This past Wednesday, Nov. 4, the University of Dallas hosted the 2015 Eugene McDermott Lecture at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center. The lecture was entitled, “Nostra Aetate — 50 Years Later: Commemorating Jewish-Catholic Relations.” It was a celebration of the Jewish and Catholic religious traditions and their relationship since the publication of the document Nostra Aetate, the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on the relation of the Church with non-Christian religions.
The evening began with a choral performance by the UD Chorale and the Temple Emanu-El choir. After the beautiful musical performances, University of Dallas President Thomas Keefe welcomed the audience and Dr. Mark Goodwin introduced the speakers. Rabbi David Rosen and Bishop Brian Farrell delivered the joint address in the form of a conversation centered on the meaning of the document Nostra Aetate, as well as the resulting work of inter-religious dialogue. They described it as a exchange between friends.
The two speakers gave a total of four speeches, followed by a brief Q. and A. The serene Bishop and dynamic Rabbi presented all of Nostra Aetate’s history, textual material and outcomes. Since the document was originally drafted as a declaration of Catholic relations with the Jews, this was the focus of the night. Rosen and Farrell discussed its implications. However, there was a question nagging at the traditionally minded Catholics all night: Are Catholics obligated to try to convert Jewish people?
This question was one of the closing points for Bishop Farrell’s second address. He said that we are not obligated to convert Jewish people. The Jewish people worship the same God as Catholics.
One of Farrell’s points was that the covenant given to the Jewish people has not been revoked, so they are still God’s people. Given this, he argued that there is no need to for them to convert in order to obtain God’s grace. Furthermore, he asserted that the Church should not have organization specifically designed to go out and convert the Jews.
It was difficult for a fairly traditionally minded Catholic like myself to hear these words. I had to take it in and discern how to consider Bishop Farrell’s words. That is the point of these dialogues, right? We are called to listen to others and reflect upon their thoughts, then formulate our own opinions.
In the back of my mind I keep hearing scripture verses like Matthew 28:19, which reads: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
How can we reconcile these two seemingly opposing views? There can be only one way — through dialogue and evangelization.
A dialogue is a conversation between people; it is not a debate. In a debate, opposing sides try to prove each other wrong. However, in conversational dialogue, each party presents a view and then listens actively to the differing opinions of others. It begins with acknowledgment of common values and beliefs, and upon this foundation people band together in missions or have genuine conversations about their differences.
Evangelization responds to the call in Matthew 28:19. Christians are called to go preach the good news to all peoples. The goal is that, upon hearing the gospel, people will want to convert of their own free will. We are not called to proselytize, which is forcing conversion or manipulating people into particular beliefs. If someone converts out of pressure, there is no genuine belief, without which, they are not really converted. One modern and extreme example, of which we are all unfortunately aware, is ISIS, which forces conversion upon people through fear, force and threats. For Catholics, however, evangelization is the presentation of the gospel’s virtues, exemplified in our own actions. Only through such true evangelization and example will anyone want to convert.
The Vatican and every diocese promote these messages through numerous councils focused on evangelization and dialogue. The Church treats every person as an equal candidate for hearing the good news, and the dialogue is the only way to get their attention.
Even today, in the New Evangelization, the Church calls for all Catholics to hear the gospel in a new, deeper and fuller way.
At the end of the night, the whole room sang a closing song, “The God of Abraham Praise,” and its words are very insightful: “We praise you, living God! We praise your holy name: the first, the last, beyond all thought, and still the same.”
We are called to praise God—the God who called the Israelites, and offered and still offers salvation to His people. In the end, praise is our mission and goal. May we all join together and praise Him as His faithful people.