Month: September 2009

Obligatory Blogging Vacation (Dead Computer)

This past weekend my home computer died. Unfortunately, it seems to be beyond resurrection, as in “the cost of repairing it would exceed that of simply buying a new one.” Present financial circumstances (and priorities) however, prohibit me from resolving the situation in the near future. Fortunately I have access to email + browsing via IPhone — but anything requiring extended composition, as in blogging, will be postponed for the time being.

Thanks to my readers for their patience. God bless!


Abraham Foxman vs. the USCCB

In August 2002 the Consultation of the National Council of Synagogues and the Bishops Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs released a statement, “Reflections on Covenant and Mission”, which espoused a two-fold or “dual covenant” path to salvation—the Jews through their adherence to the Mosaic covenant, Christians (and/or) gentiles through Christ. Its assertion that “campaigns that target Jews for conversion to Christianity are no longer theologically acceptable in the Catholic Church” was thus interpreted as a demand that Christians cease any attempt to share their faith with, or pray for, the conversion of the Jewish people. The ensuing criticism, both evangelical and Catholic, obliged the USCCB to distance itself from the document, acknowledging that it was not to be taken as the formal position of the U.S. Bishops’ conference but rather “represents the state of thought among the participants of a years-long dialogue between the Church and the Jewish community.”

Seven years later, the USCCB has released a formal correction in its Note on Ambiguities Contained in Reflections on Covenant and Mission, reasserting the Church’s authoritative teaching:

The document correctly acknowledges that “Judaism is a religion that springs from divine revelation” and that “it is only about Israel’s covenant that the Church can speak with the certainty of the biblical witness.” Nevertheless, it is incomplete and potentially misleading in this context to refer to the enduring quality of the covenant without adding that for Catholics Jesus Christ as the incarnate Son of God fulfills both in history and at the end of time the special relationship that God established with Israel. The Second Vatican Council explained:

The principal purpose to which the plan of the old covenant was directed was to prepare for the coming of Christ, the redeemer of all and of the messianic kingdom, to announce this coming by prophecy, and to indicate its meaning through various types.

The long story of God’s intervention in the history of Israel comes to its unsurpassable culmination in Jesus Christ, who is God become man.

Reflections on Covenant and Mission provides a clear acknowledgment of the relationship established by God with Israel prior to Jesus Christ. This acknowledgment needs to be accompanied, however, by a clear affirmation of the Church’s belief that Jesus Christ in himself fulfills God’s revelation begun with Abraham and that proclaiming this good news to all the world is at the heart of her mission. Reflections on Covenant and Mission, however, lacks such an affirmation and thus presents a diminished notion of evangelization.

In August 2009, the Vatican gave its formal recognition to a requested change by the USCCB to its United States Catholic Catechism for Adults:

The change clarifies Catholic teaching on God’s covenant with the Jews. The first version, in explaining relations with the Jews, stated, “Thus the covenant that God made with the Jewish people through Moses remains eternally valid for them.” The revised text states, “To the Jewish people, whom God first chose to hear his Word, ‘belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ.’ (Romans 9: 4-5; cf. CCC, no 839).[…]

The clarification reflects the teaching of the Church that all previous covenants that God made with the Jewish people are fulfilled in Jesus Christ through the new covenant established through his sacrificial death on the cross. Catholics believe that the Jewish people continue to live within the truth of the covenant God made with Abraham, and that God continues to be faithful to them. As the Second Vatican Council taught and the Adult Catechism affirms, the Jewish people “remain most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts he makes nor of the calls he issues.” (Lumen Gentium, no.16).

David Schütz (Sentire Cum Ecclesia) provides an analysis of these events and reaction on the part of participants in the Catholic-Jewish dialogue in “On the Jewish Question: ‘There’s no confusion – it’s both/and'” (9/17/09).

Michael Forrest and David Palm have also provided a helpful presentation in All in the Family: Christians, Jews, and God (Catholic Lay Witness July / August 2009).

* * *

In a recent editorial, Abraham Foxman reacted with typical umbrage and hyperbole, describing the USCCB’s decisions as “a precarious moment in Catholic-Jewish relations”. Regarding the “Note on Ambiguities in ‘Covenant and Mission’, Foxman asserts that it

rejected a clear statement that there can be no attempts to convert Jews as part of the interfaith dialogue. Instead the U.S. bishops approved language that Catholic-Jewish dialogues could explicitly be used to invite Jews to baptism. They told us the change was directed by the Vatican.

