In Our Time

JTS-Dolan2Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, spoke at the Jewish Theology Seminary, 5/6, at an event marking the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate (“In Our Time”), the Vatican II Declaration on the Relations of the Church to Non-Christian Religions.

As Holy Scripture testifies, Jerusalem did not recognize the time of her visitation, nor did the Jews, in large number, accept the Gospel; indeed not a few opposed its spreading. Nevertheless, God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers; He does not repent of the gifts He makes or of the calls he issues—such is the witness of the Apostle. In company with the Prophets and the same Apostle, the Church awaits that day, known to God alone, on which all peoples will address the Lord in a single voice and “serve him shoulder to shoulder” (Soph. 3, 9). Nostra Aetate 4

In his remarks Cardinal Dolan suggested that Jews and Catholics need to work together to “recover the primacy of the spiritual” in society.

On this the 70th anniversary of VE Day, the 1948 words of Holocaust survivor Odd Nansen remain unheaded—by Jews and Christians.

One thing is certain: hate, revenge, and retribution are not the way. They lead back to the abyss. We should have experience enough by now to know that If we nourish the rising generation on them it is tantamount to spiritual murder and to signing the death sentence of our culture.

The message for which bleeding humanity craves is neither legal, political, nor diplomatic. A starving man does not need revenge to feed him up, he needs food. A sick man does not need a political program to get well, he needs drugs and doctors. A shivering man does not need diplomatic agreements to get warm, he needs clothes and shoes and a roof over his head.

If some of them strike you as being your enemies, because they were on the other side of the war front, do you really think that is the vital thing? They are human, too. They too have a country, a home, a family they love. They too are longing for peace. Perhaps they are longing to meet you!

“Love your enemies” was the command of Him who wished peace on earth. Surely the hardest, the most rigorous, and perhaps the harshest of all commandments.

If He, the Prince of Peace, had been among us today and talked like that, how do you suppose we would have received His message? Don’t you think, dear reader, to be honest, that we should have shrugged and smiled condescendingly at that good-natured softy of a carpenter who was going round preaching anything so sky blue, naive, and childish as “faith in goodness” in the world? Who thought He could build on anything so ridiculous as human worth? And—if He had become too persistent in His zeal, too great a nuisance to our conscience, with His eternal truths and fussing—don’t you think we should have overthrown Him, stoned Him, and crucified Him?

Yet His commandment still remains, and has remained through the ages—unshaken, written in the sky with letters of gold, high above the din and the fumes from our sink of degradation. Unassailable. Simple. Strong and everlasting. “Love your enemies.”

Who would dare presume to raise that demand today, in a world where even to recall it passes for an unforgivable weakness, a betrayal of justice? “Justice!” What is justice exactly, since it counts for more than anything else? An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. That is justice, if I remember right—in all its harshness and heartlessness. Truly nothing to aspire to, no ground or principle to build a new world on. We know the world that was built on that principle. It is the one trembling today on the verge of the abyss.

Just suppose that, from tormented, starving, fear-ridden humanity, instead of the cry for justice, there arose a cry for kindness—for love! the wellhead and deepest ground of all life, and goal of its eternal longings.

In the echo of that cry from human hearts a new justice would be created, the outlines of a new, more human world would appear, and the way to it would open.

Don’t you think the Carpenter from Nazareth was pointing toward a world like that? And do you suppose there is any other way there? Odd Nansen, From Day to Day (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1949)

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