Thursday, November 25, 2010

OM: St. Catherine, Virgin and Martyr - Honouring Rabbi and Mrs. Schild

Today the liturgy permits an optional memorial of St. Catherine of Alexandria.

Patron saint of young women, millers, philosophers, preachers, spinners, students and wheelwrights.

In fourth century Alexandria, there lived a Christian noblewoman and philosopher of great beauty named Catherine. When she heard that the Roman emperor Maxentius was persecuting Christians, Catherine publicly protested. Astounded by her audacity, Maxentius sent fifty famous philosophers to try to change her mind, but Catherine, with her clever arguments, converted every one of them to Christianity. Maxentius immediately ordered their execution.

The emperor then tried to persuade Catherine to become his bride. Catherine refused, saying that she was already a bride of Christ. This answer drove Maxentius into a fury, and he commanded that she be tortured on the infamous spiked wheel (later called the "Catherine wheel"). But angels are said to have thrown bolts of lightning so that the wheel broke and the spikes flew off, injuring onlookers but leaving Catherine unharmed. When she was eventually beheaded, milk, not blood, flowed from her neck, and angels carried her body up to Mount Sinai. (Source: Carol Armstrong. Lives and Legends of the Saints. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.)

St. Catherine Hearts/Les Coeurs de Sainte Catherine: In northern France, there is an old custom, on St Catherine's Day heart-shaped cakes are given to young women who have reached age twenty-five and are not married to encourage them in their search for love.

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O God of power and mercy, you gave St. Catherine of Alexandria, your martyr, victory over pain and suffering; strengthen us who celebrate this day of her triumph and help us to be victorious over the evils that threaten us. Through our Lord.

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Yesterday, I flew to Toronto to take part in a Testimonial Dinner in Honour of Rabbi Erwin and Mrs. Laura Schild, who celebrate 66 years on marriage this New Year's Eve. I had come to know and appreciate Rabbi Schild while I was a member of CJDT from 1982-1994 (the last two years of which I served as Chair).  I was asked to give the keynote address (see below), though it was easily topped by the response by the honoree, Rabbi Erwin.

Here are some photos from the evening:

Rabbi Erwin and Mrs. Laura Schild

Regis College Jesuits Fr. Gordon Rixon and Scholastic Matthew Livingstone wore gloves to give special handling to the St. John's Collegeville Bible brought for this special event

The Pentateuch Volume drew great interest; here pages from Genesis, the Cain and Able narrative.

Sr. Eileen Schuller, OSU and I got caught up on news scriptural.
Dear Rabbi Schild and Mrs. Schild, Dear Sisters and Brothers, Dear Friends,

It is an honor and privilege for me to share this special evening with you and to pay tribute to a great teacher, mentor and friend, Rabbi Erwin Schild and his dear wife, Laura.

It is fitting that this evening’s tribute takes place during Toronto’s Holocaust Education Week. From your beginnings as a teenaged prisoner in the Dachau concentration camp to becoming pastor and leader of 1,800 Jewish families at Toronto’s Adath Israel Synagogue, you, Rabbi Erwin have led a truly remarkable and heroic life that has been devoted to dialogue, and to helping each of us grow in our understanding of each another and to appreciate more deeply the Judeo-Christian heritage of our Canadian society in particular. My reflections this evening will focus on three themes: our Sacred Scriptures, the ethics and values systems that underlie our decisions, and our common gift to the world.

The Word of God

Two years ago, I had the privilege of taking part in the World Synod of Bishops at the Vatican on the theme of “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.” Pope Benedict XVI presided over this historic, three-week gathering of bishops from every corner of the world. Faithful to his consistent commitment to building bridges with our elder Jewish brothers and sisters, the Holy Father extended an unprecedented invitation to Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen of Haifa, Israel, to break open the Word of God for the Synod Fathers and bishops on the first day of the International Synod. About a decade earlier, Pope John Paul II made a proposal that we should read the scriptures in their Jewish context. Pope Benedict XVI invited Rabbi Cohen to explain to the bishops the Jewish interpretation of the Bible, whose first five books comprise the Torah, Judaism's most sacred writings. It was truly an historic moment at the Vatican and for the entire Church: a Jewish Rabbi addressing the Pope and a Synod of Bishops.

