Ed. This talk was given at the first historic Hebrew Catholic conference, Jews in the Church, on December 11, 2004. It was included in The Hebrew Catholic #81. All rights reserved.
Jewish Gifts Transfigured in Christ
Ronda Chervin, Ph.D.
coming for your people,
now as then
As we join in small and large meetings,
we Jews who have let You find us
want to sing our fulfillment song to 21st Century Jews.
Help us to teach this song also
to our non-Jewish brothers and sisters in your Church
so that Jews may hear this melody from their lips too and take hope.
Our Lady of Zion
and your entourage of Hebrew Catholic saints,
lead our chorus in a magnificat
to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
It was too fussy to stick into the introduction earlier today that, even though I look like a sister, I am not a sister. I am hoping to become a consecrated widow, which is a possible vocation growing in the Church. You can find it in Acts. Do you remember, there are two types of widows: There are these gossipy drunken widows, and these dedicated to the Church. And I understood the first type much better when I became a widow. The reason is that when you are a widow, suddenly you don’t want to stay home, and you visit all your friends who invite you because they are worried that you are sad and miserable. So, in going from house to house, what do you do in each house? You talk about what is going on in the house before. And then because you are feeling sad, instead of taking one drink at dinner, you take two drinks at dinner. So that’s how that conflict arises. Anyway, I am hoping to become a good consecrated widow.
The title of my talk is Jewish Gifts Transfigured in Christ. And we were asked a couple of weeks ago to give little mini versions of our conversion stories.
My Spiritual Journey
Mine is very different. I really have never found anyone from exactly my background in the whole world. I finally realized with lots of psychotherapy that it makes you feel very alienated if you can’t find anyone in the world that’s like you, except my twin sister.
I was born in New York City in 1937, and my family, with the exception of one Christian grandmother, were all Jews from way back but totally atheistic. My grandparents were already atheists from Russia. Besides that, there were plenty of atheistic Jews where I was brought up – but they were all leftists, My twin sister and I surely were among those who fit in least with those living around us. My parents met in the communist party. But they left the communist party, and they had become fierce anti-Communists, or McCarthyites, by the time we were born. In my apartment building in NY, there were Orthodox Jews who we thought were crazy because we were atheists; there were Reform Jews who we thought were stupid; and then there were Zionists – but we weren’t Zionists. In fact, we didn’t even know we were Jewish. I only found out I was Jewish because 98% of everyone in the public school were Jewish. On the Jewish holidays, there were just me, my sister and three Catholic kids, only 5 in a school of about 1,000 kids. I came home and asked: Why do we have to go to school on Jewish holidays? My parents said: Well you are Jewish actually.
Does anyone have that background?
Yearning for Truth and Meaning
I had this great yearning for truth. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as truth, but that is what I was yearning for. In school, we had one of these compositions: What are you going to do when you grow up? I wrote in this composition: How can I know what I want to do when I grow up unless I know the meaning of life? The teacher was stunned and gave me an A+ because she had never heard anyone think that way. So, it remained in my mind that I was looking for the meaning of life without even thinking there was such a thing.
I had a great desire to find the meaning of life and started searching seriously as a college student of philosophy. Unfortunately, in the secular colleges I went to, there was no sense that philosophy led to truth or to the meaning of life. It was totally skeptical. We used our minds to refute whatever philosophies we read about. So, I couldn’t find the meaning of life in studying philosophy. I was totally empty and despairing – I saw no reason to live. Why live in order to just suffer? I couldn’t find love – I tried very hard. I was a real romantic and a sinner, so I tried to find love in very many different ways and didn’t find any. So, if there is no truth and no love, why should you live? With this in mind, at age 20 I was desperate and contemplating suicide.
