Jewish-Christian Sacred Scriptures

The full title, The Jewish People and their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible, doesn’t fit nicely in the subject line. So I improvised. This deceptively little book caught my eye when I visited Rome, at the same time my Jewish boyfriend traversed Israel. Being an intimidating subject to tackle, the book sat on my “to read” shelf since. But I finally picked it up.

It’s divided into three parts: The Sacred Scriptures of the Jewish People are a Fundamental Part of the Christian Bible; Fundamental Themes in the Jewish Scriptures and their Reception into Faith in Christ; Jews in the New Testament. Part I is mostly introduction, sharing information that I hope is already understood when picking up this book—that the Old Testament is still true and relevant. So the meat of it is Part II, which digs into Scripture itself.

I like the format: it explores a specific theme, discussing its appearance in both the Old and New Testaments. We hear about such things as the goodness and wickedness of humanity; God as Savior; prayer; and the Law. Perhaps needless to say, we mostly only differ on the last one. (It’s a big one, but Jewish-Christian differences aren’t as much as we tend to think.)

The New Testament never says that Israel has been rejected… [The Church] understands her own existence as a participation in the election of Israel and in a vocation that belongs, in the first place, to Israel.

The salvation of the Jews comes up frequently, even across topics. I’ve been meaning to delve more into the subject, and took notes to help further my understanding of how this works (a future blog post, perhaps). But it always piqued my interest—God made a promise that His chosen people be saved, but you also need Jesus Christ to be saved. How does that work? The more I think about it, the more my mind boggles.

Part III explores Judaism within the New Testament itself, pointing out the distinctly Jewish parts of the Gospels and Paul’s letters. Paul talks a lot of Judaism, being a Pharisee himself, so is a great reference for both sides of the argument. But the apostles were also Jews, which is easy to forget in their travels with Jesus. The book takes each New Testament writer and picks out the parts relevant to the Hebrew Scriptures, helping to create each of their Jewish identities. It doesn’t shy away from Revelation, either.

Though I’ve finished this book, I’m not quite done with it. It’s a good reference while reading the Bible, especially the New Testament. It explores the depths of Judaism in all of Scripture, a theme we shouldn’t forget even through Jesus’s ministry.

Christmas with the Holy Fathers

Last year’s reading goal was 35 books, which I accomplished with five days to spare. “Do one more!” my boyfriend said, a challenge I graciously accepted. I picked up Christmas with the Holy Fathers, which I’d been planning to read during the season anyway. It’s a short book, I thought. I can do that in five days.

This little book is deceiving. I didn’t do it in five days, but not because it’s a difficult read—it didn’t seem right to whip through words inspired by the coming, and birth, of Jesus. These are words to absorb and contemplate.

It contains excerpts of homilies relevant to the season, penned by various popes through Church history. They bring tidings of peace and hope; they reveal something of the world at the time, ranging from the fifth to the twentieth century. Though different wars were fought, and cultures changed, the root of humanity hasn’t changed—and neither has Jesus and the Church’s teachings. In a reflection from 1964, Pope Paul VI spoke of the need for silence in the unceasing noise of modern society. I’d love to hear his thoughts on that today.

The lesson of silence: may there return to us an appreciation of this stupendous and indispensable spiritual condition, deafened as we are by so much tumult, so much noise, so many voices of our chaotic and frenzied modern life.

This makes me wish I’d been part of the Church when Pope John Paul II was around, to hear his words when they were new and bold. It’s given me an appreciation of Pope Leo I, worthy of the name Saint Leo the Great. Now there’s someone I have to read more from.

There’s not enough materials for a “daily reading” format through Advent, but it’s a good one to pick up throughout the season. It also continues through Christmas and Epiphany, so I did end up finishing the book as the season was coming to a close. A worthy book as my first of 2020!

Letters to a Young Catholic

It took me nearly two months to get through this book. Not because I was bored, but quite the opposite—there’s a lot to digest, and I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss anything. The chapters are like “letters,” as if Weigel is really writing to the reader (i.e., me). In a way, that makes you pay attention to it more. When he takes you on a virtual journey through a basilica, you mentally turn left when he points to something in that direction. When you go down a set of stairs, you feel the mustiness of a crypt. It’s almost personalized, and it works.

“Young” Catholic doesn’t necessarily mean in age, though that’s the typical audience. It’s also beneficial to those new to the faith (again, me) or returning. This book was actually gifted to me by a non-Catholic for my Confirmation. I imagine they just went into a bookstore and picked up the most Catholic-looking book they could find. I don’t think they knew how relevant it was. Each letter contains an explanation of something in the faith that may be new to the newbies, from the definition of an icon to the story behind Our Lady of Guadalupe. But even the most basic of information is presented in an informative, factual way that’s not degrading. You don’t feel silly for not knowing. You’re young, after all.

Each letter begins with a place—a cathedral, a town, or a seemingly ordinary countryside—and explains its religious significance. It then delves into a related matter of faith. It goes from the Sistine Chapel to a bar in England to Auschwitz. It discusses heavenly Good and the worst evils. It’s not just factual, but also a challenge to live the faith.

A couple letters get very political, which I rarely understand, so those parts went over my head. I got what he was doing by the end of it, but missed a lot of the explanation in the middle. But the faith-based letters, and the especially the ones in locations I’d visited before, loudly resound. I quite liked visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and St. Peter’s Basilica again, even if only in memory.