When the pandemic was just getting into full swing in the United States, I joined a now-closed theological discussion forum on Facebook. Can anything good come from a Facebook discussion group? you ask. And I answer, yes, it can.
The exchanges were fascinating. For one thing, my sense that true unity and acceptance among Christians is growing and deepening received two charlie horses and fell over, frantically moaning in pain and rubbing its legs for relief. There are plenty of people who at all costs avoid conflict or disagreement over anything. There are plenty of people who will lock and load their theology and let you have it. But, there are also plenty of people who, given enough time on their hands due to a pandemic, will pull up a chair, present a position, and pick it apart with others who may have varying degrees of agreement. I find that kind of discussion fruitful, enjoyable, and edifying.
One challenging discussion I had was with a Messianic believer who took strong issue with St. John Chrysostom and his rantings against Jews. I happened to share a glowing quote from SJC, supporting some completely disconnected point, and this man in the forum upbraided me and found it easy grounds to dismiss my Catholic theology.
In the ensuing discussion, I shared extensive quotes from the documents of Vatican II on the Catholic teaching regarding the role of Judiam. My interlocutor was somewhat shocked, because he could find nothing at all objectionable in it. He couldn't believe it came from a Catholic document.
There was much we still disagreed on, but he challenged me to read and dig deeper. I messaged a Jewish Catholic friend of mine, asked for her input about St. John Chrysostom and some of the discussions we were having, and asked her for a suggestion for how I could educate myself. She recommended Roy H. Schoeman's book Salvation is From the Jews.
I had other books to finish, I'm slow, and it's 350+ pages, so I just finally finished it recently. I highly recommend it to my fellow Catholics.
Judism and Jewish people were never on my radar screen in my younger days; I grew up in Wisconsin where the debate was Lutheran vs. Catholic. For five years I belonged to a non-denominational charismatic fellowship whose strongest institutional connection was with the Christ For the Nations Bible school in Texas, which flies the flag of Israel on its campus. While it was in the order of a minor footnote, escatology that touched on the political state of Israel got an occasional mention. But my biggest take away (like so much of helpful religious formation) was a subliminal, intuitive, and delicate sense of awe about the Jewish people, because obviously Jesus was Jewish. I vividly recall the first time (well into my 20s) I ever saw men dressed in the style of Orthodox Jews. We were in the post office. I gave a little interior gasp like one would at suddenly finding a huge diamond.
But I had never really grappled with questions theological or social about Jews, Judaism, or the intersection of Christianity or modernity with them. Oh, I knew the Shoah was a deeply repulsive moment in history and that antisemitism was wrong. Right after I became a Catholic, I did ask John Michael Talbot, during the pilgrimage to the Holy Land for which he was a guide, to elaborate on what the Church taught about Israel. He asked, "theologically, or politically?" to which I replied, "Yes." I don't recall what he said about the theology, but what did stick with me was his statement that Evangelical Christianity's political embrace of modern Israel was theologically in error, and stemmed from a lack of understanding of the Church. Since most of what I had ever heard regarding theology and Israel had to do with unconditional support for Israel militarily, I thought I had a grasp on all there was to know there.
Enter Roy Schoeman's book. To begin with, he does an overview of Scripture, and the Messianic claims of the Old Testament which was all thoroughly familiar territory to me. A big chunk of his book covers the historical and spiritual roots of antisemitism, the roots of Nazism, anti-semitism after World War II, and the impact all of this has had on Judaism.
Let me stop right there a second.
We are not made in such a way as to be able to gain a view of pain and suffering and walk away unchanged. Right here was the place of change for me.
During the time I was reading this section, I was engaged in a days-long process of recording all seven sections of the Liturgy of the Hours for Advent. I spent a few whole days listening to the Psalms being prayed. With this view into pain and suffering that I had gained, I listened to the Word of God cry out the pain, anguish, confusion, terror, the hope and praise, of God's people. The pleading for the Messiah to come.
Later I recounted this tectonic movement within my soul to my spiritual director with tears. There is something very deep going on here.
St. John of the Cross teaches us about the dark nights, how we move forward only by faith, having lost all supports. The Catechism teaches us that there is a movement like this through which the entire Church must pass.
He also writes about the mystical life. The dark nights aren't designed to grind us to nothing. They capacitate us for living in union with God.
Schoeman's final sections include discussion of the mystical revelation to many Jews of Jesus the Messiah. Of how Catholicism was viewed by them not as a new religion, but as the completion of Judaism. (As an aside here, I am shocked to learn that in the Evangelical world, Jews are told they need to "break the chains of Judaism" and renounce it in order to become Christians.)
He also discusses his views, based on Scripture and Church teaching, how the second coming of Christ will be preceded by an influx of Jews believing in the Messiah. And there I am, back with my Messianic believer Facebook aquaintance. One of his chief complaints was the lack of evangelistic outreach to ethnic or believing Jews. Why does no one care?
This Carmelite right here has a strong sense of connection to both the prophet Elijah and St. Edith Stein, also to St. John of the Cross, and the call to meditate on the law of the Lord day and night. The landscape of my heart shifted here.
More than that I cannot now say.
But, this is why I write.