But by the grace of God, I think Saint Edith Stein intervened. She was an atheist philosophy student who came into the Church, was also a friend of Dietrich von Hildebrand, and both of them studied with Husserl. One day, out of the blue, my mother, who never watched television during the day, turned on the television in the middle of the afternoon, surfed the channels – which she never did, and there were Dietrich and Alice von Hildebrand talking about beauty, truth, goodness, and the meaning of life. So, I figure Edith set this up. Mom called me, “Ronda, Ronda, there are some philosophers on TV.” I was so impressed by the fact that they believed in truth, that I wrote them a long letter pouring out my despair, saying that I had been studying philosophy for years and I never found any truth. It turned out that they lived only two blocks away. They invited me to visit. Within a week I decided to leave my secular graduate school and come to Fordham University to study with them. Besides the fact that they talked about truth, they actually had beauty and love in their eyes and in their hearts. They were just ready to take me in. They worked it out that my scholarship could be transferred. I think, now looking back, that someone in their circle put up the money so that I could get a scholarship.
Then many miracles happened to me. At first, it was a shock to me that these brilliant philosophers – Dietrich von Hildebrand and other wonderful Jesuit professors who could refute skepticism and relativism in one sentence — could also believe in this old Santa Claus, God. How could they believe this stuff, which I knew nothing about? I never read Scripture, I knew nothing about God. It was just like Zeus, you know. How would you feel if someone was going to come and talk to you about Zeus? Even though I learned that truth was real and morality absolute, I was still a sceptic about God for a good six months of study.
For God to reach me, He just began to shower me with miracle after miracle. These miracles took place in Europe. The whole von Hildebrand set had fled Europe during the Nazi time. They wanted to go back to Europe, so they would run Catholic art tours during the summer to have the money to go back. I didn’t like art at all, and I had no interest in Catholicism, but the summer was coming, and my alternative was my current boy friend, an ex-Catholic who spent every night at a bar drinking beer. At the thought of staying with him drinking beer all summer, I decided I would go on this tour with my wonderful professors instead.
But I still had no idea that God was real. Then, one miracle came after another. This isn’t the subject, so I can’t go into them in detail, but you can find these details in my autobiography, En Route to Eternity, published by Miriam Press, or in a collection I edited of stories of Jews who became Catholics, The Ingrafting.
For instance, I had a dream in which I had a vision of Jesus and Mary sitting at a dining table. Mary spoke to me in Hebrew, which I didn’t know, but in the dream I knew it was Hebrew. And she said, “Come sit with us.” In the dream, I walked toward them. Then once I saw a tapestry of Raphael’s face of Jesus turn alive in front of me. It had this luminous expression. Then, when I saw Pope Pius XII, which was just before he died, he was blessing the sick. His face had exactly the same expression as Jesus in the tapestry.
All these miracles started happening to me and I started reading apologetics books like those by C.S. Lewis and Chesterton and Newman and Augustine. Within a year, I became a Catholic. I was very, very happy to become a Catholic, and my plan was to find a saintly Catholic young man to marry. I think the ones I met really didn’t understand me. I was too different. I wound up marrying an atheistic Jewish divorced playboy who, happily, eventually became a Catholic. And there’s more about him later.
Looking back now from a distance of more than 40 years, it is clear that even though I was not a convert from religious Judaism, many of the cultural traits of the Jewish people had become a part of my personality. The bad ones, though linked to the good ones, were certainly in need of transfiguration by grace.
Now I will turn to the main topic of this talk: Jewish Gifts Transfigured in Christ. And this is the way I see it. By the way, the other talks that are being given today are very well thought out scholarly talks, but this is just sort of my impression of things as I have experienced it. So it’s quite different.
Jewish Love of the Word – And Distortions
Here is how I would put it: Great religious Jews are characterized by love of the Word, Scripture, by praise of God, and by yearning for the Messiah. Non-religious Jews, especially atheistic ones like my family, often have distorted forms of these great qualities. On one side, my mother’s side, they were communist, atheistic Jews. On the other side was this category that you hear about but you think is a myth: I found out years and years later that my Grandfather was actually a secret Jewish Mason. He wasn’t into the Jewish religion at all.
