Monday, October 29, 2007

Roy Schoeman and the Return of the Jews

Roy Schoeman and the Return of the Jews
From a Jewish Perspective Within the Catholic Faith

After Roy Schoeman's first book, Salvation is from the Jews, was published in late 2003 by Ignatius Press, the book became one of the press's top sellers. Then another one of their notable authors, Cardinal Ratzinger, became Pope Benedict XVI—at which point the Ratzinger titles started flying off the shelves. Even after being pushed down a few notches in the list by the new wave of interest in Ratzinger titles, Schoeman’s book was still holding its own the last time I checked, just below The Ratzinger Report and the Ignatius Bible.

Another book by Schoeman, Honey from the Rock: Sixteen Jews Find the Sweetness of Christ, was published this past March. I interviewed Roy Schoeman about his books at his home near the Massachusetts coast in late May 2006 and followed up with a phone interview. (See “Roy Schoeman Interview.)

Several years after its initial publication, Schoeman’s first book is still being talked about in many sometimes-unlikely places. I’ve seen Father Joseph Mary Wolfe, MFVE, quoted Schoeman several times in homilies during televised Masses on EWTN. A lay Carmelite named Marylou Roblin told me she gave a copy of Salvation is from the Jews to her Seventh Day Adventist dentist. A Mountain View, CA priest, Father Robert Finnegan frequently brings up one or another of the ideas Schoeman writes about at a monthly prayer group meeting I attend. Obviously, this is not the type of book that makes an initial stir at first release and then sinks into oblivion. The ideas Schoeman presents as the fruit of his studies have ancient roots in Jewish and Christian history and in the Sacred Scriptures and other writings of both traditions, and they bear looking at anew.

I contacted Mark Brumley President of Ignatius Press to ask how they decided to publish Schoeman’s first book, which was submitted as an unsolicited manuscript. Brumley wrote the following about why he, along with a team of editors, including Father Joseph Fessio, the founder and editor-in chief, made the decision. Brumley’s words are not only interesting in themselves but are also a good summary of some of Schoeman’s most important points.

"My initial reaction to it: This is a fascinating, moving and thoughtful story ... with a balanced Catholic theology of the place of Jews and Judaism in salvation history. Roy is not timid about his faith in Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah of Israel and the Catholic Church as having been founded by Jesus. But he also doesn't hold that God's saving purpose for Israel in history has been simply superceded by Jesus Christ and his establishment of the Catholic Church,. . . . His discussion of Judaism and the Holocaust casts light on the current circumstances of Judaism, and his treatment of Nazism's occult origins is riveting. ... I thought publishing the ms. would help further a much-needed discussion of how, while respecting the religious heritage of the Jewish people, the Church can and must carry on her mission to proclaim Jesus as the Savior of all——Jews and Gentiles alike."

The words of the title, Salvation is from the Jews, are the words of Christ to the Samaritan woman in John 4:22. As Brumley’s remarks and the subtitle “The Role of Judaism in Salvation History from Abraham to the Second Coming” clearly indicate, Schoeman’s writings address the question that some Catholic Christians still pose, “Was the role of the Jews finished when Christ came the first time?”

In the conversion stories he includes about prominent Jewish converts in both his books, Schoeman also describes special graces that God is sending to draw many Jews to the Catholic faith. Schoeman wrote in the chapter titled, “The Return of the Jews” that a Jew who becomes a Catholic is not a really a convert, but someone who is coming into the fullness of Judaism. This notion of return, Schoeman writes, is not odd when you realize that “the Catholic Church is simply the continuation and fulfillment of Judaism after the first coming of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah.” The return of the Jews, for Schoeman and for other Jews who have accepted Christ and Catholicism, is a turning away from the rejection of Christ at His First Coming. Also stressed in Schoeman’s work is the basis in Scripture and Tradition for the belief that the return of the Jews is a necessary prerequisite for Christ’s Second Coming.

Schoeman’s own conversion story was added to the end of the first book only at the insistence of Ignatius Press. Father Fessio has been quoted in interviews as saying that the press does not publish conversion stories, so the fact that Schoeman was asked to provide his story is remarkable in itself.

How Schoeman came to know Christ and the Catholic Church is awe-inspiring. Schoeman recounts two major events on the way to his baptism as a Catholic. The first was an experience of what he calls “falling into heaven” during a walk on the beach. Father Joseph Mary quoted this part of Schoeman’s story on EWTN several times because it bears consoling witness to God’s all-embracing love. Schoeman writes, “I saw my life laid out before me, seeing it as if I were reviewing it in the presence of God at the moment of my death.” He saw with great regret “all the time and energy I had wasted worrying about not being loved, when every moment of my existence I was held in the sea of God’s unimaginably great love.” A year later he had a vivid dream vision in which he was granted an audience with the Mother of God. “[W]hen I went to sleep I knew little about, and had no special sympathy for, Christianity in any of its aspects; when I awoke I was hopelessly in love with the Blessed Virgin Mary.” Schoeman writes that he then “knew that the God who had revealed himself to me on the beach had been Christ.”

