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Born Jewish, Jesus Was the First Christian
By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

Q U I C K S C A N

When Did Jesus Become a Catholic?
'Social Justice Is Marxism'
Aren't Martyrs Automatically Canonized?
Is There More Power in Praying for One Person?


Q: A few years ago, I overheard a Catholic woman ask her friend, "When did Jesus become a Catholic?" A few of us laughed but did try to explain that Jesus was the Christ. He was born Jewish and died Jewish.

One of my Jewish friends asked me, "When did Jesus become a Christian?" Soon after that, a relative asked me, "Well, when did he become a Catholic?" Please address these questions in your column.

A: Yes, Jesus was born Jewish. By the time that he was executed by the Romans, however, many Jewish people would have considered Jesus as guilty of blasphemy because of certain actions and his teachings about God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

At least since the sixth century before Christ, the bedrock of Judaism has been monotheism, belief in one God. God's self-revelation in the Scriptures progressively insisted on monotheism.

The Gospels record several incidents where Jesus is accused of blasphemy for directly or indirectly claiming divine prerogatives. For example, when Jesus cured the paralytic man lowered through the roof (Mark 2:1-12), he saw the man's faith and said, "Child, your sins are forgiven" (v. 5). Similar passages occur in Matthew 9:1-8 and Luke 5:18-26.

"Now some of the scribes were sitting there asking themselves, 'Why does this man speak that way? Who but God alone can forgive sins?' Jesus immediately knew in his mind what they were thinking to themselves, so he said, 'Why are you thinking such things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, Your sins are forgiven, or to say, Rise, pick up your mat and walk? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority for sins on earth—he said to the paralytic, 'I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home'" (Mark 2:8-11).

After Caiaphas, the high priest, commanded Jesus, "I order you to tell us under oath before the living God whether you are the Messiah, the Son of God," Jesus said, "You have said so. But I tell you: From now on you will see 'the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power' and 'coming on the clouds of heaven.' Then the high priest tore his robes and said, 'He has blasphemed! What further need have we of witnesses? You [members of the Sanhedrin] have now heard the blasphemy; what is your opinion?' They said in reply, 'He deserves to die!'" (Matthew 26:63-66, with a similar passage in Mark 14:61-64).

In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Pilate questions Jesus about calling himself "the king of the Jews." That scene is given in more detail in the Gospel of John. "Pilate said to them [the crowd], 'Take him yourselves and crucify him. I find no guilt in him.' The Jews answered, 'We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God'" (19:6b-7). Pilate orders that Jesus be crucified for treason, for not rejecting the title "king of the Jews."

Not all Jesus' Jewish contemporaries considered him guilty of blasphemy—his mother, Mary, the apostles and the disciples, for example.

To say that Jesus died Jewish may be too simple; he saw himself as bringing Judaism to a new level. Even so, the earliest Christians continued to frequent the Temple in Jerusalem (Acts 3:1-26 and 5:42).

From the very beginning, the followers of Jesus asserted that they were monotheists, that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were not three gods in the same sense that pagans, for example, considered Jupiter and Apollo as gods.

Jesus' followers were first called Christians in Antioch (Acts 11:26)—only after his death and resurrection. That term and catholic (universal) were interchangeable from the second through the 11th centuries A.D.

Q: I am a big supporter of Glenn Beck and all the work he is doing to save the country. Today he is discussing social justice, which is Marxism, and how the government is trying to absorb the churches to run them as everything else—as the Communists do. He said there is a part of our Church that is tied into Marxism. What is it and how can we stop it?

A: If you have described TV commentator Glenn Beck accurately, I can only answer that he is way off the mark. Social justice was a concern of Jesus' followers for 18 centuries before Karl Marx was born. It remains a vital part of living out the Good News.

Was Jesus preaching socialism when he told the parable about the Last Judgment (Matthew 25: 31-46) and identified those who will be saved as the ones who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked or visited those who are sick or imprisoned?

The Good News of Jesus Christ challenges every person to compare what he or she considers normal to Christ's teachings. Yes, Christians can have blind spots—as evidenced by their acceptance of slavery in many places for centuries. But Christians were counted among those who took the lead in calling for the abolition of slavery. The same is true for exposing the physical, economic and political exploitation of children today.

Was it socialism for the author of the Letter of James to write: "What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,' but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (2:14-17).

Was it socialism for St. Paul to criticize the Christians in Corinth for bringing their social and economic divisions into the celebration of the Eucharist itself (see 1 Corinthians 11:17-32)? That, by the way, is the oldest liturgical abuse recorded in the New Testament.

Yes, Communists have attempted to manipulate Christianity, but our best response to that is to live out Jesus' teachings more wholeheartedly—not to reject them because Marxists try to mimic them for their own purposes.

For Jesus' followers, the best test of loyalty is faithfulness to his teachings as we find them in the New Testament. Over time, all blind spots and unholy compromises with any human party or system will become obvious.

Q: The feast of St. Charles Lwanga and companion martyrs (June 3) recently raised a question for me. On July 17, 1794, 16 Carmelite nuns were guillotined in Compiègne, France, for their faith. As a secular Carmelite, I have always considered them a beacon of love and uncompromising faith. Doesn't the fact that they were martyred for their faith automatically make them saints? Why would any miracles be needed?

A: God does not wait for the Church's canonization process in order to decide who gets into heaven. The canonization process is to the benefit of the Church on earth—not to keep God's records straight.

If two groups of people in different centuries give up their lives for their faith, does it make sense to discuss who is more or less deserving of that title?

I applaud your devotion to the Carmelite martyrs. Perhaps you will live long enough to see them officially canonized.

Incidentally, in 1964 when Pope Paul VI canonized Charles Lwanga and his companion martyrs, the pope made reference to several Anglican young men who were killed by the same king and for the same reason.

May all of us be as open to God's grace as all the saints in heaven (formally recognized or not) were.

Q: When I pray a petition, I can't help feeling that if I pray for one person only, the prayer will be stronger or more effective than if I pray for 20 people at once. For example, is "Please help David" a stronger prayer than "Please help all my family"?

A: Prayer is certainly powerful, but I'm not sure that we should spend time and energy on figuring out the relative power of different ways of praying. What's more important than the number of people prayed for is the purity of intention on the part of the individual praying and that person's willingness to connect honest prayer to generous action.

You seem to fear that praying for several people at the same time will dilute the effect of your prayer. I think that may be imposing human categories onto God. You probably want to avoid that because it suggests that prayer is a human object rather than a response to God's grace.

If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.


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