So take love of the Word in a totally secular, articulate Jew, and for many of us it becomes the shadow side of being articulate, that is, being a chatterbox and debater, both of which I am. St. Edith must have known lots of women chatterboxes because she wrote so much about inordinate curiosity. Curiosity is often the reason for trying to pry out of those I meet all sorts of information I might not really need to know. I think of this curiosity and tendency to gossip as the shadow side of the feminine empathy. Without truth as a guide, the articulate Jew often becomes a debater with the mind operating like a knife instead of like a light.
But going back to the chatterbox issue, I have this need to talk incessantly. For a year I was staying at a beautiful hermitage in Texas, and when I finally decided to leave, I just said I needed to talk more. That’s why I’m leaving. And someone said, “Well what about?” I said, “Anything, I don’t care, I just want to talk.”
Now Edith Stein must have known lots of Jewish women, because she wrote this wonderful book, Essays on Woman, which I think is the greatest book on Catholic women ever written. Edith Stein’s lectures on Woman, which I insisted they have in the bookstore here, are on the table. Many people quote from that book, but they quote from the part about how beautiful the woman’s role is. Not the part that’s very incisive, which is what’s wrong with women. She has this whole thing [Ronda addressing the audience: “The men are already laughing in anticipation.”], she says that the shadow side – She doesn’t use that word, I just like that Jungian word, shadow side – The shadow side of being empathetic is that we have this enormous curiosity. And she says that this curiosity about other people is this intrusive need to know everything they’re thinking and feeling.
It so happens there are quite a few men, namely the speakers, who know me somewhat, and they know how much I do that. Like, I just look at everybody, and I need to know, what are you thinking, what are you feeling, why are you feeling that, why are you thinking that. You know, I could let them alone occasionally. It reminds me of this joke, “What’s the difference between a Jewish Mother and a rotweiler dog?” Maybe some of you know that joke, and the answer is, “The rotweiler sometimes lets go.” So that’s the chatterbox side, and part of the chatterbox thing is you’ve got to ask all these questions all the time and talk about people to try to psych them out all the time, and she considered this very bad. She said, “People grow interiorly in mysterious ways. You can’t be just pulling up the flower every minute to see if it’s growing. You just destroy the flower.” See, that’s how she puts it.
The other side is the debater side. And you know, most intellectual Jews, their attitude toward any subject is debate. You say something, and I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it. I’ll contradict you, and that’s what leads to total emptiness and despair. It was an amazement to me when I came upon Augustine because he saw the mind as a light. So the light shines on reality, and you get truth out of it. But you don’t get truth if your mind is a knife, not a light, see. So I used to be that way before I was a Catholic; that was all we did in school. Anything we read, the idea was just to chop it up, you know, to criticize it the best you could. There was never an idea that anything was true. So of course you wind up on empty like that.
Now I will talk about how love of the Word can be transfigured in Christ: this love of the Word through the Holy Spirit. As a Catholic, this love of the Word becomes transfigured into wisdom. There actually is truth and wisdom, and the Holy Spirit can teach us that wisdom. And by dwelling in the truth, we can actually convey truth to others, for instance as a teacher, speaker, parent, in any teaching role, no matter how informal. I mean most teaching that goes on is over coffee tables or in restaurants, it’s not in schoolrooms. So you could have that teaching gift, even if you’re not a teacher. But I mean it was to me the most marvelous thing in the world that I could actually learn truth and give it to people as a Catholic teacher.
And just think about it a minute. For you who don’t come from my background, most of you or all of you, you can question yourself: Are most of your words idle, cutting, or full of grace? You know when you talk to people, if someone made a tape recorder of your whole day, how many words would be words of wisdom and grace, and how many would be idle gossip or cutting things up? Of course I don’t mean that there isn’t a role of logic in the philosophy of teaching, of course there is, but it’s this cutting things up with no purpose, with no good purpose coming out of it, no good fruit coming out of it. Let all of us here present pause now and pray that our words would not be idle or cutting, but full of true empathy and wisdom.
