Pope Benedict’s resignation is sending shockwaves through Catholic communities worldwide. It also brings sadness and loss to the Jewish community.
Despite early concerns with the Pope’s childhood participation in the Hitler youth, he has been an extraordinary leader, reaching out to the Jewish community and addressing shared concerns with intelligence and moral passion.
The Pope and the Jewish People
1. During his visit to Auschwitz, the most notorious Nazi death camp in Poland, Pope Benedict said of the Nazis, “By destroying Israel, they ultimately wanted to tear up the tap root of the Christian faith and to replace it with a faith of their own invention.”
2. He was the first Pope to visit an American synagogue, meeting with on the eve of Passover with Rabbi Arthur Schneir, a Holocaust survivor and Orthodox rabbi.
3. When controversy arose after a decision to allow greater use of a traditional Latin Mass that suggested proselytizing Jews, the Pope met with Jewish leaders and reaffirmed the Church’s understanding of Jews’ unique relationship with God that has holiness without conversion.
Leader for People of All Faiths
As a global spiritual leader, the Pope also addressed critical issues confronting people of all faiths. His central task was confronting an increasingly cruel world driven by globalization, economic uncertainty and militant atheism.
In an address given in Rome before a meeting with the Pope, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks described this world eloquently.
“Today, in a Europe more secular than it has been since the last days of pre-Christian Rome, the culprits are
- an aggressive scientific atheism tone deaf to the music of faith;
- a reductive materialism blind to the power of the human spirit;
- global corporations uncontrollable by and sometimes more powerful than national governments;
- forms of finance so complex as to surpass the understanding of bodies charged with their regulation;
- a consumer-driven economy that is shriveling the imaginative horizons of our children;
- a fraying of all the social bonds, from family to community, that once brought comfort and a redemption of solitude, to be replaced by virtual networks mediated by smartphone, whose result is to leave us “alone together.”
These remain concerns for all of us. The task of every faith leader is to make a home for God here on earth.
In meeting this task and overcoming its challenges, the Pope’s voice of intellect and conviction will be greatly missed. May God continue to bless him with life and strength.
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What do you tend to order at restaurants? Do you get the same thing every time? Or do you try the latest special?
Do you opt for a wine you have never tried? Or do you go with your favorite Merlot?
For food, I’m the kind of guy that sticks to the familiar. Yet, in other parts of life, I try to leave my comfort zone. It is never easy. But it is critically important.
Profiles in Spiritual Courage
Leaving our comfort zone is the only way we grow. It is the only way we learn new skills. It is the only way we will meet people and discover experience that enrich our lives.
I find inspiration in the lives of several biblical figures. In fact, the entire Hebrew Bible features individuals who burned with a passion to leave the familiar and find new challenges and experiences. Their characteristics and choices can give us insight on how to do so.
1. The first is Abraham. The Bible tells us that he “left his father’s house…” to journey to “the land that I (God) will show you.” In other words, God says to Abraham, “Leave everything you know, head out on the road, and trust that with faith, you will find the promised land.”
“I will not tell you exactly how to get there,” God implies. “I will not describe to you exactly the way it will look and feel. But I ask you to trust that you will there.”
God’s call is a bold, scary one. Yet, it contains deep wisdom.
Stay Faithful to the Vision
When we try something new–when we open a new business or enter a new relationship–we do not know exactly how it will turn out. We cannot plan out everything in advance. In fact, when we try out to map out exactly how, we close off options that may help us along the way.
What is critical, however, is that we have trust in the ultimate destination. Without that trust, we handicap ourselves from the beginning. We miss out on the spiritual strength that will help us throughout he inevitable roadblocks.
Abraham had it. So can we.
2. The second is Moses: The best example in Moses’s life is when he first leaves Pharaoh’s palace. Moses, we recall, was raised as a Prince in Egypt’s royal palace. Yet, one day he leaves. He puts his faith in his brethren, the enslaved Israelites.
What sparked this decision? The Bible gives us a hint to the answer. It says that Moses looked to his left and right and saw “no person” nearby.
The literal meaning of the text is that Moses was standing alone. The deeper meaning, however, is that no one was willing to stand up for what was right. Moses knew that slavery was wrong. He knew something had to change. And he realized that he was the only one with the courage to step forward.
When we need to do something difficult–when we need to step outside of our comfort zone–we need to get in touch with our “why.” What is motivating us?
Keeping in Touch With Our Purpose
If are making a decision to enter into a new relationship, we need to remind ourselves of what joy and meaning it can bring to us. If we are deciding to have a difficult conversation with our son or daughter, we can remind ourselves of our responsibility as parents and our stewardship for the gift of children that God has given us.
Few of us relish the opportunity leave our comfort zone. We can come up with any number of excuses for not doing so. In the end, however, it’s only when we leave the comfortable that we can discover the remarkable.
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In what experiences have you left your comfort zone? Did any obstacles get in the way?
Former New York Mayor Ed Koch, who died last week, had a signature saying: “How’m I doing?” He asked it of passerbys at subway stations, street corners and press conferences.
Behind the question was a request for feedback. He was asking the people of New York how he was doing as Mayor. Was he making them feel safer, more prosperous and happier to be New Yorkers?
Another Form of Prayer
This question need not, however, be reserved for politicians. It is a question each of us can ask ourselves. In fact, I see prayer as a way of checking in with God and asking, “How’m I doing?”
Am I living with greater compassion? Am I treating others as I would want to be treated? Am I living up to my potential as a human being?
We need those check-ins. We need them regularly, because they can push us to arrive at a more satisfying answer. As the late Zig Ziglar put it, “People often say motivation doesn’t last. Neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.”
Faith is our daily way of turning to God and to one another and asking, “How’m I doing?”
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This Sunday Americans will be praying extra hard. It’s Superbowl Sunday, and according to a recent study, one out of four Americans believe that God intervenes on behalf of sports teams. Does He?
Well, only God knows the answer to that question. If I had to guess, however, here’s what I would suggest:
1. God Does Care: God cares about what we care about, because God cares about us! But here’s the catch: God cares more about character than winning.
God is not a Ravens or a 49-er fan. God is a fan of humanity.
2. God wants us to care about the right things: Vinci Lombardi famously said that winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing. But did he really believe it?
If winning is the only thing, then cheating is fine as long as you can get away with it. If winning is the only thing, then taking illegal drugs is fine as long as nobody knows. If winning is the only thing, then the smartest strategy would always be to try to injure the other team’s best player.
Winning is important. It’s very important. But it’s not the only thing.
3. God wants us to enjoy ourselves: Superbowl Sunday can be lots of fun. It’s a great opportunity to spend time with friends and family and watch great athletes work hard to achieve the ultimate championship.
In Judaism, God does not desire asceticism. We have no tradition of hermits or monks. God desires engagement with life. The classic Jewish toast is l’chayim, to life.
The Superbowl is a time to celebrate a great tradition that brings us together. We may take different sides, but we play in the same game of life.
By Evan Moffic