Two weeks ago, the Vatican published “Verbum Domini,” Pope Benedict’s Apostolic Exhortation or final document on the 2008 Synod. In section #43 of the document, he wrote about Christians, Jews and the Sacred Scriptures. Allow me to quote to you from that rich section:

“Having considered the close relationship between the New Testament and the Old, we now naturally turn to the special bond which that relationship has engendered between Christians and Jews, a bond that must never be overlooked. Pope John Paul II, speaking to Jews, called them “our ‘beloved brothers’ in the faith of Abraham, our Patriarch”. To acknowledge this fact is in no way to disregard the instances of discontinuity which the New Testament asserts with regard to the institutions of the Old Testament, much less the fulfillment of the Scriptures in the mystery of Jesus Christ, acknowledged as Messiah and Son of God.”

The Pope continued: “Saint Paul also uses the lovely image of the olive tree to describe the very close relationship between Christians and Jews: the Church of the Gentiles is like a wild olive shoot, grafted onto the good olive tree that is the people of the Covenant (cf. Rom 11:17-24). In other words, we draw our nourishment from the same spiritual roots. We encounter one another as brothers and sisters who at certain moments in their history have had a tense relationship, but are now firmly committed to building bridges of lasting friendship.”

Rabbi Schild, when I read the words of Pope Benedict, remember with much emotion the gestures of reconciliation and friendship of Pope John Paul II toward the Jewish community, and recall the theology of St. Paul regarding God’s election of the Jewish people, I immediately think of you. I thank you this evening for building bridges of lasting friendship with each of us here in this room, particularly with Christians and Catholics, and with me, a bishop of the Catholic Church. As Pope John Paul II said about Jews on many occasions during his Pontificate, “We have much in common. Together we can do much for peace, justice and for a more fraternal and more humane world”.

Caritas in Veritate

Rabbi Schild, so much of your teaching, preaching and concern these past years has been on the theme of ethics. European and North American societies are based on a legal separation between church and state, but as you well know, this does not mean that we have to exclude ethics and social responsibility from our professional discussions and decisions. You have been concerned, as have I, that reference to societal ethics and purpose— even reference to reality—has been successfully removed from discussions pertaining to the role which money and finance play in society. We have all painfully learned that globalization has made peoples around the world neighbours but not brothers and sisters.

“Caritas in Veritate” (Charity in Truth) is the first social encyclical of the 21st century, published in July 2009, and Pope Benedict XVI’s chosen topic couldn’t be timelier because it goes to the heart of the great questions that you, Rabbi Schild, and so many other good, religious leaders have been asking during these challenging times.

Charity in truth — “Caritas in Veritate” — is a great challenge for the both Church and Synagogue in a world that is becoming progressively and pervasively globalized. The risk for our time is that the de facto interdependence of people and nations is not matched by ethical interaction of consciences and minds that would give rise to truly human development. Only in charity, illumined by the light of reason and faith, is it possible to pursue development goals that possess a more humane and humanizing value. The sharing of goods and resources, from which authentic development proceeds, is not guaranteed by merely technical progress and relationships of utility, but by the potential of love that overcomes evil with good (cf. Rom 12:21), opening up the path towards reciprocity of consciences and liberties (#9 Caritas in Veritate).

In “Caritas in Veritate,” Benedict proposes a “principle of gratuitousness” and the “logic of the gift”—concepts which would transform the potential for development in his view. “Gratuity” is a key element of a Christian vision of the economy—giving and receiving gifts reflects the nature of God, and helps build communities. Pope Benedict argues that the “logic of gratuitousness” must find its place within ordinary economic activity. Is not gratuitousness a deeply rooted characteristic of Covenant to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and embedded in the messages of the prophets of ancient Israel?