Praise of God – And Distortions
Okay, let’s look at another theme, praise of God. The religious Jew recites prayers of praise throughout the day. These prayers elevate him or her above the sorrows and burdens of daily life. When you read the Psalms, they’re filled with praise of God, and it’s such a beautiful, wonderful lifting of the heart to praise God, a desire and trait which religious Jews certainly have.
What happens to that trait in the secular atheistic Jew or the nominal Jew? Because of course there are Jews just like so many Catholics now who are just Christmas and Easter Catholics, there are plenty of Jews who only do the high holidays and otherwise are not particularly religious. But it seems to me that the way this degenerates in the secular, non-religious Jew is to a kind of personality type. I’m not using these words clinically, for those of you who are psychotherapists, but just as a type. It’s sort of manic-depressive in this sense, that instead of being elated by praise of God, we seek to be elated by anything! So we have this frothy, turbulent Jewish personality type, a secular Jewish personality type which is always looking for highs of one kind or another. And you know, that’s actually a sort of hedonism even if it’s not expressed in a turbulent personality. It could be expressed in just always needing X number of goodies every day, you know, like what’s a good day? A day when I got many treats in one way or another vs. goodness in the Christian sense. And then depressive in the sense of falling into the dumps, being very blue and easily depressed whenever we can’t get some sort of high.
And now, what is this desire for this high, this elation, that the Jews would experience? Just think of these Hasidic Jews like in Fiddler on the Roof where they’re all dancing around as part of their worship. It’s the praise of God, part of that dancing of the Jewish rabbis and the men. They don’t let the women do it unfortunately, but anyway the men, they dance around, and that’s supposed to lift you out of this melancholy, from all the troubles of the world.
Discovering Joy in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal
After I became a Hebrew Catholic, these negative traits, though still a reason for struggle, have been balanced by joy in praise of the Trinity, especially through the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit. And what I see especially in Catholic praise of the charismatic type, is that it gave me what I didn’t have from my heritage, which is what the Hasidic Jews experienced. I came from this very bohemian background where we all sat on the floor all day, we never did anything formal, so formal prayer in the Catholic Church for me, where you’re supposed to be absolutely still and never move, was so difficult. So I was just thrilled when the charismatic renewal came because I could move around and sing and dance. I just loved it. More important than that would be that before I received those graces of the Holy Spirit, my spiritual life was kind of like, God is way up there and I’m standing on tippy toes stretching to reach Him. And usually I can’t, but maybe then once a year I’d get a little good feeling or something, and I’d figure that was God. Whereas the minute I got prayed over in the Spirit, God was right inside me, a burning fire inside me instead of far, far away.
Now, I know that many people just hate the charismatic style, they just hate it. My husband was one of them. He used to come sometimes when I was giving a talk at a charismatic rally. There’d be 10,000 people raising their arms, and he would stand with arms folded tightly on his chest. I would see him from the stage standing there. So I know there are people who hate this. But just the same, I meet so many wonderful Catholics, very ardent Catholics, who have terrible trouble with aridity and say, “I never experience anything. I love God, I do my duty, I pray these and these prayers, I come to Mass, but I never feel God’s presence, ever.” And you might think the next time someone says, “You want to go to a charismatic prayer meeting?” that could be a remedy.
My experience of the spiritual life is that every single jump that I made was by saying “yes” to someone who wanted me to do something I didn’t want to do. There are all these treasures in the Church, and another great, great one was the pilgrim statue of Our Lady of Fatima which I just took because someone in the parish wanted her to come and was bringing her around. They asked me, and I said, “Well, I’m not particularly into that,” and they said, “It’s Christmas, and noone wants her.” So I said, “Bring her.” And the minute I made that consecration which I had no desire to do, I had tremendous graces of prayer, just tremendous, from letting her heart come into mine. So at least my experience is that you don’t want to hold out when others in the church have gifts and say, “Well it’s not my style,” because maybe that’s the next place God wants to bring you.
