Friday, January 10, 2003

Cardinal Lustiger of Paris has a new book

No man is better qualified to stress the inseparable bond between Jews and Christians than Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, the archbishop of Paris, whose name used to be Aaron and whose mother Gisèle, a Polish rabbi's daughter, was gassed to death in Auschwitz in 1943.

In his latest, stunningly beautiful book, "La Promesse" (The Promise), this most illustrious convert from Judaism calls the Holocaust a unique event in history not so much because it was a genocide -- genocides have happened before and since Auschwitz -- but because the victims were none other but God's chosen people.

Lustiger, who became a Christian at age 14, took his book's title from Psalm 119:148: "My eyes are awake before each watch of the night, that I may meditate on your promise."

And he prefaces his work with St. Simeon's stirring words of thanks, which in liturgical churches the congregation chants as post-communion canticle. In the Jerusalem Temple, this old man took the Christ child into his arms and said, "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word / for mine eyes have seen thy salvation / which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples / a light for the revelation to the gentiles / and for the glory of thy people Israel."

This is a fitting motto for a man who for a long time was thought destined to become the second Jewish pope in history -- after St. Peter -- an idea that triggered in some mystical circles the kind of apocalyptical speculation the Bible clearly prohibits.

To speculate is to miss the entire dimension of the phenomenon of this prince of the Church, who unequivocally stands by his Jewish roots but is equally unequivocal in his conviction that Christ is the fulfillment of God's promise to his people -- and all nations. Hence his emphasis on Psalm 119 and Simeon's prayer.

As one who lost his mother in the Holocaust, Lustiger can dispense with the habitual mushiness of many Christian theologians, who try to paper over the differences between the two related faiths in their view of Jesus.

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