A week or so ago I attended a lecture hosted by the Institute of Catholic Culture with the tantalizing title “Feasts of the Jews.” Father Paul Schenck, best known as head of the National Pro-Life Center (as he put it, a special ministry to the Supreme Court), is a Jewish convert and a former Anglican minister recently ordained in the Catholic Church as a married priest.
Fr. Paul’s talk was as remarkable for his treatment of the conversion of St. Paul, which he interprets as conversion in the Hebrew sense of teshuva, or return – a return to Paul’s mission, as a member of the Pharisee religious elite, of maintaining the purity of Jewish faith – as for its official topic.
On the official topic, he shared a most illuminating bit of knowledge concerning the connection between the Jewish and the Christian feasts of Pentecost – beyond, that is, the fact that the original feast created an occasion for a gathering of the disciples, at which the Holy Spirit instituted its Christian counterpart. Fr. Paul pointed out that the Jewish Pentecost – Shavuot – is celebrated in tandem with Simchat-Torah, the feast of the giving of the Torah. The Jewish oral tradition, codified in the Talmud, teaches that the Torah was given on Sinai in all the languages of the nations; those with ears were let hear, and the Jews – so the tradition teaches – were the ones to respond. Thus in rendering the disciples of Jesus able to speak in tongues on Pentecost, God once again offered His Word to the nations.
Byzantine Jewess tells in a recent post the famous story of Fr. Dmitry Klepinin (whose grandson, coincidentally, I worked with in Ukraine). Fr. Paul shared a story in the same spirit, less plausible yet perhaps even more remarkable because he had learned it from Jews, not Christians. During the Holocaust, Fr. Paul told us, a Nazi officer walked into a church service and demanded that any Jews present themselves to him. Slowly, at the sight of all, the statues of Christ, Mary, and the apostles detached themselves from their pedestals and advanced toward the Nazi…