This is simply not the case, as there is nothing in the document that would indicate the USCCB now embraces means of proselytization that it has otherwise and persistently deplored. Rather, it is the understandable concern of the USCCB’s doctrinal committee that Reflection‘s treatment of evangelization is confined to individuals in such a manner that it “fails to account for St. Paul’s complete teaching about the inclusion of the Jewish people as whole in Christ’s salvation”. Even further, it

renders even the possibility of individual conversion doubtful [by the implication that] it is generally not good for Jews to convert, nor for Catholics to do anything that might lead Jews to conversion because it threatens to eliminate “the distinctive Jewish witness”: “Their [the Jewish people’s] witness to the kingdom, which did not originate with the Church’s experience of Christ crucified and raised, must not be curtailed by seeking the conversion of the Jewish people to Christianity.” Some caution should be introduced here, since this line of reasoning could lead some to conclude mistakenly that Jews have an obligation not to become Christian and that the Church has a corresponding obligation not to baptize Jews.

Foxman then describes the Bishop’s revisions to the American Catechism as follows:

On Aug. 27, the bishops announced that the Vatican had officially affirmed its decision to jettison a teaching in the American adult catechism that the “covenant that God made with the Jewish people through Moses remains eternally valid for them.” The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had several options to update its adult catechism, but chose instead to no longer affirm the validity of the Sinai covenant.

Again, this is simply not the case. Rather, by locating its acknowledgement of the Sinai covenant in St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans (9: 4-5; cf. CCC, no 839), it places it in biblical context, precisely as a guard against the erroneous interpretation that Foxman himself holds. It would seem that for Foxman, as for perhaps other authors of “Reflections on Covenant and Mission”, nothing less would suffice than the outright and wholesale dismantling of the Church’s claim to the unicity and universality of Jesus Christ as savior of the world—in whom “there is neither Jew nor gentile.”

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Finally, on the matter of how we are to conduct ourselves in dialogue with our elder brothers and sisters, I find no better response than that of the late Fr. Richard Neuhaus, for whom “it is not Christian imperialism but fidelity to revealed truth that requires Christians to say that Christ is Lord of all or he is not Lord at all.” (“Salvation is From the Jews” (First Things, November 2001):

With respect to Judaism, Christians today are exhorted to reject every form of supersessionism, and so we should. To supersede means to nullify, to void, to make obsolete, to displace. The end of supersessionism, however, cannot and must not mean the end of the argument between Christians and Jews. We cannot settle into the comfortable interreligious politesse of mutual respect for positions deemed to be equally true. Christ and his Church do not supersede Judaism but they do continue and fulfill the story of which we are both part. Or so Christians must contend. It is the story that begins with Abraham who in the eucharistic canon we call “our father in faith.”

There is no avoiding the much vexed question of whether this means that Jews should enter into the further fulfillment of the salvation story by becoming Christians. Christians cannot, out of a desire to be polite, answer that question in the negative. We can and must say that the ultimate duty of each person is to form his conscience in truth and act upon that discernment; we can and must say that there are great goods to be sought in dialogue apart from conversion; we can and must say that we reject proselytizing, which is best defined as evangelizing in a way that demeans the other; we can and must say that Jews and Christians need one another in many public tasks imposed upon us by a culture that is, in large part, in manifest rebellion against the God of Israel; we can and must say that there are theological, philosophical, and moral questions to be explored together, despite our differences regarding Messianic promise; we can and must say that friendship between Jew and Christian can be secured in shared love for the God of Israel; we can and must say that the historical forms we call Judaism and Christianity will be transcended, but not superseded, by the fulfillment of eschatological promise. But along the way to that final fulfillment we are locked in argument. It is an argument by which—for both Jew and Christian—conscience is formed, witness is honed, and friendship is deepened. This is our destiny, and this is our duty, as members of the one people of God—a people of God for which there is no plural.

Irving Kristol, 1920-2009

And so we lose another giant. A self-identified liberal “mugged by reality”, Irving Kristol, commonly heralded as the godfather of ‘neo’-conservatism, has died. Hillel Italie gives an account of his life for

A Trotskyist in the 1930s, Kristol would soon sour on socialism, break from liberalism after the rise of the New Left in the 1960s and in the 1970s commit the unthinkable — support the Republican Party, once as “foreign to me as attending a Catholic Mass.”

