I am pleased to present this guest post from Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.
The gospel this coming weekend tells us that Jesus while in Nazareth went to the synagogue on the Sabbath. At the appointed time, he was handed a scroll from which he read the appointed reading for the day.
Jesus was a Jew. Sometimes Christians forget this: Jesus was a Jew.
Jesus was raised in a Jewish home. Like all Jewish males, he was circumcised. When he was 13, he had a Bar Mitzvah. He celebrated Hanukkah and Passover. He learned the Hebrew scriptures. He prayed the psalms. He made a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. And today, we’re told that he was in the habit of going to the Synagogue on the Sabbath.
Last Sunday, Pope Francis visited the Synagogue of Rome. He reminded those present that there is an inseparable bond between Christians and Jews. He spoke of how Christians and Jews are called to work together to overcome all forms of violence and terror.
But he added a rather interesting observation:
“In order to understand themselves, Christians must understand their Jewish roots.” In other words, if you want to understand what it means to be a Christian, you have to seek to understand the faith out of which the Church was born. And the Church was born within a Jewish matrix.”
Think about these simple facts:
- One reason why we sing or say the responsorial Psalm at every Mass is because the psalms are the prayers that Jesus grew up with. When you pray the psalms you are praying what Jesus actually prayed.
- When the deacon or priest carries the Gospel book to the lectern at Mass, he is imitating the rabbi carrying the Torah scroll to the reading desk.
- The unleavened bread we use during Mass, evokes the unleavened matzo bread of the Jewish Passover, reminding us that we are all called to leave behind “Egypt” –whatever places or relationships that imprison, enslave or oppress. “Exodus” is a on-going part of life.
As a Jew, Jesus understood that God had intervened in human history; that the human story was not arbitrary or meaningless. We Christians see the human drama, despite its tragedies, as headed toward an ultimate fulfillment and destiny. That’s why hope is characteristic of a Christian.
And there’s so much more…
- How could someone tell the story of your life without understanding what means to be a 21st century American?
- So, how can we claim to understand Jesus and his message without understanding his Jewish faith?
- How could we say that we really know someone, without striving to understand from what and where they come?
Let’s pray for a Church that honors her roots;
- for an openness to understanding more about our connection with the Jewish faith;
- for a future where we find strength for living from the wisdom our past;
- and for overcoming the amnesia that would keep us from understanding who we are.
A personal note
I would like to extend to Father Steven and his parishioners a hearty congratulations for the reopening of the fully renovated rectory at Holy Family! Three of the four suites in the home will be used to house retired priests. This is the first time that I can recall a parish literally being brought back from the dead (Holy Family is housed at St. Joseph’s Church on Hamilton Street, once slated for closing in the 1990’s, and saved by the parishioners). This is indeed a happy occasion! You can read more about this amazing story at the Catholic Free Press website.