These are the opening words of what many contend is the most theologically revolutionary document of the Second Vatican Council, the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions promulgated by Pope Paul VI in October 1965: “IN OUR TIME, when day by day mankind is being drawn closer together, and the ties between different peoples are becoming stronger……”
Now, Yom Kippur – the holiest time on the Jewish calendar – it is both appropriate and fruitful to recall the great strides that have been made in Jewish-Christian relations these past fifty years. Anti-Semitism is now roundly condemned by the Church as sinful. How can it not be?
As the Declaration states: “The Church keeps ever in mind the words of the Apostle (Paul) about his kinsmen: ‘Theirs is the sonship and the glory and the law and the worship and the promises; theirs are the fathers and from them is the Christ according to the flesh’, the Son of the Virgin Mary. She also recalls that the Apostles, the Church’s main-stay and pillars, as well as most of the early disciples who proclaimed Christ’s Gospel to the world, sprang from the Jewish people”.
Only the religiously illiterate or indifferent are unaware of the deep roots Christianity has in Jewish soil. Or, to quote St. Paul, that gentiles are the wild olive branches grafted on the ‘nourishing root’ of Judaism. It is not the branches that support the root, but the root that supports the branches. Only the liturgically ignorant do not see how the celebration of the Eucharist flows from the celebration of Passover. And, only the morally untrained are blind to the foundational role the Ten Commandments have for our morality.
Some sources estimate that the number of Jews in the world is between fifteen and twenty million – a tiny fraction of the world’s population. Isn’t it remarkable that as a people they have survived four millennia – in spite of the persecutions they suffered at the hands of the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Moslems, and – it must be said – the Christians. They are God’s Chosen People, an irrevocable privilege! As such they are the oldest, consistent witnesses to monotheism. Where would the rest of us be without them?
Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman in St. John’s Gospel call for profound reflection: “Salvation is from the Jews”. What does this passage mean? What could it mean? What is the eschatological significance of Our Lord’s words that follow: “The hour is coming and now is when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth”?
During these Jewish High Holy Days perhaps we Christians might resolve to ‘be drawn closer together’ to our ‘elder brothers’ (St. John Paul II) and with them ‘become stronger’ in our shared purpose: the glorification of God, the promotion of human dignity, and the stewardship of creation.
The advance of the Kingdom is open to all who are so purposed.