The Judeo-Christian tradition runs through our Christian blood and faith. As a former youth leader, a convent boy, an ex-seminarian, a chaplain fellow, this has been the politically and theologically correct phrase I heard to describe the source of my faith. But as I go farther in my spiritual exploration, I realize how snappy a note do I often receive about the former source. You need to get the gist of the Judaic part, all you need is read the Hebrew Testament, or listen to the first reading of the Mass (the second reading is from the New Testament). That’s about it. Depending on the Bible versions (the New International Version is standard for mainline Protestants while the New American Bible is a household item for Catholics), some got to benefit from Biblical footnotes on some difficult terms.
I bring in this idea of Judaic source in the context of what Christianity is honoring – our saints. Now for Catholics, saints are often associated easily with the “haloed,” canonized ones, as easy as associating chocolate with Hershey. Biblical enough? Not quite for Paul who addressed both the living and deceased ordinary Christians of Philippi or Corinth as “saints”. Believers, rich or poor, ignorant or knowledgeable, were simply called “saints”. Faith in God qualifies one to be a saint. Stretching back my imagination on how our Christian faith blossomed even if in the midst of thorns and I could simply marvel on how many countless ordinary Jewish saints had lived and died in faith, in passing on the faith. They were our early saints who taught us how to pray, to manifest our faith through good deeds – who handed to us the first of all commandments that Jesus no doubt could have memorized and translated into actions.
I once attended a Jewish Shabbat (Sabbath which falls on Saturday) at Beth Israel (photo below), I think the biggest synagogue in the whole of Houston. It was a faith invitation to listen, to simply listen. The prayers and chants in Hebrew were so impassioned to be shivery to my nerves. Their voices of worship were fiery as if their whole being, mind, body and soul were prancing through their release. It was love for the Word, in scrolled and enthroned Torah – the veneration was there and the humble admission before the Sacred of human being’s smallness. It was faith gathering together, chanting, reading, bowing, greeting one another. The rest was silence in between. I had an elated sense of rediscovery of the root of my Christian faith – of the liturgy, of the Breviary, of contemplative silence, of lectio divina or prayerful reading of the Scripture. The well of faith became more visible to me more than ever. I was grateful for God’s faithfulness the Jewish saints had kept and continue to keep up to these days.
If you have a chance to listen, I encourage you to do so. Please arrange in advance with the community so you won’t end up as total strangers in their synagogue doors. I’m reading about one of the most celebrated Jewish teachers of the 20th century- Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and his idea on prayer. I might post a summary next time.
Photo credit: tiger in houston