Let us pray together that we never swing from frothy elation to depression, but instead praise God in joy and suffering.
Yearning for the Messiah
To turn to our last topic, what about this yearning of the religious Jews for the Messiah? And what does a secular Jew do with this yearning that has no object? After becoming a Hebrew Catholic, this yearning became hope for the Second Coming and for Heaven and stretching out in hope that God will bring good out of evil as He did in the Passion. In the secular or atheistic Jew, this yearning easily becomes a sensitivity that moves into despair because atheistic Jews certainly aren’t longing for the Messiah. What do they do with that? Well, very often they just go into despair, and this yearning is very often in people who are in despair. The most terrible experience in my life was the suicide of my son who was manic-depressive and schizophrenic when he was 20. It was unbearable suffering. I’m sure I couldn’t have endured it without this stretching, this having been a Catholic for so many years that we’re always stretching and yearning for Heaven. So we have a sense of that, and God eventually told me that I could find my son in His heart. He gave me a word to console me in that. For more about hope in surviving suicide of family members, see En Route to Eternity, my autobiography, available the Association of Hebrew Catholic bookstore online.
But this thing of yearning, this is the way I see it transfigured in Catholic life. Recounting an experience will help you understand. I had always envied people, particularly non-Jews who could sit absolutely still with this wonderful, beautiful stillness when they prayed, and after my son’s death, I went to a chapel in Mexico of the wonderful widow saint Conchita. Do you know the saint, Conchita Cabrera? How many know of her? She’s going to be such a Doctor of the Church. There are how many, 200 volumes of her journals, and she was the mother of 9 children and very happily married. She became a widow very early, and she started 4 different orders, two are Missionaries of the Holy Spirit, and Sisters of the Cross. She’s a wonderful, wonderful saint. Anyway, I went to pray in their chapel, as I was just accompanying a priest in that order who was visiting. There they were, these sisters doing adoration prayer, absolutely still and recollected like statues.
I was so raw from my son’s death and in a very turbulent state. I had to wait a couple of hours while the priest talked to the Mother Superior. I was sitting there and then I got into this “I’m never going to be a saint because I can’t sit still, and I can’t be peaceful, and it’s hopeless, you know. I’m just going to be a nervous wreck the rest of my life.” That’s probably true, just the same. And I got such a strong word in my heart from the Lord. The Lord seemed to tell me very, very clearly, You know how Little Therese has this meditation about what her role is in the Church, and she comes up with, “In the Church, I will be Love.” And Jesus said to me, “Because you’re Jewish, you can’t be peace in the Church. You are yearning.” So you have to have that terrible painful, yearning stretch in your soul representing my Jewish people yearning for the Messiah.
So that’s what we learn in the Church, that our deepest hopes, these painful, painful yearnings that we all have,of all different kinds, that we have to stretch out our crucified hearts in hope to the Savior. We have to just hope He will help us. The Protestant theologian, Kierkegaard, when he was finally released from all his very neurotic sufferings, said, “God has untied the knot of my being.” We all have this, unless we’re saints, a sort of knot at the core of you somewhere that doesn’t give. You know, like what is a saint but someone who has nothing but love in their heart? You know, suffering love, glorious loves, all kinds of different forms of love, but besides that love we have in our hearts, there’s this knot, and we have to just pray that Jesus will save us from that.
Let us pray together that we may never despair, always stretching out our crucified hearts in hope to our Savior.
Jewish Converts to Catholicism
Blessed Francis Libermann
Now I want to talk about some of the actual Jewish convert saints and heroes, both positive and negative types, and how their traits were transfigured in Christ. The first one is Blessed Francis Libermann. Blessed Francis Libermann lived 1802 to 1852, and he was brought up in this orthodox, rabbinic family. This was just about the time of the enlightenment, and the town was so small that the rabbis would send the sons, after they had given them the basics, to some famous rabbi in the city to have their education finished. But what was beginning to happen was that all these boys who were sent off to the city became assimilated. They either lost their faith altogether or they became Christians. And so this was true in Blessed Fr. Libermann’s family. He was the youngest, the most brilliant, the apple of the eye of his father, and the father would grieve every day for his other sons that had lost the faith. And so finally he sent him out with all these warnings and what happened was he had, after a lot of confusion, trying with his mature mind to study all these different rabbinic theories that were around at that time, he had this tremendous mystical experience of Jesus Christ.
