Rom 11: 3-15,29-32
For I say to you, Gentiles: as long indeed as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I will honour my ministry, if, by any means, I may provoke to emulation them who are my flesh, and may save some of them. For if the loss of them be the reconciliation of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? For the gifts and the calling of God are without repentance. For as you also in times past did not believe God, but now have obtained mercy, through their unbelief; so these also now have not believed, for your mercy, that they also may obtain mercy. For God hath concluded all in unbelief, that he may have mercy on all.
Once again we find St Paul’s concern for his people and his hope that Israel will find faith in Christ. He wants to arouse jealousy in his own race so that they will recognise that God has turned His love towards the Gentiles, and thus save at least some of the
God certainly did not abandon His people, but they did not accept the graces that had been prepared for them with the coming of Jesus; they did not recognise the “hour of his visitation” (cf. Lk 19:44).
Paul knows well what this means, because he himself was touched by the grace of Jesus, and from that moment his heart burned for Him. Now what can he do for his people? The previous Sunday we heard him say that he himself would wish to be separated from Christ, in order to win his brethren to Christ (cf. Rom 9:3).
St Paul is deeply aware of the value of the vocation addressed to the Jewish people, because “For the gifts and the calling of God are without repentance” – as he says in today’s reading.
Israel always bears this seal of God, just as a priest, for example, has an indelible seal imprinted on his soul, even if he is not faithful to his vocation.
So what will happen to the Jews, the first to be called by God? Which way will He lead them? Can we still expect a great wave of conversions? Will they recognise the One whom they have pierced (cf. Zech 12:10)? And what will this mean for the Church and the whole of humanity?
We know the personal testimony of some Jews, who tell how they encountered Jesus. Our friend Roy Schoeman, a Jewish convert to Catholicism, collected in a book he wrote sixteen testimonies of Jews who found their way to Jesus and the Church. Often the ways God chose to touch them are extraordinary and moving. One often hears them say that when they encountered the Lord and the Church and realised that their Jewish faith came to its fullness in this encounter, it was for them like “coming home”.
For example, Israel Zolli, a well-known rabbi who became a Catholic, was asked why he had left the synagogue in exchange for the church, to which he replied as follows:
“But I have not left it. Christianity is the integration, the culmination and the crown of the synagogue. The synagogue was a promise and Christianity is the fulfilment of that promise. The synagogue pointed to Christianity; Christianity presupposes the synagogue. So you can see that the one cannot exist without the other. I was converted to living Christianity”.
Testimonies such as this show us the inner coherence in the journey that God made with His People Israel until the coming of the Messiah, and how this People remains bound to God’s promise by recognising this Messiah. Indeed, Jesus and the Apostles addressed themselves first to the children of Israel before preaching to the Gentiles (cf. Mt 15:24). God knew how to integrate into His plan of salvation even the refusal of the majority of the Jews to accept Jesus as their Messiah, in order to call all pagan peoples to faith first.
Does this arouse jealousy in the Jewish people? I have sometimes wondered, being in Israel, what will the Jews think when they see how many people come from all over the world to worship the One they rejected? In any case, they even provide protection for some of the holy places of Christianity… What is God’s hidden plan that can be perceived behind this?
As the Apostle tells us, God wants to have mercy on all. With the readmission of Israel, when God can once again hold His “firstborn son” in His arms, a great grace awaits us.
To conclude this meditation, let us hear a few words from the testimony of a Jew, Charlie Rich, who found his way home to the Catholic Church. Charlie had entered an empty church and, as he sat there, he said to himself:
“If only I could believe with the same certainty that those who come here to pray believe, if only I could believe that the words of the gospel really are true, that Jesus really existed and that these words are precisely what He Himself said through His human mouth. Oh, if only this were a fact, if only I could believe it to be a fact, how glorious and wonderful and comforting it would be, and how happy I would be to know that Christ really was divine, that He was in fact the very Son of God, that He came down from heaven to save us all!
Could it be possible that what seemed so wonderful to me was true, that it was not a hoax, a lie?
Suddenly something shone in my spirit and I heard the following words: ‘Of course it is true: Christ is God, He is God who became visible in human flesh. The words of the gospel are true, literally true.'”
This was the grace that henceforth made Charlie Rich happy and changed his life. May many more of his people have this enlightment!