Ed. This talk was originally given at the Light to the Gentiles Conference, Jan27-29 2006 and was subsequentely included in The Hebrew Catholics, #83. In my talk, I briefly recounted my journey to our Catholic Faith as well as that of Elias Friedman, OCD, our founder. Due to limited space, I do not include these accounts here. For those interested, these two journeys can be found in my article, Jewish Identity Within the Church in The Hebrew Catholic #81.
You Are My Witnesses (Isaiah 43:10)
In November 2005, my b’shert Kathleen and I went to Washington, DC to investigate the potential gift of some property for us to live in and establish a center for our work. While in DC, we visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum, and on one of the walls in large letters was the phrase “You are my witnesses…” from Isaiah 43:10. When I saw that, it struck me like an enormous sign pointing to one of the central themes of Fr. Friedman’s thesis, the enduring election of the People Israel.
Let me put that phrase in context. Towards the end of the Babylonian exile, the Lord consoles the People Israel by reaffirming their calling through the mouth of the prophet, in Isaiah 43:10-11.
10 “‘You are my witnesses,’ says the LORD, ‘and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am He. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. 11 I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior.’”
During a conversation sometime later with my sister, Rosalind, she reminded me of a another statement in the New Testament which seemed to reaffirm the one from Isaiah. From verse 8 in Acts, chapter 1:
8 “… you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.”
In Isaiah, the Lord says that You are my witnesses. And this was consistent with the role of the chosen people before the coming of Jesus. They were chosen to be a holy people and a people who would be a witness to the one true God before all the nations.
In Acts, the Lord says that You shall be my witnesses. In both cases, the Lord is speaking to the People Israel. Why are we going from You are to you shall? Briefly, I think the answer might include at least the three following points:
(1) The book of Acts witnesses to a new phase in the drama of salvation history, a phase that was hidden in the Old Testament and now revealed in the New. Now that this phase has arrived, the witness of the People had to change. The Gospel and Jesus were the new truths that had to be proclaimed and witnessed to.
(2) The People Israel, themselves, would undergo and experience many changes because of the fulfillment of Torah and Temple. This fulfillment was brought about by the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus and the establishment of His Church. Jesus and His Church were to be the new way of the People.
(3) And finally, in holiness and in the perfection of love, the People Israel would be universalized, now to include the peoples from the nations. This new Israel would have to deal with opposition to the truths they proclaimed and the way that they followed. The opposition would become persecution and perhaps martyrdom, as our Lord had taught His disciples. This new way, following the pattern set by our Lord, included suffering for the love of God and man. This way was to be understood and lived out in a new life that was born through baptism and intended for participation in the very life of God.
In short, all disciples of Jesus would need the power of the Holy Spirit to proclaim the new truths that Jesus revealed, to live in the new way that those truths called them to, and to participate in the new life of Jesus, in and through the Church. And so, in continuity with the calling of the People of God before Messiah came, the new People of God that followed the resurrection of Messiah would become witnesses to the way, the truth, and the life when the power of the Holy Spirit came upon them.
To be a Witness
But what does it mean to be a witness? The dictionary defines witness as a person who can testify or give evidence of something seen, heard or experienced. A typical example might be a person in a court of law who describes the crime that he has seen.
A witness may also be an inanimate object, which serves as evidence of something else. An example might be the fossils found in an archaeological excavation, serving as evidence of the animals that once lived in the area of the excavation.
The most important witness, of course, is the witness we give to the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1) For this is the witness of faith, of the One Triune God and His entire economy of salvation. And it is by this witness and the grace of God that individuals encounter, enter into, and participate in this economy, giving their lives meaning, purpose, and union with God.
The Old Testament is a witness to the People Israel as they journeyed through time, learning the meaning of holiness, being blessed when they lived in accord with God’s will, and being chastised when they didn’t. In their lives, in their successes, and in their failures, the People become living witnesses to the providential love and faithfulness of God as he guided them in preparation for the fulfillment of their two millennia-old mission, the coming of the Messiah.