“Gratuitousness” and “gift” encourage people to think not of their interest but of service. So Benedict argues that labor unions should think not of their own members alone, but of the good of workers — even foreign workers who might compete with union labour. Benedict endorses the idea that corporations should answer not only to shareholders but also to “stakeholders” — all those who have a stake in a company’s activities. And there is yet another question which must jar and stir us: What term best expresses our responsibility toward the poor? Should we conceive of it under the rubric of freely given gifts, or is there a real duty in justice towards the poor that demands action, rather than merely inviting it?

We would do well, as Jews and Christians to study together “Caritas in Veritate” for it makes the argument that both charity and truth are needed to underpin a just and free economic order. Truth is necessary so that “integral human development” is possible in which men and women are treated as their full human dignity demands, not as mere parts in an economic machine. Charity is essential so that our treatment of each other is not limited to mere contractual obligations, but to the real flourishing of others. At the heart of the economy are human persons. People whose minds are dominated by crassly hedonistic cultures will make crassly hedonistic economic choices. Pope Benedict invites people to live their economic lives in the short, medium, and long-term as if living in the truth is eternally important, not to mention eternally relevant to their soul’s salvation.

Our gifts to the world at Chanukah and Advent

Allow me to conclude with a thought on the feasts we are about to celebrate as Jews and Christians. It is good to reflect on the symbols of light and hope that mark the Jewish feast of Chanukah and the Christian season of Advent that prepares us for the birth of Christ. This is a time when Jews and Christians use the symbols of candles and lights to shatter the winter darkness.

Chanukah [beginning this year at sundown on Thursday, December 2] means “dedication,” and commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by foreign forces and the Jews' victory over the Hellenist Syrians in the year 165 B.C. For the rededication celebration, the Maccabees desired to light the menorah and looked everywhere for oil, finally finding a small flask that contained only enough oil to light the menorah for one day. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days. The message of Chanukah may be found in the name of the holiday itself: dedication—not only of the temple building but of individual lives to the pursuit of high religious and human ideals.

The biblical selections read during Chanukah and Advent can become a new summons to the Synagogue and to the Church to reach out to one another, to recommit ourselves to the truth of God’s saving Word, to human solidarity, fidelity, and to bearing God’s light to the nations, together as partners in building up the kingdom of God.

Both Jews and Christians are invited to go beyond the outward symbols and ask the deeper questions: how do we continue to long for the truth and salvation that the Messiah will bring? Advent teaches Christians about the relationship between the Scriptures and the Covenants that God has made with the human family.

During the upcoming seasons of Chanukah and Advent, Jews continue to long for the Messiah’s coming and Christians celebrate his birth in human history. Christians believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah who has come (Luke 4:22), but we also know that his Messianic kingdom of justice, love and peace is not yet fully realized.

It is the sacred vocation and mission of the Church to prepare the world for the full flowering of God's kingdom that is “not yet”. The Jewish Kaddish and the Our Father exemplify this message. Both Christianity and Judaism seal their worship with a common hope: “Thy Kingdom come!” There is much unfinished business. The world looks to us—Jews and Christians—for a message, an example and a reason to hope and believe.

We cannot forget the deeply Judeo-Christian ethics and values that lie at the heart of our nation. We start by working together to protect the most important human values that are threatened by a world in continual transformation and upheaval. In the first place comes the right to life, to be protected from conception right up to natural death. Life is a most precious gift from God, the precondition for all other divine gifts. Next comes the dignity of the human person and the rights which flow from it.

Our common longing for the fruits of the Messianic kingdom invite us—Jews and Christians—into a knowledge of our communion with one another and, a recognition of the terrible brokenness of the world. As Pope John Paul II taught us so powerfully through word, gesture and deed during his historic Pontificate, and as Benedict continues to remind us day after day—nothing and no one can ever wrench us away any longer from that deep communion.

The “tikkun ha’olam”, the healing of the world, its repair, restoration and redemption depends upon us, working together. It is precisely that healing and collaboration that have so marked Rabbi Schild’s life and ministry. For those great gifts, we give thanks to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the God and Father of Jesus Christ.

L’chayim, dear Rabbi and Mrs. Schild!

Thank you.

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