I just had a great time hanging out with Hebrew Catholics. I was blessed to spend Saturday in St. Louis at the Hebrew Catholic conference. I presented a talk on how and why the Hebrew prophets anticipated the move from Jerusalem to Rome as the center of God’s kingdom – the topic of my book The Eternal City.
Our Lady of the Miracle – An Apparition Beloved by Hebrew Catholics
First of all, what is a Hebrew Catholic? A Hebrew Catholic simply a Catholic who is ethnically Jewish. There are Italian Catholics, Irish Catholics, Mexican Catholics, Polish Catholics, etc. Yes, there are also Hebrew Catholics. They prefer, I am told, the title “Hebrew” because it distinguishes them from non-Christian “Rabbinical Judaism,” which is not the true “biblical Judaism” of Moses. “Rabbinical Judaism” is not the Old Testament faith completed and crowned by Christ and the Catholic Church, because Rabbinical Judaism formally rejects Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah. As our Savior said concerning those Jews that rejected Him: “For if you did believe Moses, you would perhaps believe me also: for he wrote of me” (Jn 5:46).
Hebrew Catholics, My Initial Impressions
First, the Hebrew Catholics that I met love Christ passionately. Roy Shoeman broke out tears as he exhorted everyone to evangelize their Jewish friends and pray for their entry into the Catholic Church through baptism and the sacraments. Mankind can only find peace and salvation in Jesus, said Shoeman, even more so the Jew, whose Scriptures teach him to hope for a Messiah. If the Jew cannot have this desire quenched – he is to be pitied more than all other men. He expressed his fear that many Catholics wrongly assume that Jews don’t really need Jesus, and how dreadful it will be on Judgment Day for those of us who squandered opportunities to kindly evangelize our Jewish friends and neighbors.
Shoeman related that the Jews deserve the Gospel and the Catholic Faith from us as a matter of justice since it was through them that we received the Mary and the Incarnate Christ. Many speakers spoke of the eventual corporate return of all the Jews at the end of time as an eschatological sign of Christ’s fulfilled plan (something taught by Augustine, Aquinas, and the recent Catechism). I was deeply moved by all the speakers.
Also, I perceived a deep love for traditional liturgy. Their Holy Mass that I attended was mostly in Latin and chanted (block notes-medieval neumes in the bulletin). Only the readings and canon were in English–everything very reverent. The Jews are a liturgical people and this is expressed in their worship. The celebrant who was himself, I believe, ethnically Jewish, processed in and out in a biretta. He celebrated the Roman Canon and invoked all the saints of the canon without skipping over a single one. A truly beautiful celebration of the Holy Mass. The sermon was also excellent.
The Hebrew Catholics that I met at the conference love the Catholic Church and Pope Benedict XVI. I did not observe any so-called “Judaizing” or appeals to become a “Jewish Church within a Church.” Moreover, the “two-covenant” theology (i.e. “Jews saved by Law, Gentiles saved by Christ”) was rejected over and over. The Ecclesiology was sound. Love for the Pope. Love for the local bishops. The hope for fully integration in the Catholic Church, yet seek to retain their Hebraic ethnicity – just as an Italian Catholic might preserve Italian customs or a Polish Catholic might retain Polish traditions.
Hebrew Catholics also have a special love and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. There is among them an intense devotion to the Miraculous Medal. It seems like everyone was wearing the Miraculous Medal. The reason for this is the miraculous conversion of the 19th century Jewish man Alphonse Ratisbonne who wore the Miraculous Medal on a dare. As he wore the Miraculous Medal, the Immaculate Mary appeared to him. Ratisbonne subsequently received baptism and was later ordained as a Catholic priest. Hence, our Immaculate Lady is integral to the Hebrew Catholic ethos.
I also noticed that Our Lady was beloved by the Hebrew Catholics especially under her title as Our Lady of Mount Carmel – for the obvious reason that Mount Carmel is in the Holy Land. Moreover, the Carmelite Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross’ (Edith Stein’s) attitude of suffering for the conversion of the Jewish people to Jesus Christ is essential to Hebrew Catholic identity.
Last of all, they love Sacred Scripture. Everyone seemed fluent in the Bible, and there was great attention paid to the Scriptures. Dr. Lawrence Feingold gave a profound presentation with Scriptural citations throughout. And they aren’t wishy-washy about the Bible by compromising with liberal (so-called) scholarship. They love the Bible and it is the air that they breathe.
I had a wonderful time and I hope to attend again in the future. A special thank you to all my new “Hebraic” friends. I was very blessed by your love, faith, and witness to Christ and His Church.
May our Immaculate Lady of Mount Carmel, pray for us.
ad Jesum per Mariam,