Dr. Lawrence Feingold and his wife Marsha, both Hebrew Catholics, entered the Church in 1989. Dr. Feingold studied Philosophy and Theology at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, and Biblical Hebrew and Greek at the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum in Jerusalem. Subsequently, he taught Philosophy and Theology in the House of Formation of Miles Christi in Argentina. Until recently, Dr. Feingold was Assistant Professor of Theology for the Institute of Pastoral Theology of Ave Maria University. Since 2011, he is Associate Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri. Dr. Feingold is also Director of Theology for the Association of Hebrew Catholics.
B.A., 1981 Washington University
M.A., 1983 Columbia University
S.T.B., 1995 Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome
S.T.L., 1998 Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome
S.T.D., 1999 Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome
AHC Lecture Series at Cathedral Basilica, St. Louis MO, since Sept. 2007
Archdiocese of St. Louis Respect Life Apostolate Brown Bag Lectures
5/17/10, Cure of Ars: Master of Pastoral Theology
5/18/10, Spousal Meaning of the Body: Marriage & the Transmission of Life #1
5/19/10, Spousal Meaning of the Body: Marriage & the Transmission of Life #2
Presentation at St. Jude’s Catholic Church, Peoria IL, Sept. 30, 2012.
What Catholics Should Consider in Casting Their Vote: The Church’s Social Doctrine and the Issues Confronting the Electorate.
Books by Dr. Feingold
Interview by Roy Schoeman, Aug. 31,2013, on Radio Maria
Article from The Hebrew Catholic, #85. All Rights Reserved.
Account of My Conversion
I was brought up with no religious beliefs, although I had a great interest in comparative religion. My father was Jewish and my mother Protestant, but neither practiced any faith, although occasionally we attended Unitarian services. My father had renounced belief in Judaism after his Bar-Mitzvah, but I grew up with some sense of Jewish identity through my family on my father’s side. My wife, Marsha, was Jewish. She enjoyed attending a Conservative synagogue in school, but lost her faith in college. The first time I ever prayed in my entire life was when I was twenty-nine years old. At this time my wife and I were living in a small town in Tuscany called Pietrasanta, where I was doing marble sculpture.
God, of course, can use any means to bring us to our knees and lead us to bow our head in prayer. Nevertheless, the most ordinary means that he uses is personal difficulties: a visitation with the cross with which He redeemed the world. In our case, the cross was not a particularly large or unusual one. The power of God is often shown in bringing about great things through apparently ordinary means.
God had been preparing me for this visitation, although I didn’t realize it, for years through my activity in art. I will make a little digression about the relationship between art and faith.
I had the great good fortune to study Art History with Norris K. Smith, a truly remarkable professor at Washington University. He taught us to see art primarily as the expression of convictions and beliefs concerning God, man, and the world. Every great work of art expresses, in sensible and artistic form, a certain world view and set of convictions about the nature of reality. Our preference and admiration for works cannot be divorced from the world view that animates them. The greatest works of art are sustained by a true and profound view of the nature of reality and the human person. Decadent works of art, or decadent periods in art history, are marked by a false or superficial view.
Prof. Smith loved to have us examine works of art from different periods to compare their distinct view of the human person. For example, he compared a Rembrandt portrait with a work of Abstract Expressionism: Woman # 6 by De Kooning, asking us which we would prefer to have in our room to contemplate on our deathbed. His thesis was that much of modern art was marked by a pervasive dehumanization that no longer manifested the truth of the dignity of the human person made in the image of God. Most of us did not simply agree with him at the time, but his teaching worked as a leaven in me for years.
It became more and more apparent to me that the dehumanization of modern art and architecture was absolutely tied to the progressive loss of Christian faith in society, and its resulting secularization. The great works of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Baroque, were obviously based on Catholic faith, from which they drew their inspiration, in whose service they humbly placed themselves, and apart from which they cannot be understood. The interiority of a Rembrandt portrait, for example, was unthinkable without the Christian view of the immortal soul, made in the image of God, lost in Adam’s Fall, and redeemed by the blood of Christ.
I remember being in the Sistine Chapel shortly before our conversion, admiring the Last Judgment of Michelangelo and thinking how incongruous it was that I as an atheist, together with many other tourists, was admiring the Last Judgment without posing the question of the truth it portrayed. As if the truth of the Last Judgment was irrelevant to the work of art!
However, my increasing love for Christian art would not have led me to prayer and conversion without a personal trial. At about this time, in 1988 (a Marian year), my wife was pregnant with our son, and was experiencing unreasonable anxiety with the pregnancy. At a certain point she said that she didn’t want to live. This was the catalyst that God prepared for our conversion. I experienced my lack of inner solidarity with her difficulty, which made me reflect profoundly on the inadequacy of my love for my spouse, and the inadequacy of human love in general. How much the human person cries out to be loved for his own sake, and how little I was able to do this!
How could we have such a desire for this love, I thought, if there is no God? If there is no God to love us as a Father, then this thirst of the human soul to love and be loved, is ultimately subject to frustration and absurdity.
