A subtext of Holy Week is the relation between the Christian Church and the Jewish people. Because of its great importance to us today, I would like to make a few comments before describing our parish Holy Week activities.
When the Gospels (especially St. John) use the phrase “the Jews” they are not referring to the entire people but to certain leaders who opposed Jesus. After all, Jesus, his Blessed Mother, the apostles and all of his early followers were Jews. His mission was to them: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” (Mt 15:24) Jesus encountered hostility from his own people – as he does from many people today. At the same time many did accept him and they became the foundation of his Church. St. Paul, himself a Jew, says the Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians are like “wild olive branches” (Rom 11:17) grafted on to the original Jewish olive tree.
In light of the above, it is clearly incorrect to apply polemical references concerning “the Jews” to all Jewish people. Further, we must recognize from a theological perspective that the ultimate cause of Jesus’ death was not so much the hostility of Jewish leaders or the Roman rulers, but rather that “Christ died for our sins.” (I Cor 15:3) When the people cried out, “May his blood be upon us and our children,” (Mt 27:25) they were inadvertently expressing a great theological truth. Our salvation comes from receiving Jesus’ blood upon us. We do that each time we participate in the Sacrifice of the Mass with open hearts.
A sin that causes particular sadness is anti-Semitism (prejudice against Jewish people). Our Holy Father mentioned it specifically last year when, on the First Sunday of Lent, he asked forgiveness from the Lord for the sins, past and present, of the sons and daughters of the Church.
While we repent of anti-Semitism, at the same time we must avoid false accusations. Recently some have accused Pope Pius XII of that very sin. However, those closest to the historical situation did not consider him an anti-Semite. Here is what some Jewish agencies and leaders had to say about him:
The 1943-44 American Jewish Yearbook reported that Pope Pius XII “took an unequivocal stand against the oppression of Jews throughout Europe.”
Dr. Rafael Cantoni, head of the Italian Jewish Assistance Committee said: “The Church and papacy have saved Jews as much and in as far as they could save Christians…Six million of my co-religionists have been murdered by the Nazis, but there could have been many more victims, had it not been for the efficacious intervention of Pius XII.”
Shortly after World War II, Grand Rabbi Isaac Herzog of Jerusalem wrote, “I express my thanks as well as deep appreciation…of the invaluable help given by the Catholic Church to the Jewish people in its affliction.”
Albert Einstein gave one of the most interesting testimonies: “Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler's campaign for suppressing truth. I had never any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration because the Church alone has had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual truth and moral freedom.” (Quoted in Time Magazine, December 23, 1940)
For those who wish to better understand this issue, I recommend Hitler, the War and the Pope by Professor Ronald J. Rychlak. He read the accusations of people like John Cornwall (author of Hitler’s Pope) and decided to investigate it for himself. What he discovered would astonish you – and I believe inspire you concerning what a saintly man accomplished in extreme circumstance.
In light of the magnitude of the Holocaust, the Holy Father and the Catholic Church obviously could have done more. But to accuse Pope Pius XII of anti-Semitism goes against the testimony of those who suffered so much during that terrible time.
One cannot look at Jesus on the cross without in some way recalling such human suffering. During Holy Week we take that suffering, as well as our own, to Jesus.
On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week, there will be Mass at 8:30 a.m. On Wednesday evening we will celebrate the regular 6 p.m. English Mass and 7 p.m. Spanish Mass. The Holy Thursday Mass of the Last Supper begins at 7 p.m. On Good Friday the English service begins at 6 p.m. and the Spanish at 8 p.m. The climax of Holy Week, indeed the entire liturgical year, is the celebration of the Easter Vigil, 9 p.m. on April 14. I encourage you to attend these services, which not only mark the central events of human history, but also make them present in each of our lives.
An Honest Thief (Palm Sunday, 2001)
Palm Sunday Homily for 2000: Why this Waste?
1999: His Blood Be Upon Us
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Human Cloning: A Catholic Perspective (How the Unthinkable Became Inevitable)