The New Testament is also a witness to this People, especially the remnant who believed in the Messiah when He came, became His disciples, and formed the Church.
While multitudes of Jews became followers of the Messiah, we know that the bulk of the people did not believe. And in the mystery of God’s providence, St. Paul tells us that through their transgression – their failure to believe, salvation had come to the Gentiles.
And so, the Jews who had become disciples of Jesus reached out to the nations, spreading the Gospel, making disciples and baptizing them, as their Lord had commanded.
And now, Ephesians, beginning in verse 13, chapter 2, tells us that the Gentiles, the people of the nations who were once far from the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,
“… have been brought near in the blood of Christ.  For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility…”
Within approximately three centuries, the Church became almost entirely Gentile. By approximately the fourth century, the last remaining Hebrew Catholic communities had disappeared.
The Gospel bore great fruit amongst the Gentiles. Souls were saved, and great saints and doctors of the Church arose. The faith and sacraments of the Catholic Church inspired a civilization. The pervasive influence of the Gospel can be seen in architecture, art, music, literature, medicine, education, etc.
Amid sin and heresy, there was a real acceptance and spreading of the faith, which became the very center of the lives of multitudes of people and the governing influence on the social order and public life of what was called Christendom.
The fruitfulness of the Gospel amongst the Gentiles was a great gift of God.
This was the times of the Gentiles. They had assumed Israel’s responsibility for giving collective witness to Yeshua and were very successful amongst the nations in the Church’s mission of evangelization and sanctification.
For the bulk of Israel, blind to the Messiah, the time of grace and glory for the Gentiles was a time of exile and persecution. Jesus had prophesied this in Luke 21:23-24:
“(23) Alas for those who are with child and for those who give suck in those days! For great distress shall be upon the earth and wrath upon this people; (24) they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led captive among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”
In 70 AD, the Temple was destroyed, and the first Jewish revolt against the Romans was crushed. So too was the second revolt, and the people went into exile.
Rabbinical Judaism developed after the destruction of the Temple, and there is no doubt that it took over and taught many of the truths of Mosaic Judaism. It preserved the Jewish People under God’s providence for century upon century
Even apart from Jesus and the New Covenant, the Jewish people have borne witness to God. Although many have defined or described the Jews in extremely unflattering terms, there have always been those who saw in this people and their perseverance in history, evidence of the existence of God and His providence.
For example, Steve Ray, Catholic apologist and producer of the Footprints of God video series, recently posted a letter on his web site concerning the Jews. Here is an excerpt:
“Remarking on the Jews, of which he was one, St. Paul wrote: ‘the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable’ (Rom 11:29). These gifts and calling are readily apparent even now, 4,000 years later. I have always thought the existence of the Jews and their incredible impact on civilization — even though their numbers are relatively small — is a convincing proof of the existence of God and to his faithfulness.”
In addition to being a witness to the existence of God and to His faithfulness, the Jews as a people have also served as icons of humanity, witnessing to the full range of human potential and accomplishment, both positive and negative. What other people has had the fortune to have their family history portrayed in a book we call Sacred Scripture, a book that billions of people would read and guide their lives by? The persecution they have suffered over the last two millennia, many times at the hands of “Christians”, led Jacques Maritain to say that their journey through history since the time of Christ was one long via dolorosa. Did not their suffering, culminating in the Holocaust, bear an unspeakable witness to the dehumanizing influence of satan and “original sin” in their persecutors, even amongst the baptized?
Over the last millennia and a half, Jews have continued to discover the Messiah and enter His Church. As individuals, they have offered their lives and gifts to Jesus and His Church and to the prevailing Gentile cultures. Within the Church, their Jewish identity was neither supported nor preserved in their offspring. Consequently, the corporate witness of the Jewish people to Christ and His Church no longer existed. The problem was such that the very term Christian or Catholic often seemed to mean a Gentile believer in Christ, and the term Jew, to mean one who did not believe in Christ.
