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Should Catholic Evangelization Target Jews?, Ed. John Zmirak

The Bishops’ View, Dr. Eugene Fisher
A Man from Mars, Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Their Joy is Boundless, Dr. Ronda Chervin
All Israel Will Be Saved, Fr. Francis Martin
The Church Must Proclaim Christ, Mark Drogin
Intended Only for Gentiles?, David Moss

A Man from Mars
by Father James V. Schall, S. J.,

professor at the Department of Government at Georgetown University, and author of many books, including Does Catholicism Still Exist? (Staten Island, N. Y.: Alba House, 1994) and The Distinctiveness of Christianity (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1982).

The Document Reflections on Covenant and Mission issued by the National Council of Synagogues and Delegates of the Bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs is fifteen single-spaced pages—three pages of introduction, the Catholics with five pages, the Jews with seven. Suppose I am someone from Mars who never heard either of Judaism or Catholicism. I am asked to give my impressions of the text. What would I conclude?

In the document, two evidently different groups explain that they have nothing to do with each other. The Jewish section logically makes no mention of Christ at all. The word “Christian” is mentioned about five times. The two groups might possibly be related in that they could conceivably have some common duties to reform the earth. But religiously, they both have separate ways.

The Jewish section tells us about the people chosen by Yahweh. They are to remain what they always were, but they have some universal mission to the whole world. This latter mission is generally described in this worldly terms. Nothing is said of dying or eternal life. The world is to be perfected into “the Kingdom of the Almighty,” though no indication of when or how is evident.

The expression, “a world to come,” is used, but it is not clear that its reference is not to some perfected earthly society. Take this statement from the Jewish section:

“ … Any mission of Christians to the Jews is in direct conflict with the Jewish notion that the covenant itself is that mission. At the same time, it is important to stress that notwithstanding the covenant, there is no need for the nations of the world to embrace Judaism. While there are logical verities such as belief in God’s unity, and practical social virtues that lead to the creation of the good society that are possible and necessary for humanity at large to grasp, they do not require Judaism in order to redeem the individual or society. The pious of all the nations of the world have a place in the world to come.”

The word “redemption” is used in the document but no hint of a redeemer. “We live in an unredeemed world that longs for repair.”

The Roman Catholics think that they have something to do with the Old Testament, but affirm that the original covenant is not revoked. The Jewish covenant is the origin of Jewish spiritual vitality. The argument is made from Gamaliel that “only undertakings of divine origin can endure” as a justification for respect for Judaism. This same principle would justify also religions older than Christianity or even Judaism. This principle is in fact used by some theologians to leave the older religions unevangelized also.

There is a “new covenant.” Christians are supposed to bring the “good news” to all nations. However, “evangelization” does not necessarily mean baptism or coming into the Church. Interreligious dialogue is “devoid of any intention whatsoever to invite the dialogue partner to baptism.” The Christians maintain that they have some “spiritual linkage” with the Jews. The Christians and Jews prepare “for the coming of the kingdom of God … even if Jews do not conceive of this task christologically.”

Professor Tommaso Federici notes that “in the Church no organization of any kind (is) dedicated to the conversion of Jews.” This is as it should be. Walter Cardinal Kasper interprets the term “mission” to go forth to teach all “nations” to mean only to non-Jews. The Jews already have a covenant with God. The Jewish covenant is salvific for them. A twofold “mission” seems to exist within one “covenant.” Both Jews and Catholics have a mission to the whole world. The Jewish people alone can articulate their mission.

Evangelization “no longer includes the wish to absorb the Jewish faith into Christianity and so end the distinctive witness of Jews to God in human history.” The Jews already have a “saving covenant with God.” The Catholics do “witness” to their “faith in the presence of God’s kingdom in Jesus Christ to Jews and to all peoples,” but with no violation of religious freedom or effort to convert.

The conclusion is that “Jews already dwell in a saving covenant with God.” And finally, the Church “now recognizes that Jews are also called by God to prepare the world for God’s kingdom. Their witness to the kingdom, which did not originate with the Church’s experience of Christ crucified and raised, must not be curtailed by seeking the conversion of the Jewish people to Christianity.”

Any common sense reading of this document indicates that the Jewish writers see no reason to deal with Christianity at all, except perhaps defensively. The Catholic writers, while they cannot avoid the fact that their religion had something to [do] with Judaism, are at pains to see no purpose in any further relationship. At least in these pages, both seem to conceive the “kingdom of God” as primarily “this worldly.” For both, this Kingdom itself may point to something else, but it is very difficult to see this in context.

This is what these particular Catholic and Jewish leaders have concluded after having talked to each other twice a year for “more than two decades.” For both groups, as far as I, as a man from Mars on reading the text, can judge, the being and figure of Christ, whether He is in fact the Messiah or Son of God, has little or nothing to do with the relation of these groups to one another.