Ed. This was taken from The Hebrew Catholic, #79, pg. 17. (Article concerning Fr. Lustiger’s book, The Promise, published in the magazine Express 11/21/2002) *Copyright The Express Train 11/21/02, reprinted with permission from Regina Chocron, Responsable Juridique, Groupe Express-Expansion
Israel Explained to the Nuns of a Contemplative Order
by Daniel Rondineau*, Translated by Dr. Arnold Linker, France
In the late 1970s, Fr. Jean-Marie Lustiger, a parish priest in Paris at the time, used to preach to a group of nuns of a contemplative order. Some of them were former colleagues when they were students at the Sorbonne. They had asked Fr. Lustiger to help them to meditate about the mystery of Israel. Fr. Lustiger lectured in a free and improvised way, a confidential tone of voice conveying a feeling of friendship and shared faith, stimulated by a new approach to Saint Matthew and Father de Lubac. One week after he had left the monastery, the nuns typed out the text of his lectures, which they had recorded with his permission.
The book, The Promise, is the text of those lectures, a book everybody considered buried and forgotten and which came to life again, thirty years later, more burning and stimulating than ever before. Jean-Marie Lustiger develops a topic unique of its kind that is impossible to sum up in a few lines since what is at stake is, no more no less, the salvation of your souls, the relation between Christians and Israel (the name “’Israel” in its biblical sense, meaning “the Jewish people according to the blessing of the Lord”). A broken relation, hurt and often roughly handled by crimes born of ignorance since a remote past when only a minority of Jews accepted Jesus as their Messiah. Since then, there has been a hush in Jewry as to the problem of Christianity and the Christians have often completely repressed their Jewish roots for centuries. The connection between the two religions has become discordant or tragic: the continuity of the Testaments was denied. In Jean-Marie Lustiger’s opinion, the whole historical development stems from the disappearance of the Church of Jerusalem in the IVth Century under the pressure of Byzantium.
This first Church (named “of circumcision”) symbolized in the Catholic Church the continuity of the promise made to Israel and the confirmation of the favor granted to the pagan nations, through its intermediary.
Since the destruction of this Church, all the Christians have lacked an essential element of the mystery of Israel, and human history has been filled with darkness. Fr. Lustiger considers that this conjuring away is “one of the tragedies of Christian civilization”, that has become atheistic, false right Christian in fact, reduced to the adoration of a Son without Father. Lustiger calls those Christians without memory “pagan Christians” who try to find only in Jesus the image of the ideal man, “a mythical or purely pagan image of the divinity on which the Western views imposed their triumph”. The pagan-Christians, whether Nazi or Soviet, are to blame for deportation and extermination of Jews.
It is they, descendants from highly Christian nations, who committed deicide.
The lecturer’s words retrospectively throw light on certain aspects of the Cardinal’s views on the Age of Enlightenment, its deification of Reason and State and later comparisons (in “Le Choix de Dieu” – The Lord’s Choice) between Voltaire’s and Hitler’s antisemitism. They continue the writings of Jacques Maritain (“When the Jews are persecuted, Christianity is threatened in its body”) and sometimes he agrees with George Steiner’s remarks, who in his “Dans le Chateau de Barbe-Bleu” (Bluebeard’s Castle) speaks about “a theological crime” and a Western civilization governed by an instinct of death. But to Kafka, quoted by Steiner, who said: “The one who hurts a Jew, hurts the whole mankind”, Lustiger replies, “No, hurting a Jew is hurting God Himself.” In the crematorium furnaces, it was God, His intolerable Absolute, that the paganized Europeans wanted to burn.
Everybody knows the life of the Cardinal from Paris. His Jewish background, his mother who never came home from her place of deportation, died in Auschwitz in 1943, his conversion, his way to always delve down into the past, into his Jewish origin, as far as the liturgy, reminding [us of] the actions and words of a certain Jesus, but also the traditions and rites of the people of Israel. Certain people would perhaps be tempted to find in his novel the origins of this “Promise.”
That would mean to forget that a Polish Catholic followed the same way, at the same moment. This man who came from Eastern Europe was John Paul II. And one beautiful day in March 2000, he was led by his reasoning to the Western Wall where he said his prayers like a Jew, with one hand on the Wall.