And so it has remained until recent times, until the twentieth century.
Fr. Friedman believed we had entered a new phase of salvation history and provided a reading of the signs of the times in his book Jewish Identity. Amongst the various signs, he identified the following:
1. The great apostasy of the Gentile populations which made up the Church. Fr. Friedman believed that the apostasy effectively began with the Protestant Reformation, a religious rebellion that destroyed the unity of faith and established a multitude of competing interpretations of the Gospel. Spurred on by the secular events and movements of the next few centuries, the apostasy would eventually bring about the demise of Christendom and the arrival of other twentieth century horrors such as Stalin’s regime, the holocaust, and abortion, to name only a few.
2. The return of the Jews to the Holy Land. Three years following the Holocaust, a Jewish state was established in the land of Israel. Then the ingathering began, first from devastated war-torn Europe, then later from Ethiopia and Russia. The key event, we believe, fulfilling the prophecy of Luke 21:24 (“… and Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”), was the reconquest and unification of Jerusalem in the Six Day War of 1967.
3. Large numbers of Jews have come to faith in Jesus since World War II. By some estimates, the numbers of Jews coming to faith in Jesus may be the largest since apostolic times. Many have entered the Catholic Church and the various Christian denominations, with the largest and most visible numbers finding their way into the fast growing Messianic Jewish movement.
4. The Second Vatican Council. In addition to all its other pastoral initiatives, the Council included important statements leading to new attitudes and clarifications regarding the Jews and Judaism. The Council also initiated a new exploration by the Church of the mystery of Israel.
To deal with the great apostasy within the Church and the growing secularization of cultures in modernity’s flight from God, the Council called the entire Church to a new evangelization, including a re-evangelization of the nations that once made up Christendom.
Fr. Friedman believed that the Jews who had been baptized and who had entered the Church had a profoundly important role to play in this new evangelization. And the Church, through the Council teaching reflected in Lumen Gentium (section 16) and Nostra Aetate (Section 4) seemed to lay the groundwork for this role to develop.
In Lumen Gentium, the Council Fathers wrote:
16. Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God. In the first place we must recall the people to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh. On account of their fathers this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues.
The phrase beginning “most dear to God” corresponds to St. Paul’s exhortation in Romans (11:28-29):
“… as regards election they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.”
It is important to note that in St. Paul’s words, the word they refers to the Jews who do not believe in Jesus. And yet, St. Paul notes, they retain the election, they remain beloved by God for the sake of their forefathers, and their gifts and calling are irrevocable.
If this is true for those who have not yet been baptized into Christ, how much more true must that be of those who have responded to the Lord and been baptized. Moreover, as is true of everything according to nature, the grace of the sacraments, and in particular baptism, raises the People Israel to a new dignity and power in the Holy Spirit. Baptism also creates a new responsibility to serve.
Fr. Friedman saw the Divine hand of God moving through history, with both Israel and the Church being prepared for the ingrafting. The term ingrafting refers to the natural branches, the Jewish people outside the Church, at the time when they will be given the gift of faith and will be grafted back onto the olive tree from which they came, now known as the Catholic Church. (see Romans 11)
On the one hand, the Jewish People were being gathered into their homeland: a material means to the spiritual end of their ingrafting.
On the other hand, the Church, suffering its greatest apostasy, while at the same time inaugurating a new relationship with the Jewish people, was also being prepared for the ingrafting.
As part of the preparation for the ingrafting, Fr. Friedman believed strongly that the Jews who had entered the Church needed to preserve their identity and their heritage and to once again exercise their irrevocable calling, particularly with regard to their collective witness to Jesus and His Church. This thinking has seemed, so fittingly and providentially, to accompany the Church’s call for a new evangelization, a re-evangelization, the dialogue with the Jewish people, and the Church’s exploration of the mystery of Israel.
