Last Friday, the eve of Yom Kippur, Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks gave the introductory speech before Pope Benedict addressed and interfaith gathering in the chapel at St Marys University College in Twickenham.
Rabbi Sacks seems to have invested a great deal of time and import to the visit. He first prepared his own Jewish community in a message conveying the importance of the event, he then issued a message to the British newspapers, and finally he gave a third message before the religious leaders assembled in the chapel waiting to hear Pope Benedict’s message. In total three messages about the Pope’s visit before Yom Kippur.
Atonement and Forgiveness was his message for the Jewish community. In this talk, he starts with the persecutions of Judaism by Christianity, but he segues into the Jewish need to recognize the Christian change in attitude and their sincere reconciliation. Catholic and Jews are now friends. The chief rabbis applies the message of Yom Kippur of atonement and forgiveness to the Catholic Church and seeks a healing of the relationship of the two faiths.
Selections from “Atonement and Forgiveness, still have the power to transform relationships”
The story might have continued were it not for the darkest night of all, the Holocaust. In the wake of that event, a very great Pope indeed, Pope John XXIII, who had helped save many lives in the war years, began to reflect on the history of Christian attitudes toward the Jews, and came to the conclusion that those attitudes must change.
In 1962 he convened the Second Vatican Council, setting in motion what became three years later, though he did not live to see it, the declaration Nostra Aetate, “In Our Age.” It redefined the relationship between the Catholic Church and other faiths, especially Judaism and Islam. It was one of the greatest acts of reconciliation in religious history, and today Catholics and Jews meet not as enemies or strangers but as friends.
And by one of those coincidences that seem providential, the night of that meeting, this Friday, will be the beginning of the holiest day of the Jewish year, the Day of Atonement, our festival of forgiveness. How moving it will be, this year, to bear witness to how those two ancient ideas, atonement and forgiveness, still have the power to transform relationships and heal the wounds of time.
Rabbi Sack spoke in the chapel as the representative of all non-Catholic faiths. He praises the Vatican for its important Nosta Aetate and its instrumental role in creating an ecumenical environment. Sacks considers the secularization of the Seventeenth Century as due to the inability of religions to live peacefully together. It is interesting to note that Sacks does not quote Torah, rather John Henry Cardinal Newman, and Pope Benedict’s own Caritas in Veritate. In seeming appreciation nd agreement with the Pope, he quotes: “the development of peoples depends . . . on a recognition that the human race is a single family, working together in true communion, not simply a group of subjects who happen to live side by side.”
Sacks gives his own theology when he states: “We celebrate both our commonalities and differences, because if we had nothing in common we could not communicate, and if we had everything in common, we would have nothing to say. “ We all have commonalities in faith and we have difference neither side should be ignored. There is one monotheistic God, but we should give dignity to our differences as enriching the world.
Some of the commonalities of Judaism with Christianity and other religions is that: “We believe in marriage as a commitment, parenthood as a responsibility, and the poetry of everyday life when it is etched, in homes and schools, with the charisma of holiness and grace.” He continues, “In our communities we value people…for what they are, every one of them a fragment of the Divine presence. We hold life holy. And each of us is lifted by the knowledge that we are part of something greater than all of us, that created us in forgiveness and love, and asks us to create in forgiveness and love. His further expansion of the ideas of faith itself as important and that we can relate to one another at a universal level of the God in the soul, which encourages engaging the other. “we recognize in one another the presence of faith itself, that habit of the heart that listens to the music beneath the noise, and knows that God is the point at which soul touches soul and is enlarged by the presence of otherness.”
Sack as a firm believer in having an Establishment Church assumes that “one of our commonalities is that we surely all believe that faith has a major role in strengthening civil society.”
Finally, Sacks concludes with the need to show honor to the Pope who has lead all of us “with wisdom and generosity of spirit, and may all
our efforts combine to become a blessing to humanity and to God.”
We welcome you, leader of a great faith, to this gathering of many faiths, in a land where once battles were fought in the name of faith,
and where now we share friendship across faiths.
That is a climate change worth celebrating. And we recognize the immense role the Vatican played and continues to play in bringing it about. It was Nostra Aetate, 45 years ago, that brought about the single greatest transformation in interfaith relations in recent history, and we recognize your visit here today as a new chapter in that story, and a vital one.
The secularization of Europe that began in the seventeenth century did not happen because people lost faith in God. Newton and Descartes, heroes of the Enlightenment, believed in God very much indeed. What led to secularization was that people lost faith in the ability of people of faith to live peaceably together. And we must never go down that road again. We remember the fine words of John Henry Cardinal Newman, “We should ever conduct ourselves towards our enemy as if he were one day to be our friend,” as well as your own words, in Caritas in Veritate, that “the development of peoples depends . . . on a recognition that the human race is a single family, working together in true communion, not simply a group of subjects who happen to live side by side.”
We celebrate both our commonalities and differences, because if we had nothing in common we could not communicate, and if we had everything in common, we would have nothing to say. You have spoken of the Catholic Church as a creative minority. And perhaps that is what we should all aspire to be, creative minorities, inspiring one another, and bringing our different gifts to the common good.