He was a New York intellectual who left home, first politically, then physically, moving to Washington in 1988. … his turn to the right joined by countless others, including such future GOP Cabinet officials as Jeane Kirkpatrick and William Bennett and another neoconservative founder, Norman Podhoretz.

“The influence of Irving Kristol’s ideas has been one of the most important factors in reshaping the American climate of opinion over the past 40 years,” Podhoretz said.

Among the host of publications he is credited as founding and/or editing was Commentary magazine (from 1947 to 1952); The Public Interest (from 1965 to 2002) and The National Interest from 1985 to 2002.

Kristol’s life, along with that of his fellow “New York intellectuals” Irving Howe, Daniel Bell, and Nathan Glazer, was the subject of the 1998 documentary, “Arguing the World”. In July 2002 he was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush, the highest civilian honor in the United States. (more…)

Jeffrey Stark – a 2,996 Tribute

Jeffrey Stark was a firefighter stationed with Engine Co. 230 of the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, NY. He was last seen at Broadway and Vesey, moving toward the Twin Towers with his fellow firefighters.

An account of that fateful day is given by Tom Braumuller for the Fort Monmouth Fire & Emergency Services:

[“Johnny G”. Guarino] and his crew had just returned from another call when someone yelled out to turn on the TV. They saw what everyone in the nation was watching – a tower on fire. They ran to the roof to see how bad it was when the call came in to respond.

Guarino’s crew mounted Engine 230 and headed for the bridges over to Manhattan. They had to take alternate routes because roads were being shut down quickly.

When they finally arrived, the crew of six (Lt. Brian Ahearn, Fire Fighter (FF) Ed White, FF Gene Whelan, FF Jeff Stark, FF Frank Bonomo, and FF Mike Carlo) dismounted and ran into the towers.

Guarino had to stay with the engine. A police officer told Guarino to move his engine up because other crews were arriving. He moved the engine up about two blocks and when he came back his crew was gone. Along with the towers.

Dianne O’Donnell chronicled his life for the Staten Island Advance (September 11, 2001):

When he graduated from the Fire Academy in May 1999, Mr. Stark joined his two brothers, John and Joseph, as a proud member of the New York City Fire Department.

His first assignment was to Engine Co. 230, where he worked for a year before being reassigned to Engine Co. 160, Concord.

When he was transferred to Ladder Co. 33 in the Bronx, Mr. Stark worked side by side with his older brother, John, a captain of Engine Co. 75 in the same firehouse. His final assignment saw him return to his first engine company in Brooklyn. …

Prior to becoming a firefighter, Mr. Stark had worked for several years for PaineWebber, Manhattan.

He attended Niagara University, Lewiston, N.Y., and transferred to St. John’s University, Grymes Hill, where he graduated with a bachelor of arts degree. He was a graduate of Monsignor Farrell High School.

Stark left behind Katharine Suarez, his girlfriend of five years. “He was everything,” said Ms. Suarez. “He spent four of those five years helping me through law school. He was my support system. He was behind me 100 percent.”

According to the New York Times:

He went hunting and fly fishing, he golfed and did carpentry — some activities with distinction, others with good humor. Relatively new to the department, and with two older brothers already there, he had some catching up to do, so he was always trying to hone his skills. Fires made him nervous but what he really dreaded, he told his girlfriend, was making mistakes in front of the other firefighters at Engine Company 230 in Brooklyn. …

He drove [Katherine Suarez] home every night from law school; took her food when she was studying; dropped off her laundry and picked it up; made three trips to the paint store without complaining when she changed her mind about the kitchen color; went out at 4 a.m. on a New Year’s Eve looking for Band Aids for her nasty cut; researched recipes to entice her to eat her broccoli.

He was 30, he looked after his widowed mother, Rosemary, in Staten Island, and he had a quiet, unassuming way about him. And a startling, melodic, high-pitched laugh.

This post is part of the Project 2,996 Tribute. Prior contributions to this project were Yvonne Bonomo and Jennieann Maffeo:

9/11/09 will mark 8 years since the attacks of World Trade Center I and II, The Pentagon, Shanksville, American Airlines Flights 11 & 77, and United Airlines Flight 93 & 175.