Since the nature and destiny of Israel is a collective one, the election can only be lived out collectively. Therefore Fr. Friedman called for the Church and the Jews who have entered the Church to find ways to re-kindle their collective vocation and prepare for the ingrafting of the Jewish people. This is where the work of the Association of Hebrew Catholics comes in.
The aims, therefore, of the Association of Hebrew Catholics include the following:
• To gather the Jews who have entered the Church and to help re-enable their irrevocable calling, providing a collective and unified witness to Jesus and His Church
• To preserve the identity and heritage of the Jewish people within the Church
• To provide pastoral support for those who have entered the Church
• To provide support for Jews who are searching and inquiring about Jesus and the Church
• To be an integral part of the new evangelization, contributing a vibrant and rich Jewish perspective
• To be an eschatological sign of the ingrafting, which may have already begun
• To help all Catholics understand the Jewish roots of their faith
• To be a witness to the Jewish people that the Cross is not a sign of persecution, but rather of sacrificial love, that Jesus is the glory of Israel, and that Catholicism is the Judaism of the Redemption
• To be a witness of four millennia of God’s merciful providence and fidelity, first to the People of Israel, next to the peoples of the world, and finally, to this world of the 21st century that is in a flight from God
• And finally, to contribute our efforts to hasten the day when all Israel shall proclaim, Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord. Jesus tells us in Matthew 23 that this acclamation must be proclaimed by His Jewish people before they will see Him again.
The Church is now engaged in a dialogue with the Jewish people. This dialogue relates to the People Israel outside the Church. Fr. Friedman established the AHC to address the questions and issues of the People Israel inside the Church.
We welcome all Catholics to collaborate with us in this next phase of salvation history. You may reach us through our developing web site: hebrewcatholic.org; and from that web site, you may also join our email discussion group, request a sample issue of our publication, The Hebrew Catholic, and explore the resources in our web store.
I have heard Catholics of Gentile origin express their gratitude for the Jewish people from whom Jesus came. May I add that this Hebrew Catholic, David Moss, is grateful for the peoples of Gentile origin who have preserved and spread the Gospel through two millennia so that I too could discover our Lord, the fulfillment of Israel’s hopes, the King of the Jews and of all nations.
I would like to end with two thoughts from two popes.
First, in The Pope Speaks, Dialogues of Paul VI with Jean Guitton, Pope Paul VI stated:
“… the mystery of the layman, that is, of the layman entrusted with a mission, has always existed in the Church, since its beginning; and at each time when it has been necessary, as the prayer for the feast of St. Francis has it, again warm the world growing cold….
“… But (O joy, O marvel) this witness of modern laymen brings us back to the origins of the Church, to its very sources, to closer proximity to Christ! And in this extraordinary mutation of the world there is born in us the new hope of a new beginning.
“…I have said that laymen have no power to preach the doctrine, still less to define it, to verify it; those are offices of the Magisterium. But they have gifts for proposing the truth to men in every generation, so that in every century the heart of Christ speaks to the heart of man in a more intimate, effective way.”
And finally, from Cardinal Ratzinger’s book, God and the World, regarding Jewish recognition of the Messiah and our witness:
“We also have to try to live our life together in Christ in such a way that it no longer stands in opposition to them or would be unacceptable to them but so that it facilitates their own approach to it.”
©2002 Ignatius Press, p. 150
Let us pray: Father, through the intercession of Miriam, Ark of the Covenant, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, the apostles, and the entire cloud of witnesses in heaven, may the words of these men fill our hearts and minds, helping us to remove all obstacles to the gift of faith and enabling us to serve as the witnesses that we are and that we are called to be. We ask this in the name of your Son and our Lord, Yeshua haMashiach. Amen.
Speaking to the Gentile Romans, St. Paul said:
“Just as you once disobeyed God but have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now disobeyed in order that, by the virtue of the mercy shown to you, they too may receive mercy. For God delivered all to disobedience that he might have mercy upon all.
“O, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Rom 11:25-33)
“For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory for ever. Amen.” (Rom 11:36)