigns That Target Jews

The word campaign suggests a bombarding with unwanted messages. Nobody likes to be targeted. Catholics should not be doing campaigns that offend many and win few. Let us remember the words of St. Peter,

“Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” (1 Pet 3:15)

Catholic Teaching on Evangelization

The theological assertion that Jews live in a separate saving covenant may be swiftly demolished. Jesus, during His entire public ministry, evangelized only Jews.

“Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Mt 10:5)

“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Mt 15:24)

At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit’s miracle highlighting the universality of the Catholic Church was an evangelization of Jews.

“Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in his own language.” (Acts 2:5)

“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them … be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus of Nazareth … there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:8f)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1226, states:

“The apostles and their collaborators offer Baptism to anyone who believed in Jesus: Jews, the God-fearing, pagans.”

Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (Jn 3:5) He was speaking to Nicodemus, a devout Jew and member of the Sanhedrin. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1257, says,

“The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation. He also commands his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them. Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are ‘reborn of water and the Spirit.’”

It adds, at 1260,

“Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.”

Vatican II’s Ad Gentes, the Decree of the Missionary Activity of the Church, begins,

“Divinely sent to the nations of the world to be unto them a universal sacrament of salvation, the Church, driven by the inner necessity of her own catholicity, and obeying the mandate of her Founder (cf. Mark 16:16), strives ever to proclaim the Gospel to all men.”

All men.

Pope Paul VI’s apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, December 8, 1975, 14, says:

“We wish to confirm once more that the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church … Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity.”

The Church exists to evangelize. St. Paul told us, “Preaching the Gospel is not a reason for me to boast; it is a necessity laid on me: woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16)

Reflections on Covenant and Mission quoted from the 1985 Notes, 11,

“Attentive to the same God who has spoken, hanging on the same Word, we have to witness to one same memory and one common hope in Him who is the master of history. We must also accept our responsibility to prepare the world for the coming of the Messiah by working together for social justice, respect for the rights of persons and nations and for social and international reconciliation. To this we are driven, Jews and Christians, by the command to love our neighbor, by a common hope for the Kingdom of God and by the great heritage of the Prophets.”

It did not quote from the same document, 7,

“Jesus affirms that there shall be ‘one flock and one shepherd’ (Jn. 10:16). The Church and Judaism cannot, then, be seen as two parallel ways of salvation and the Church must witness to Christ as the Redeemer for all.”

Reflections was signed only by delegates of the Bishops Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the USCCB. However, the issue of whether Jews live in a separate saving covenant, the heart of the controversy, is a matter of doctrine, not diplomacy. It belongs not to a subcommittee of the Bishops Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, nor to Cardinal Kasper’s Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, but to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has not supported this separate saving covenant.

Jews and Catholics in God’s Providence

But Cardinal Ratzinger did make a most remarkable statement less than two years ago, that has not received the attention it deserved. His article, “L’eredità di Abramo” (The Heritage of Abraham), appeared in L’Osservatore Romano, on December 29, 2000:

“It is evident that dialogue of us Christians with the Jews stands on a different level with regard to the dialogue with the other religions. The faith witnessed in the Bible of the Jews, the Old Testament of Christians, is for us not a different religion but the foundation of our own faith.”

Focus on that again: is for us not a different religion but the foundation of our own faith.

Let us look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 839, in the light of Cardinal Ratzinger’s observation:

“When she delves into her own mystery, the Church, the People of God in the New Covenant, discovers her link with the Jewish People, the first to hear the Word of God. The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God’s revelation in the Old Covenant. To the Jews ‘belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ,’ (Rom 9:4) for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.”

Nostra Aetate #4

Pope Paul VI’s Nostra Aetate, 4, 1965, states:

“Thus the Church of Christ acknowledges that, according to God’s saving design, the beginnings of her faith and her election are found already among the Patriarchs, Moses and the prophets. She professes that all who believe in Christ – Abraham’s sons according to faith – are included in the same Patriarch’s call, and likewise that the salvation of the Church is mysteriously foreshadowed by the chosen people’s exodus from the land of bondage.”

Mysteriously foreshadowed. In this we see again that the faith witnessed in the Old Testament is for us not a different religion but the foundation of our own faith.

Nostra Aetate continues,

“Since the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is thus so great, this sacred synod wants to foster and recommend that mutual understanding and respect which is the fruit, above all, of biblical and theological studies as well as of fraternal dialogues.”

To work toward this mutual understanding and respect, Nostra Aetate continues,

“Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ.”

In this we see the Church preparing her children for a time when the Jewish people at long last embrace their Messiah.

The 1974 Guidelines

The then-new Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews issued a statement, Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate n. 4 in 1974. We find at its conclusion,

“The problem of Jewish-Christian relations concerns the Church as such, since it is when ‘pondering her own mystery’ that she encounters the mystery of Israel. Therefore, even in areas where no Jewish communities exist, this remains an important problem. There is also an ecumenical aspect to the question: the very return of Christians to the sources and origins of their faith, grafted on to the earlier Covenant, helps the search for unity in Christ, the cornerstone.”

This identification of the Church’s mystery with the mystery of Israel signals that the Catholic Church regards them as different stages of the same mystery.

The 1985 Notes

Let us now turn to Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church, 1985, also published by the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. Its key point is, 10,

“We shall reach a greater awareness that the people of God of the Old and the New Testament are tending towards a like end in the future: the coming or return of the Messiah – even if they start from two different points of view. It is more clearly understood that the person of the Messiah is not only a point of division for the people of God but also a point of convergence.”

The Most Jewish Jew of All

Holy Mother Church is revealing to us more clearly than ever before that Rabbi Y’shua was the most Jewish Jew of all. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 578, tells us,

“Jesus, Israel’s Messiah and therefore the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, was to fulfill the Law by keeping it in its all-embracing detail … He is in fact the only one who could keep it perfectly.”

Of the 613 Torah mitzvot, 102, more than on any other subject, address Sacrifices and Offerings. That does not count the 30 mitzvot on Priests and Levites or the 33 on Temple, Sanctuary and Sacred Offerings. Sacrifice was the highest form of Jewish worship, the only one for which a priest was required, the only one for which the priest entered the Holy of Holies. Rabbi Y’shua fulfilled the Torah mitzvot on sacrifices through His Final Sacrifice, after which the Temple sacrifices ceased forever. His followers, through the Church that He instituted, have re-presented His Final Sacrifice ever since, and will until the end of time.

The Jews of today retain the election, which calls them to witness to their Messiah. Since they have not witnessed through the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist, they have been called to witness to Him in their lives. It is often remarked that the Jewish people during the past two thousand years have walked a long via dolorosa, and were in a sense crucified at Auschwitz. The great Russian Jewish artist Marc Chagall has painted the Jew crucified, in White Crucifixion and Exodus. For Christians, too, the twentieth has been a century of martyrdom.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 674, says,

“The glorious Messiah’s coming is suspended at every moment of history until his recognition of all Israel, for a hardening has come upon part of Israel.”

We have been crucified together. Perhaps, in God’s time, we will enter the resurrection together.