Catholic and Forever the Son of a Jewish Mother
COMMENTARY: We are certain that Mary, Jewish mother that she is, will rush to the aid of her children.
Here at my home, we are, like all the world, aghast at the horrific acts that the Hamas terrorists perpetrated upon Israeli civilians — and proudly broadcast. The videos show the malevolence that man is capable of, making one almost ashamed to be a member of our species.
As a Catholic, I find the situation to be especially painful because, like so many Catholics, I regard Jews with the affection expressed by Pope St. John Paul II in his memorable visit to a Rome synagogue in 1986, in which he said:
“You are our dearly beloved brothers, and in a certain way, it could be said that you are our elder brothers.”
But in our family we go a little farther. My husband’s mother is Jewish, and although he is now a devout Catholic, he will always be, in some unalterable sense, a Jew.
As a child, he was ignorant of the riches of his grandparents’ faith; he was raised in an entirely secular home. His Judaism was a flavor and a spirit — of strong family bonds, love of life, food-as-affection, inveterate matchmaking, and the wonderfully wry Jewish sense of humor that persists in the hardest of circumstances. Of the Torah, or of the Hebrew language, he knew next to nothing, but at his grandfather’s funeral, he tells me, the cantor’s “B’aruch atah, Adonai…” (Blessed are you, Lord…) struck a deep chord within him.
After 10 years of marriage and Sunday church attendance, he converted to Catholicism. When his understandably disturbed mother asked him why, he answered: “I needed faith, and you and Dad didn’t give me one.”
And he was right, he needed faith like an arrow needs a target, or a compass needs true north. Being ethical and upright were not enough, although it had taken him very far. With faith came life on a higher plane, in which accidents and troubles, or just the grind of work and daily tensions, could be seen in their proper context.
He had a new “supernatural vision” that lit everything up with meaning in a way that was not only spiritually and psychologically enriching but pointed him ever upward and outward. As his faith grew and matured, I saw holiness become a goal for him — far in the horizon but still close enough to fill each new day with hope and purpose.
I also watched my husband discover the faith of his grandfathers that was nestled inside Christianity like a hidden gift. He had found the truth of another remark of St. John Paul II made in the Rome Synagogue in 1986:
“The Jewish religion is not extrinsic to us but … is intrinsic to our own religion.”
It was a slow process, this coming to understand that Christ was not casually or trivially a Jew, as he might have been a Greek or a Roman. He learned that the birth of Christ, to a humble Jewish maiden in a no-account village from which nothing good was ever expected to emanate, was the culmination of thousands of years of preparation of a whole people.
Over the millennia, God’s people were lifted slowly by prophecy, revelation, and divine intervention from polytheistic, human-sacrificing, chaos-driven barbarism to a nation ordered around the enabling principles of the life-giving Law. Honed by successive failures to live up to the covenant, dispersed and gathered back, again and again, contrite and humbled, and never spurned.
My husband learned to love a Christ who said of the Jews that came before him: “I have not come to abolish the Law and the prophets, but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). And in his loving, to honor the chosen people who had for centuries worn the Law like a jewel on their foreheads and tied like a tourniquet around their arms. A people who had been faithful, and remained faithful, through scattering and slavery, pogrom and the Holocaust, and continued to live up to their divine mission to be a “light to the nations.” It was when we went on pilgrimage to Israel that it all came together for him. He was inexpressibly moved, of course, in the grotto in Bethlehem where Our Lord was said to have been born, and at the muddy Jordan River, where the heavens opened on his baptism. But it was at the Wailing Wall where he put his forehead on an age-smooth stone and wept, shaken by the thought of the salvific love working patiently for thousands of years through imperfect men just like him.
During this current tragic episode of Jewish history, my husband and I have prayed the Rosary together for the grief stricken and the terrified. We are certain that Mary, Jewish mother that she is, will rush to the aid of her children.
Steven also felt drawn to visit the local synagogue. He went to offer his condolences and stayed to pray with the gentle-eyed rabbi who recognized him as a Jewish brother hurting for his people. He came home comforted and sure that when God takes up a people, he doesn’t put them down again, but holds them always in the palm of his hand, and shelters them forever under his wing.
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