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By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

Recent Statement Carefully Worded


No Baptism for Jewish People?
Atheism Too Simple
Concerned About the Wrong Things?
Why Use Musical Instruments?

No Baptism for Jewish People?

Q: According to a recent news story about a new Catholic-Jewish document, Catholics are no longer interested in converting Jewish people. Was this reported accurately? Who said this and on what authority?

A: You are probably referring to the 12-page document Reflections on Covenant and Mission, published last August and based on an earlier consultation between the National Council of Synagogues and the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

The March 2002 consultation was co-chaired by Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore (the bishops’ moderator for Catholic-Jewish relations), Rabbi Joel Zaiman (Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism) and Rabbi Michael Signer (Union of American Hebrew Congregations). It builds on the progress made in Catholic-Jewish relations since Vatican II.

The present document includes a Catholic rejection of targeted campaigns to convert Jewish people. Some Protestant groups have such campaigns. This document acknowledges that some Jewish people have (and others will) become Catholics—and vice versa. Freedom of conscience requires this possibility.

Some Christians have argued that there is no salvation for Jewish people unless they are baptized. Vatican Council II’s Declaration on Non-Christian Religions shows that Catholicism does not share that belief. That declaration cited Romans 11:28-29 and described the Jewish people as “very dear to God, for the sake of the patriarchs, since God does not take back the gifts he bestowed or the choice he made” (#4). This new document quotes Pope John Paul II’s major post-1978 statements about Judaism.

He has described Jews as “the people of God of the Old Covenant, never revoked by God” (Mainz, November 17, 1980). The pope has called Jewish people “partners in a covenant of eternal love which was never revoked” (Miami, September 11, 1987).

In Section 50 of his apostolic letter The Church in America (1999), Pope John Paul II declared, “The history of salvation makes clear our [Christians’] special relationship with the Jewish people. Jesus belongs to the Jewish people, and he inaugurated his church within the Jewish nation. A great part of the Holy Scriptures, which we Christians read as the Word of God, constitutes a spiritual patrimony which we share with the Jews.”

The pope continued, “Consequently, any negative attitude in their regard must be avoided, since ‘in order to be a blessing for the world, Jews and Christians need first to be a blessing for each other’” (Address on the 50th Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, April 6, 1993).

In their part of Reflections on Covenant and Mission, the Catholics assert that the Church’s evangelizing task “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 Jewish Reflections outline a threefold mission flowing from their covenant with God: formation as a people, witness to God’s existence and redeeming power, a message for more than Jews alone.

After the document’s release, Cardinal Keeler said, “This joint reflection marks a significant step forward in the dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community in this country.”

Rabbi Gilbert Rosenthal, executive director of the National Council of Synagogues, said: “Neither faith group believes that we should missionize among the other in order to save souls via conversion. Quite the contrary: We believe both faith groups are beloved of God and assured of his grace.” The Jewish Reflections end with suggestions for repairing the damage humans have caused to God’s creation.

(For more information on Catholic-Jewish relations today, see “Recognizing Our Common Roots.”)

Atheism Too Simple

Q: My two closest friends, who are brother and sister, have a big problem with the fact that I am Catholic. She believes there is no God but only a higher power affecting our minds and what we do. He says that I am always worrying about whether something is moral while he says he can become a better person from experiencing drugs, alcohol and smoking.

We often argue over things like this because I try to explain how God and my Catholic faith have affected my life. I don’t try to get them to become Catholic, but I wonder how I should handle their attempts to turn me away from Catholicism.

A: Not believing that God exists is really too simple because you would have to go through an infinite number of mental images of God, rejecting them one by one. If an atheist rejects one image of God, a believer often says, “That’s not the God in whom I believe.”

Atheists try to save time by rejecting all possible images of God. That proves, however, only that no one of those images captures God completely. Any believer could have told them that already.

Perhaps this brother and sister are probing to see how deep your faith goes, whether it can withstand their pressure. Following Jesus will always have a steep price of some type—but one that is worth paying.

Concerned About the Wrong Things?

Q: It seems that lately Catholics are more concerned with keeping traditions, how sacraments are to be performed, than with learning how to have a more intimate relationship with the Lord. Does God really care how many candles we light in front of a statue or when the Gloria is sung?

Why do we pray to saints? They don’t answer prayers; God does. Since when did God stop having time to listen and answer our prayers?

Isn’t there more to our faith than lighting candles and other traditions? When people ask me why I am a Catholic, I want to be able to say more than, “I was born a Catholic.”

A: The sacraments are community prayer, reflecting and deepening one’s personal relationship with the Lord. In order for people to join in public prayer, the celebration needs a recognizable shape. Although it can help prayer, ritual is not an end in itself. Lighting a candle is a sacramental, an action or object that reminds people of God’s presence and mercy.

Yes, some Catholics go through the motions without a deepening conversion. But other people can do that while saying they seek a more intimate relationship with the Lord. Perhaps that was the problem Jesus had in mind when he said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

Catholicism is a sacramental religion, which believes that God can act through the public prayers of its members—even if some of them can be overly fussy at times about its details.

Saints are not an alternative to God but instead remind us that cooperating with God’s grace (holiness) can take many forms. God never dealt with a delinquent son as St. Monica did. God never dealt with political pressure (renounce God or die) as martyrs did. Catholicism worships God but venerates saints, who always point us back to God.

Since the beginning, Jesus’ followers have been pondering and praying over the Scriptures as Mary did (Luke 2:19 and 2:51). Aren’t words like faith and journey a big part of why you remain Catholic?

Why Use Musical Instruments?

Q: Why do Catholics use musical instruments during worship even though the New Testament gives no instruction to use them? Colossians 3:16 speaks of “singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” How can you teach somebody the Word of God by plucking strings or hitting keys on an organ or piano?

A: Worship enlists as many senses as possible in praising God. Catholics have simply continued the Jewish custom of using musical instruments to help people praise God. Psalm 150 urges people to praise God with horn, harp, lyre, tambourines, dance, flutes, strings, clanging cymbals and sounding cymbals (v. 3-5, New American Bible translation). Catholics have not considered this a definitive list but rather an encouragement to use any musical instruments when that helps their worship.

November 22 is the feast of St. Cecilia, patron of musicians.

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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