Britain has been so enriched by its minorities, by every group represented here today and the intricate harmonies of our several voices. And one of our commonalities is that we surely all believe that faith has a major role in strengthening civil society.
In the face of a deeply individualistic culture, we offer community. Against consumerism, we talk about the things that have value but not a price. Against cynicism we dare to admire and respect. In the face of fragmenting families, we believe in consecrating relationships. We believe in marriage as a commitment, parenthood as a responsibility, and the poetry of everyday life when it is etched, in homes and schools, with the charisma of holiness and grace.
In our communities we value people not for what they earn or what they buy or how they vote but for what they are, every one of them a fragment of the
Divine presence. We hold life holy. And each of us is lifted by the knowledge that we are part of something greater than all of us, that created us in forgiveness and love, and asks us to create in forgiveness and love. Each of us in our own way is a guardian of values that are in danger of being lost, in our short-attention-span, hyperactive, information-saturated, wisdom-starved age. And though our faiths are profoundly different, yet we recognize in one another the presence of faith itself, that habit of the heart that listens to the music beneath the noise, and knows that God is the point at which soul touches soul and is enlarged by the presence of otherness.
You have honoured us with your presence, and we honour you. May you continue to lead with wisdom and generosity of spirit, and may all our efforts combine to become a blessing to humanity and to God.
The third piece that Sacks wrote was an op-ed message to the Pope about how the loss of faith in Europe has led to its loss of vitality and decent into a decadence without family, with poverty, suicide, and depression. Sack’s answer is to return to the 19th century values of Newman. A subtext is that the Pope can accomplish more as an intellectual and public religious figure, kinda like Sacks himself, than as the monarch over the Church.
selections from General message to the Pope
Times Op Ed – The Pope will find more glory without power
The current Pope is more than the leader of the largest religious community in the world. He is also a significant public intellectual with a strong sense of history
.According to Save the Children, 3.9 million children are today living in poverty, 1.7 million of them in severe, persistent poverty. 4000 children call Childline every day. 100,000 children run away from home every year. 20 per cent of deaths among young people aged from 15 to 24 are suicides. In 2009, 29.4 million antidepressants were dispensed, up 334 per cent from 1985. During the same period, Samaritans answered 4.6 million calls from people in distress. An estimated one million elderly people do not see a friend or neighbour during an average week.
These are the kinds of social problem that cannot be solved by government spending. They are the result of the breakdown of families and communities and the loss of trust and social capital. In the broadest sense, they have to do with culture and the lack of a shared moral code. Having lost much of its Christian heritage, Britain does not seem to have found a satisfying substitute.
Yet in the nineteenth century it became re-moralized in a process in which John Henry Newman, the man Pope Benedict XVI has come to beatify, played a significant part. It was a joint effort of churches, temperance movements, Sunday schools, charities and friendly societies. It was, admittedly, an imperialistic age, but it also saw the abolition of slavery, the birth of universal education, and campaigns against inhuman working conditions and cruel punishments. It showed that national decline is not inevitable. A culture can be renewed Britain
The Pope himself was equally enamored with Rabbi Sacks who was specially invited to give the address. He wished Jews “a happy and holy celebration of Yom Kippur.” And resonated with Sacks’ universalism. “I would like to begin my remarks by expressing the Catholic Church’s appreciation for the important witness that all of you bear as spiritual men and women living at a time when religious convictions are not always understood or appreciated.”
Pope Benedict paraphrased one of Rabbi Sacks ideas in his own speech. Sacks talks about working side by side in making the world better as well as face to face in dialogue. “As followers of different religious traditions working together for the good of the community at large, we attach great importance to this “side by side” dimension of our cooperation, which complements the “face to face” aspect of our continuing dialogue.” Then Pope Benedict translated the two aspects into the Church’s official PCID four aspects.
Ever since the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church has placed special emphasis on the importance of dialogue and cooperation with the followers of other religions. In order to be fruitful, this requires reciprocity on the part of all partners in dialogue and the followers of other religions…Once such a respect and openness has been established, peoples of all religions will work together effectively for peace and mutual understanding, and so give a convincing witness before the world.
This kind of dialogue needs to take place on a number of different levels, and should not be limited to formal discussions The dialogue of life [a form of “side by side” dialogue] involves simply living alongside one another and learning from one another in such a way as to grow in mutual knowledge and respect. The dialogue of action [another form of “side by side” dialogue] brings us together in concrete forms of collaboration, as we apply our religious insights to the task of promoting integral human development, working for peace, justice and the stewardship of creation. Such a dialogue may include exploring together how to defend human life at every stage and how to ensure the non-exclusion of the religious dimension of individuals and communities in the life of society. Then at the level of formal conversations [“face to face” dialogue], there is a need not only for theological exchange, but also sharing our spiritual riches [formally known as a “dialogue of religious experience” ], speaking of our experience of prayer and contemplation, and expressing to one another the joy of our encounter with divine love.
My dear friends, as I conclude my remarks, let me assure you that the Catholic Church follows the path of engagement and dialogue out of a genuine sense of respect for you and your beliefs