In Paris, Francis became a Catholic, and his father was absolutely devastated by this. He suffered tremendous anxieties because of his father’s rejection, and he had epileptic fits and because of the epileptic fits, even though he wanted to be a priest, he would not be able to. So he was going to be a brother, but what turned out is that he was so holy that pretty soon he was counseling and teaching all the seminarians, even though he couldn’t be a seminarian. And eventually he was healed enough and he did become a priest. He was one of the founders of the Holy Ghost Missionary Fathers, but he did a tremendous amount of counseling, and he himself said his anxiety was so great that he could hardly stand to cross the bridges of Paris, because he always wanted to throw himself off the bridge.
And so he spent time helping all these other Catholics deal with their anxieties and fears, and he was such a wonderful counselor, and so what I see is that Christ transfigured his extreme Jewish sensitivities to make him into such a wonderful counselor. The great biography of him is written by Adrienne von Kaam, the psychotherapist priest of the Holy Ghost Fathers, and that one is out of print, but there are other ones. So his advice to people with anxiety is, “Don’t worry about bearing affliction well or badly. You know if we have a very oversensitive, anxious kind of temperament, then we’re always looking to see, “Have I covered up sufficiently?” or “Does everyone see how anxious I am?” And all that kind of thing. He says, “Don’t worry about how you look.” Now this was a man you have to believe, because after all, he had epileptic fits and had to have these humiliating fits in front of everybody. So he certainly knew what it meant to try to look good, even though you’re in an awful state. Blessed Francis counseled others to slow down and just keep asking for the graces of the Holy Spirit, and I think any of you who have an anxious temperament, you know how important it is to just slow down. One of the things I like to say is, two little phrases that I tell myself all day, what’s called self-talk, one of them, “Nothing terrible is happening this moment.” And another one is, “I’ve already earned my salvation because I’m a workaholic. If I didn’t do a single thing from now till the day I die, God would still let me in.”
Saint Edith Stein
Now I will talk about St. Edith Stein. She was brought up as an observant Jew but later she lost her faith completely during her studies. Later, studying philosophy with Husserl, she had the grace to become a Catholic. So, we can see that Edith Stein went all the way from atheism, to being transfigured in the graces of the Church, to being a Saint of the Church. Her philosophical insights were transfigured by grace. She wrote her thesis on empathy.
Edith herself had this great empathy which was turned into sacrificial suffering for those she loved. She saw her people under the sign of the cross and with heartfelt compassion offered herself for them. “I joyfully accept in advance the death God has appointed for me. May the Lord accept my life and death for the Jewish people, that the Lord may be received by his own.”
One of her wonderful insights in her book on Woman is that even if a woman like herself, she was single before becoming a Carmelite Sister, doesn’t have children, because she has this womb to bear children, because another person can potentially live inside of her, that’s where feminine empathy comes from because men don’t have a whole sort of bowl in which another person can live inside their bodies. So having a body designed to hold another human being inside it is the reason for woman’s intuitive grasp of what is happening in the hearts of others. And what I see is that she held the whole Jewish people’s suffering in Europe in her womb, in the womb of her love and compassion. That’s why she made this tremendous sacrificial offering. And blessed by God, I was probably the recipient of the graces she transmitted through her voluntary and involuntary sufferings.
