By Seth Gonzales
The Texas Catholic
As a Jewish professor at a Catholic university, Joshua Parens marveled at how far Catholic-Jewish relations have come over the last 50 years.
“Overcoming 2,000 years of misunderstanding is a very big thing to try to pull off,” said Parens, who serves as dean of the University of Dallas’ Braniff School of Liberal Arts.
Parens was among 639 in attendance at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center on Nov. 4 for the 2015 Eugene McDermott Lecture, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the Second Vatican Council document that radically reshaped the Catholic Church’s relationship to the world’s other religions — especially Judaism.
The event was hosted by the University of Dallas, the Catholic Diocese of Dallas, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas.
Bishop Brian Farrell, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, and Rabbi David Rosen from Israel, director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Council, spoke to the crowd and praised the results Nostra Aetate has produced.
“It introduced a fundamental change of attitude from negative stereotypes and prejudices to a positive respect for and close collaboration between Catholics and Jews for the good of the entire human family,” said Bishop Farrell, who is the older brother of Dallas Bishop Kevin J. Farrell.
Bishop Brian Farrell and Rabbi Rosen said that for most of its history, Christianity had viewed the Jewish people as being rejected and condemned by God as a result of Christ’s crucifixion. Rabbi Rosen said the normative thought was this: because Jews did not recognize Jesus Christ, they were punished and left wandering without a homeland as a “continual testimony of what happens to you when you reject the Christian dispensation and to be an eternal warning until the end of time.”
As a result, Christians had come to see themselves as having replaced the Jews as God’s Chosen People.
Nostra Aetate, he said, turned that attitude around completely.
“Those who were rejected and condemned yesterday are the dearly beloved elder brothers of the church today,” Rabbi Rosen said.
Today, Bishop Farrell said, the church insists on understanding and embracing the Jewish roots of the Christian faith. Catholics cannot understand Jesus without his Jewish background.
“Jesus was a Jew,” he said. “Mary was a Jew. The first disciples were Jewish. All were immersed in the Jewish traditions of their time.”
Both men praised the efforts of every pope since Pope St. John XXIII towards changing the relationship between Jews and Catholics for the better. Rabbi Rosen even credited Nostra Aetate with helping open bilateral relations between the Vatican and the state of Israel, as well as the monumental visit of St. John Paul II to the Holy Land in 2000.
All that being true, they said, much work still needs to be done. Rabbi Rosen said he advocates that Nostra Aetate be part of seminarian formation around the world. Bishop Brian Farrell reiterated the document’s firm rejection of any discrimination and anti-Semitism as part of any catechesis done in the Catholic Church.
Parens said the cooperation seen today between Catholics and Jews is unprecedented.
“(Nostra Aetate is) an amazing act of reaching out on the part of the Catholic community,” Parens said. “I myself look to my own community to reach out. It’s a wonderful start.”