The beauty of spousal love is that it so directly allows us to see the human person for who he or she is: tremendously vulnerable, tremendously worthy of love, holding a secret identity that only love can see and discover. What I saw on this particular day in 1988 is that the human person (of course, I was thinking of my wife) is more worthy of love than we are capable of loving. Therefore, the thought came to me with great force that a God of love must exist who is as capable of loving as the human person is worthy of being loved, and, of course, infinitely more capable. If there is no God who loves man with a perfect love, the human person would be absurd.
If God did not exist, then there would be no loving providence at the very basis of our existence as the ultimate reason for our coming into the world. We would be nothing more than products of blind chance and freak accidents of an intrinsically meaningless world, as Jean-Paul Sartre and others would have it. But love tells us that this cannot be so, that the human person cannot fail to be the product of divine love, in which he is destined to share if he does not fail to correspond to the divine vocation.
Therefore, the thought came to me with vivid force that God must exist if human life is not to be completely absurd and in vain. I realized that the ability to love is God’s gift, which must be implored through prayer. Who can explain the impressions that are made on our minds under the impulse of God’s grace?
This reasoning was an example of what Pascal called the arguments of the heart for God’s existence. There is no doubt that the arguments of the heart are the most effective of all. They are not irrational, by the way, although they generally skip many steps in their reasoning. Love, if it does not blind us with passion, is capable of empowering our mind and opening the eyes of our soul to see what we should have seen all along.
This reasoning of mine was based on a confused insight into the truth expressed in Biblical language with the words that man and woman are “made in the image of God.” The human person partakes of a dignity and loveableness, and a power to love, which can only be a creaturely and finite participation of an essential, transcendent and infinite dignity, Beauty and Love. The human being vanishes without the Creator.
So I set out to pray for the first time. I took the train to go to Florence to pray in the Duomo built by Brunelleschi. I was not definitively thinking of Christianity, but nor was I opposed to it. On the way I was moved to make this prayer: teach me to love; teach me to be a light unto others. I don’t know why I prayed like this, but to this day I know of no better prayer.
God so wants us to pray, that if we do so, He pours His grace upon us. After making this prayer, I thought of the words of Psalm 2: “You are my son; this day I have begotten you.” Although an atheist, I knew the Bible from studying art history and comparative religion. And in this moment of grace I understood that these words were addressed by God the Father to Jesus Christ His Son, and also to me (and all other human beings) in Christ the Son.
That is, I understood what is called the mystery of divine filiation, one of the central mysteries of the Catholic faith. We were created in order to become sons of God in the eternal Son, and to have God for our inheritance.
After this prayer, I knew that I had to be Christian. Up until this time, I had felt great attraction and respect for the figure of Jesus, His Passion, the Beatitudes, and the Sermon on the Mount, but I couldn’t understand His relationship to me personally and to humanity, nor did I believe in His divinity. I think that my attitude in this regard was similar to that of many Jews who have come to know something of the New Testament.
After this prayer, however, my relation to Jesus was totally different. I was shown that the mystery of His unique Sonship was intrinsically linked to the aspiration of every human heart to be loved absolutely as a son or daughter by God. The Son of God became man in the Jewish people, and died on the Cross, so that every human person, Jew and Gentile, could receive the gift of being loved and adopted as a child of God. Although I didn’t fully understand this at the time, the experience of this adopted sonship was coupled with the experience of new birth, implying the forgiveness of sin and great joy.
After the initial conversion, which I shared with my wife, we knew that we had to become Christian. However, it was not clear to us at first which was the true Church. Our doubts lasted for about six months. My mind would oscillate between belief in the Catholic Church, and a general Protestant type of negation of the institutional Church, which I had somehow taken in with my upbringing.
Here again, art and Christian culture was a great aid in making this discernment, living as we did in Italy. In fact, less than a month after the beginning of our conversion, there was a novena of homilies in our local parish church given by the Archbishop of Pisa, in honor of a miraculous image of our Lady (“The Madonna of the Sun”) housed in our parish church. The Archbishop spoke of Mary as the new Eve whose absolute obedience to grace reversed the disobedience of Eve and opened the gates for the Incarnation. This experience gave birth to devotion to our Lady.
Nevertheless, despite this great grace, and similar graces regarding the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, I continued to oscillate with regard to the Catholic Church and Protestantism. However, I found that in those periods in which I believed in the claim of the Catholic Church, that I was filled with a deep inner joy, for faith in the Catholic Church was an affirmation of God’s not having abandoned His Church to the errors of man, of God’s continuing to maintain his promises and to work mysteriously within human history itself, as He first did in the Incarnation. Whereas when I doubted in the Catholic Church, I felt deeply sad. This cycle happened numerous times, with the same inner consolations and desolations: deep spiritual consolation caused by faith in the Church, and spiritual desolation or sadness caused by putting that faith into doubt.