To tell you about another Jew who became a Catholic, I will now turn to the story of Charles Rich who lived to his late nineties, having been born at the end of the 19th Century. Charles Rich was noted for popularizing the truths of the Catholic mystics, and I’m working on his canonization. He was born in a little Hungarian village just like Fiddler on the Roof, and he was a Hasidic mystic as a little kid. When still a youth, the family moved to New York, where he was surrounded no longer by mystical Jews but by legalistic Jews. He lost his faith altogether, became absolutely miserable, suicidal, and after his third unsuccessful attempt at suicide, he figured that since he wanted to die anyway and it was a hot day, he might as well walk into a Catholic Church. To understand this, you have to know that Jews from Europe were very afraid of Catholics because of the pogroms, and he figured if he walked into a Catholic Church, they’d kill him. So since he wanted to die anyway, he finally walked in. And immediately, he looked up on the ceiling, – he was all alone in the Church, and there was a picture of Jesus, and Jesus said, “I am God.”
Charlie, as everyone called him, had this tremendous conversion experience, and he became a lay contemplative. He lived in the Jesuit residence. The minute he found Jesus, he wanted to die and go to Heaven, but he lived till 99. All day long, he just prayed and wrote these beautiful meditations. There’s a whole set of his books there, because I was his editor, a whole set out there on the table. You can find them on the Association of Hebrew Catholic web-site. These are magnificent, contemplative books, but they have a Jewish sense of humor. He was always going around telling people, “You’ve gotta be a saint, there’s nothing else worth doing.” When I first met him, he said, I had just become a Catholic, he said, “Well do you want to be a saint?” I had never thought of it, and so I said, “I guess so.” He said, “Well, I don’t want to be friends with people I’m only going to see a short time. Unless I’m going to see you in eternity. I don’t want to even meet you.” He was very, very blunt.
What I’m doing now is going through 25 boxes of his unpublished meditations. – He wrote a meditation every day. I’m going through them and pulling out excerpts – often one-liners that can help people in their spiritual lives. Here is one of his little parables: “A man sees this suit, and it’s the perfect suit in the window of the department store. It’s a suit he’s always dreamed of wearing. And the suit costs $100, so he saves up $100 and he goes in to buy the suit. But then when he gets into the store, he starts thinking, ‘Well what will I wear with the suit?’ So he sees a shirt and a tie. And he says, ‘Well but that’ll cost another $20.’ So he decides to buy an $80 suit and also buy the shirt and the tie. And so he doesn’t get the suit he was dreaming about all the time. The analogy is, we say all we want to do is be saints, all we want to do is have love and nothing else in our heart. But then we renege, and we say, “Well besides love in my heart, I also want to have this slightly updated computer, you know. So maybe I’ll be an ardent Catholic instead of a saint. That’s pretty good, right?” So his writings are full of these stories. I’d really recommend these to you. For more about him and his writings, see http://www.friendsofcharlesrich.com
The last one I’d like to introduce you to is my husband, Martin Chervin. Brought up on the Lower East Side of New York City in an Orthodox Jewish family, like so many others of his generation, he abandoned his religion and sought truth in the world. When I married him, he was about to become a Catholic, but he hated Vatican II, he hated charismatic renewal, he hated everything about the new Church. He loved the old Latin Church because it reminded him of the Orthodox Jewish Synagogue. So it took him another 15 years to become a Catholic, and one of the ways he was trying to work his way into the Church was by writing.
Martin was brought up to be a shrewd Jewish business person. And the whole deal was survival and success. Those were the two values, survival and success. So what he couldn’t understand about Christianity, as he put it, was “How could God put into us survival mechanisms and then ask us to be a lamb instead of a wolf?” The way he worked this out is he developed this huge allegory which is in a book called, “Children of the Breath,” which is a brilliant, brilliant book, a Jewish Christian book. It’s like a midrash on Christ and Satan in the desert. In it the devil says everything that the sceptic would have in mind, particularly the Jewish skeptic.