My first contact with Roy Schoeman occurred while we were both on a pilgrimage to Israel in November 2005 (along with Father Joseph Mary who came along as one of the priest leaders). At the Notre Dame Pilgrimage Center in Jerusalem, Schoeman spoke on the evening of the day on which our group had gone to the Wailing Wall. During my own time at the one remaining wall of the Temple from the time of Christ, I had been moved to pray for those who still wait for the coming of the Messiah. So on that same night when I heard Schoeman speak, I found it especially meaningful that Schoeman asked the group to pray for the conversion of the Jews.

Some Catholics say these days that trying to bring Jews to Catholicism is always and everywhere the wrong thing to do. If you are one of those who think that way, I believe that you will think differently if you read Schoeman’s books.

This attitude some hold about Jewish conversion is vividly illustrated by an article about cloistered Carmelite nuns who live on Mt. Carmel (published in AP online and quoted at The presence of French Carmelite nuns in Haifa was facilitated in the late 19th century by two Jewish brothers, Augustin and Joseph Lemann, who became priests and canons of the Catholic Church in Rome and close associates of Pope Pius IX. The nuns’ specific raison d’etre in Haifa was to pray for the conversion of the Jews. But after Vatican II a misunderstanding about the unique and essential role of Christ in salvation crept into the some circles in the Church, and like many others, the nuns of Mt. Carmel were not immune. In the above-mentioned article, Mother Angela del Bono, OCD, was quoted as saying that it would be as ridiculous for anyone to pray for the conversion of Jews to Catholicism as it would be for someone to pray for her to be a Muslim. Mother Angela told the reporter that the nuns on Mt. Carmel would never pray any more for Jews to become Catholics, that it is enough for Jews to be good Jews.

On this topic Schoeman writes, “Evangelization efforts aimed at Jews are frequently seen by Jews as a threat to their religion and their people and even compared to the Nazis’ attempts to exterminate them. Yet the words of Jesus and the Scriptures themselves make it abundantly clear that God Himself, and certainly Jesus Himself, very much wish the Jews to come to Him. It was one of His greatest sorrows just before His crucifixion, when He exclaimed, ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem.... How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!’ [Matthew 23:37)” As Schoeman’s quotes from the Lemann brothers and from Christ Himself show, there is no better way for a Jew to be a “good Jew” than to accept Christ and become a Catholic. So, ironically, those who are praying only for Jews to be good Jews may be praying better than they know.

Another aspect of Schoeman’s writings that mesh with my own interests is his description of a post-Holocaust Jewish theology that in many cases has turned to rejection of God Himself. As part of my preparation for the Israel pilgrimage, I re-read some writings of Holocaust author, Elie Wiesel. In response to the horrors of the sufferings of the Jewish people under Hitler, Wiesel blames God. Reading Wiesel raised this question in a new way in my mind: What is the purpose of the Holocaust in the divine plan? As I found out by reading Schoeman’s book, Wiesel is “an example of one who gives up on God’s faithfulness to His covenant with the Jews.” With the rejection of God among many Jews after the Holocaust as one of the many pieces of evidence, Schoeman has a lot to say about the Satanic roots of the Holocaust. Diabolical fury directed against the Jews in the form of pogroms and persecutions is to Schoeman is one strong indication of the continuing importance of the Jews in God’s plan for salvation.

This thread of Schoeman’s thought merits far more space than can be allotted here, but I want to mention how, quoting from many reliable sources, Schoeman shows that the Nazis opened the way into the depths of other types of moral depravity by practicing sexual impurity. Last November, Schoeman appeared on the EWTN TV show “The Carpenter’s Shop” to discuss the topic of the effects of unchastity and how it gives a foothold to Satan in all other areas of our lives.

Another of the benefits I gained from reading the first book is an exposure to passages from Jewish rabbinical writings that most Catholics never hear about, including the Talmud. Schoeman quotes a remarkable passage in the Talmud about a miracle that would occur at the yearly Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) sacrifice at the Temple. The High Priest would “enter the Holy of Holies and offer sacrifice for atonement for the sins of all Israel.” The Talmud and another Jewish work called the Zohar describe a scarlet thread that would turned white on the Day of Atonement “as a sign that God had accepted the sacrifice.” The Talmud recounts “For 40 years before the destruction of the Temple the thread of scarlet never turned white but remained red.” The year that the cord stopped turning white at the yearly sacrifice coincides with the year of Jesus’ crucifixion, so the Talmud inadvertently confirmed that the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross made the Temple sacrifices obsolete.

Schoeman’s ideas seem to be solidly in conformity with the Magisterium. While Pope Benedict XVI was still Cardinal Ratzinger, he wrote the following about Israel (used in the sense of the Jewish people) in his book God and the World, which was published by Ignatius Press in 2002, “Israel still has a mission to accomplish today. We are in fact waiting for the moment when Israel, too, will say Yes to Christ, but we also know that while history still runs its course even this standing at the door fulfills a mission, one that is important for the world.”

Last month, I published an interview with Roy Schoeman at National Catholic Register. This posting was also submitted, to NCRegister, but wasn't published.
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