I was dimly sensing that through the Church, God continues to work in human history and culture by sanctifying it, making Himself present in it, especially through the sacraments, and particularly the Eucharist. Without the Church, the world would be abandoned to itself, as it were. Yes, we have the example of Christ in Scripture, the memory of what He did, but not His living and sanctifying presence.
In summary, we received great lights about Our Lady and about the Eucharist, and also about the nature of the Church as the continuation of Christ’s presence in history, as it were. Despite such graces that should have been sufficient to lead us to the Church, we continued to doubt, and finally decided to receive Baptism in the Anglican Church. At this time I began to formulate plans to become an Anglican or Episcopalian priest.
Shortly after receiving Baptism, I happened to be browsing in the British Library in Florence, and I picked up a book called the Newman Reader, a collection of writings by John Henry Cardinal Newman. As I began to read it, I immediately felt attracted by it, and challenged. So I set out to read Newman’s autobiography, Apologia pro vita sua, and his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, the work that he wrote as he converted from Anglicanism to Catholicism.
At the same time, I sought out a Catholic Catechism, and happened to come upon Fr. Hardon’s Catholic Catechism. This, together with the works of Newman, made me resolve to enter the Catholic Church, and so I told Marsha of what I was thinking about. I think she was exceedingly surprised, but was determined to join me. I contacted our local Catholic pastor in Long Island on Dec. 8, 1988, feast of the Immaculate Conception. We finally entered the Church on March 25, 1989, in the Easter Vigil.
What was it about reading the works of Newman that helped to give me the light of faith? As far as I can recall, it seems that the decisive point for me was what he called the “dogmatic principle”: the idea that there is an objective fullness of religious truth that comes from God and not from us, and which we need to implore with persistence and receive with docility when the light has been granted to us. Secondly, he stressed the idea that the Church absolutely needs to be endowed with a visible principle of infallible dogmatic authority in order to withstand the gates of hell and the attacks of human skepticism and passion. God’s work would have been incomplete, and unworthy of His wisdom and omnipotence without such a visible authority to maintain it through the ages. If God went to such infinite pains to become incarnate, to reveal His salvific truth, and die on the Cross for me and for all men, would He not also take pains to maintain His salvific presence in our world, and to maintain an infallible authority about what He revealed in His incarnation? Surely He would not abandon His work and His flock?
But what infallible authority did Christ in fact establish? The answer is not hard to find, if we pose it in that way. If Christ did establish an infallible authority on which His Church would be founded, on which it would be built up through the centuries, it could only be the authority given to Peter and his successors, for this was what Christ Himself actually promised. “You are Peter, on whom I shall build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” What Christian body has any reasonable claim to be the Church built on the rock of Peter? Only the Catholic Church makes this claim, and the history of two thousand years bears it out, for the unbroken succession of Popes governing the Church in the same faith as the Apostles for two millennia could only come about through the extraordinary assistance of God.
And if Christ established an infallible authority for His Church, what remains for us but to submit ourselves to it? Not to do so would ultimately be rebellion against God and rejection of the light by which God wishes us to come to the truth which will set us free.
After entering into the Catholic Church on March 25, 1989, through the grace of God I can make the words of Cardinal Newman my own. Newman writes:
From the time that I became a Catholic, of course I have no further history of my religious opinions to narrate. In saying this, I do not mean to say that my mind has been idle, or that I have given up thinking on theological subjects; but that I have had no changes to record, and have had no anxiety of heart whatever. I have been in perfect peace and contentment. I never have had one doubt. . . . It was like coming into port after a rough sea; and my happiness on that score remains to this day without interruption.
The reason for this experience of deep inner peace that illuminates the life of converts (or “reconverts”) to Catholicism after their conversion, provided they persevere, lies in the dogmatic principle. We enter the Catholic Church because we see that this is the religion ordained and willed and founded by God Himself. It is built on a rock. We believe in all Catholic doctrine simply because the Church teaches it with her full authority, and we recognize the Church to be the oracle of God, she who speaks in the name of God, the continuation of the Messiah’s mission on earth.
Many Jews who come to believe in Christ and the Church He founded, feel anguish over what is perceived as a betrayal of the Jewish people. My wife and I never experienced this trial. On the contrary, I discovered a great attraction for things Jewish that I never experienced before. I had never learned Hebrew as a child, but I found great joy in learning it as a Christian, so as to pray the Psalms, for example, in the language of the Chosen People. This sense was clarified and stimulated by reading the book, Jewish Identity by Fr. Elias Friedman, founder of the Association of Hebrew Catholics, which I came across not long after our entrance into the Catholic Church.
In the first years after our conversion, people often asked me why I “chose” Christianity or the Catholic Church, and not Judaism or Buddhism or Protestantism. The question is framed in the language of religious liberalism, as if religion were a matter of our personal sentiments, personal preferences, personal loyalties or choices. The experience of converts is not that we have chosen anything, but that it is God who has chosen to redeem us through the Incarnation and Passion of the Messiah, which is continued and made present in the Catholic Church, and it is God who called us to enter that ark of salvation. We who have been given the grace to hear, through no merit of our own, have the duty to pray for those who have not yet been given that gift.