He, as Christ and Satan in the book, goes back to: When did the first wolf eat the first lamb after the fall? How can you be a lamb if there are all these wolves out there who are going to eat you up, which would be like, how can you have no defenses if you’re a Christian? So he worked this all out finally in the end of the dialogue between Satan and Christ during the 40 days in the desert. He makes us realize that the reason we can be lambs is because Jesus was the lamb who died, who let the wolves eat him, let the wolves destroy him.
It’s a fascinating book, and what happened to my husband was he did become a Catholic, but he said, “Ronda, I’m not going to be your kind of Catholic. I’m not going to go to daily Mass, I’m not going to pray the rosary, I’m just going to be a Sunday Catholic so just leave me alone. Don’t even talk about my being your kind of Catholic. I’ll be baptized, but don’t even try to get me into all your little groups.” So he lived that way, and it was beautiful, it was wonderful that he was a Catholic at all. I was just so thrilled that he was a Catholic.
But what brought him into the depth of our religion was the death of my son by suicide, because my son was the apple of his eye. He was a beautiful, beautiful kid. My husband was just devastated by his death. We all were, but he was just completely so. He found that the only thing that gave him hope was the Mass, so he started coming to daily Mass. He became a lamb because Jesus was his only hope, and many of us, we think and think and think, “How can we become more holy?” And we have all these schemes and plans to become more holy. Well, you become more holy when Jesus just cracks your whole agenda, your whole pride, when you realize you can’t save anyone, you can’t even save your own child, and then you realize that mercy is the only thing that your children need, or you need, that all we need is mercy. The last two years of my husband’s life, he used to go up to communion, and he would mutter under his breath as he went up, “Please God, cover the naked soul of my son with your body and blood.” So, he was transfigured from a wolf to a lamb through the Church.
Jews Need Jesus
Just a few miscellaneous comments. That would have been a very good ending, but just a few miscellaneous comments. I know I have no minutes left, so this is very fast. People talk about this thing, this two-covenant theory, like the Jews have God the Father, so they don’t need Jesus. For one thing, three-fourths of the Jews of the world are not close to God the Father. They’re very unsure if there’s any kind of personal God, they have some vague ideas, but it’s not like they spend their days in mystical prayer with God the Father. But besides that, I ask people, “How could you know Jesus and not want everyone to know Him? If you think it’s okay not to have Him, you don’t know Him.”
Mark Drogin asked us all to think about, “What is the role of the Jewish convert in the Church?” I didn’t actually have a quick answer, which is unusual for me, I’m a chatterbox, I have very quick answers, so I have to think about it. What I thought was something very deep that Alice von Hildebrand, a very dear friend of mine for more than 40 years, what she said to me about my life. I was talking about, “Well I can never be holy because I’m not sacrificial. I can barely accept the sufferings that come, but I could never be this type who begs for suffering in order to be a victim soul and all that kind of thing.” And she said, “Ronda, that’s not your charism. You’ve had plenty of sufferings in your life, and what you witness to is that you have so much joy in spite of those sufferings and so much joy because of your faith in Jesus. That’s the source of all your joy.”
I think many Jewish converts witness to the rest of the Church the joy we have in the Catholic faith, that they see what we went from. I don’t know about David, but the other two, the three of us could certainly witness to being completely miserable and sinful until we found Jesus in the Church. So we witness to that in a very, very strong way, and so we’re giving you an image of what it will be like when all Israel is saved, when all the Jews find the Messiah, what will it be like, the joy of that?
And also, we beg you to pray for the conversion of the Jewish people and to witness to Jewish people. Now some people find it very hard to witness to Jewish people because they think they’re kind of smart-aleck, arrogant, sarcastic, and who wants to talk to people like that? You’re afraid to talk to us. But you all know from psychology that anyone who’s arrogant and sarcastic, it’s because they’re insecure and unhappy, right? So you have to witness to us. Let me end with a prayer,
“Our Lady of Zion, and Saint Edith Stein, pray for us.”
For information about Ronda, see: http://www.rondachervin.com/home.htm
For information about Charles Rich, see: http://www.friendsofcharlesrich.com