Born under the law
Vatican II, speaking of the Jewish people, said “the Church …deplores all hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism leveled at any time or from any source against Jews.” When we look back on Christian history, we can find many sad illustrations of Catholics who have discriminated against and persecuted the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Our only consolation, when we read of this injustice, is the assurance that those who have perpetrated it were acting against Christian charity and against the true teaching of the Church.
St. Gregory the Great, who was Pope in the late sixth century, is a witness to the real Catholic tradition in this matter.
St. Gregory had to deal with an Italy in which the invasion of the barbarians had caused great social disorders. One such disorder was maltreatment of Jews. Even some of the bishops harassed the Jewish people who lived in their dioceses. To several bishops this Pope wrote a stern reminder that Roman law allowed Jews to carry on their own worship in peace. Hence, this law was to be observed. Let there be no intermeddling! Those bishops who had allowed synagogues to be violated or taken over should desist. The bishop of Palermo had seized a synagogue and consecrated it as a Catholic church. St. Gregory ordered him to return the building to its rightful owners.
It was not that the Pope did not hope that the Jewish people would come to acknowledge Christ. This would not be achieved, however, by persecuting, but by “kindness, tenderness, admonishings and persuasion.” Thus, as one Jewish writer has said, “Gregory’s policy of humanity; dignity and relative protection” did the Pope honor.
Christmastide, in commemorating the coming of the Messiah, also reminds us that God chose the Jews as a special people, and has never revoked that choice. Was not Mary, the Mother of God and Mother of the Church, a Jewish girl? Did not the Word himself elect from all eternity to be made flesh as an Israelite? Did he not entrust the worldwide preaching of the Good News to Jewish apostles? Did he not name a Jew, Peter, to be the first head of His Church?
St. Paul assures us that at the end of time Jews and Christians will finally be united in one sheepfold. So let our word to the Jewish people be ever a loving one: “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord let his face shine upon you and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!”
-Father Robert F. McNamara