On that day 2,996 people were ripped from their lives. But as the media and society tend to do, they have focused on the killers. We’ve all learned more about them than we wanted to. On that day many of us made a pledge to never forget what happened.

We keep this promise by learning about and remembering the lives of the fallen.

Imagine that.

In other news, Human Rights Watch’s Marc Garlasco, the point man for the organization’s monitoring and criticism of Israel, turns out to have a fanatical obsession with … Nazi memorabilia.

Meanwhile — HT: Volokh Conspiracy — NGO Monitor has published a systematic analysis of HRW entitled “Experts or Ideologues?”:

NGO Monitor’s detailed report examines HRW’s activities related to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and particularly on Israel — including analysis of key HRW staff members, five case studies of HRW campaigns, and quantitative analysis comparing HRW publications in the Middle East, covering the period from 2002 to 2009.

* * *
Harmless coincidence or something rotten within the organization? — Reading on, we learn that the deputy director of HRW’s Middle East section, Joe Stork, once praised the murder of eleven Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games in 1972 as an “achievement.” And this same individual attended a conference on “Zionism and Racism” in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq:

There he made a presentation that lamented the “devastating defeat” of the Six Day War, which he attributed to “imperialist collusion that lay behind the Israeli blitzkrieg.” A decade later, Stork was still railing against “the pernicious influence of the Zionist lobby.” It was Stork’s boss, Sarah Leah Whitson, who went to Saudi Arabia to tout HRW’s battles with “pro-Israel pressure groups.

For details, see:

On the troubles within the ELCA

I attended a Lutheran (ELCA) college, where I majored in theology and philosophy. Much of my junior and senior year, however, were spent engaged in study of Catholic teaching (thanks to the fortunate discovery of Dorothy Day and Cardinal Ratzinger), culminating in my conversion.

In much the same manner as my familial background leads me, even as a convert, to take an interest in Mennonite affairs, I try to stay abreast of Lutheran matters and Lutheran-Catholic relations.

News of late has made for rather grim reading. (more…)

"Manufactured Landscapes" – Photographs of Ed Burtynsky

“Manufactured Landscapes” — an incredible documentary I saw this week on IFC. Aesthetically and morally provocative. From the artist’s website:

MANUFACTURED LANDSCAPES is a feature length documentary on the world and work of renowned artist Edward Burtynsky. Burtynsky makes large-scale photographs of ‘manufactured landscapes’ – quarries, recycling yards, factories, mines, dams. He photographs civilization’s materials and debris, but in a way people describe as “stunning” or “beautiful,” and so raises all kinds of questions about ethics and aesthetics without trying to easily answer them.

The film follows Burtynsky to China as he travels the country photographing the evidence and effects of that country’s massive industrial revolution. Sites such as the Three Gorges Dam, which is bigger by 50% than any other dam in the world and displaced over a million people, factory floors over a kilometre long, and the breathtaking scale of Shanghai’s urban renewal are subjects for his lens and our motion picture camera.

Shot in Super-16mm film, Manufactured Landscapes extends the narrative streams of Burtynsky’s photographs, allowing us to meditate on our profound impact on the planet and witness both the epicentres of industrial endeavour and the dumping grounds of its waste.

“… I think the work that I do, and the work that I did for 20 years before I even got to doing China, is, in a way, a lament. It’s a lament for a loss of our natural world. So, in a way, the work champions that world, and looks at it, and tries to remind us that our built environment comes from somewhere, and that we just have ignored it.

We’ve moved on to the new ages: the Information Age, the Biological Age; that’s what occupies our mind. But the Stone Age and the Iron Age and the Copper Age are all alive and well, and expanding on a level that is breathtaking. So, in a way, it’s like our consciousness is forging ahead into the new world, but I think it’s those old worlds that can come up from behind us and undercut our ambition, so to speak.

So, to me, the work is this meditation, is this walking through those worlds, through these wastelands that have been left behind, through that residual kind of place in the world where the taking has happened and we’ve walked away, and try to remind us that there is this other side to the built world that we have.”

From Ed Burtynsky and “Manufactured Landscapes” Interview w. Collin Dunn. June 27, 2007.

See also: Photography by Edward Burtynsky on