Mirthful reaction against Pope Francis’ Jewish Missionary of Mercy

Mary Guadalupe

Just above where I write in the new rectory in Andrews. The red drapery is from iconographic praxis. Star of David is found all over the early first century synagogue where Jesus preached in Capernaum. The face of the Guadalupana, an exact replica-detail of the tilma, given to me in the sacristy after having said Mass facing the tilma in Guadalupe with a good friend from the Congregation for the Clergy concelebrating.

A merciless attack on the Pope Francis’ Jewish Missionary of Mercy!

A Catholic priest friend with a great sense of humor put up my recent post on Pope Francis appointing me, Jewish Scripture scholar that I am, to be one of his Missionaries of Mercy, putting this up, that is, on his FaceBook with this introduction:

I know Pope Francis has an ecumenical bent, and I know he likes to push the envelope, but a Jewish Missionary of Mercy? Really?

I laughed and laughed when he told me this, knowing the reaction that it would bring, a perfect teaching moment. And that’s what he wanted, of course. I still laugh. Pope Francis doesn’t want non-joyful Missionaries of Mercy. Here’s some of the reaction on his FaceBook:

1st comment: I’m soooooooo confused, and I’m a cradle Catholic.
2nd comment: Read the article and you won’t be.
3rd comment: I read the article & I’m even more confused now! Why do Catholics in need of mercy benefit from a “missionary of mercy” who doesn’t even accept Jesus as the Messiah, much less belong to the Church He founded????

Here’s the original article, just previous to this one on Arise! Let us be going!: Pope Francis’ Jewish Missionary of Mercy. Please, read it carefully. This points to the clear need for some dialogue.

Teaching this teachable moment

Lest anyone be scandalized by all this mirth (for the above FB comments were surely made with equal jest, especially the third comment, for she is a friend), let me use this all as a teachable moment. Here’s the truth of it:

I am a Catholic Priest who happily takes Pope Saint Pius X’s oath against modernism. But, what if I was a rabbi instead of being a priest? Let me tell you that one of the most profound instructions on the reclaiming of space and time for our heavenly Father by way of His Eternal Word Incarnate – “Instaurare omnia in Christo” (Ephesians 1:10 and the motto of Saint Pius X) – came to me by way of a Jewish rabbi. His instructing the ignorant, me, was an exercise of the spiritual work of work of mercy on my behalf. It would do us well to listen to each other. Let’s start with a rabbi turned priest, just to help you along:

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city. At the feet of Gamaliel I was educated strictly in our ancestral law and was zealous for God, just as all of you are today” (Acts 22:3 nab).

That’s Saint Paul, by the way, who goes on to say this:

“I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie; my conscience joins with the holy Spirit in bearing me witness that I have great sorrow and constant anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and separated from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kin according to the flesh. They are Israelites; theirs the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; theirs the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, is the Messiah. God who is over all be blessed forever. Amen” (Romans 9:1-5 nab).

Need we add that the Apostles are Jewish? That Immaculate Mary is Jewish? That Jesus is Jewish? Speaking of the Divine Son of God, Jesus said of Himself (John 4:22):

Saint Matthew tax collector Caravaggio

Caravaggio: Election of Saint Matthew

“Salvation is from the Jews.”

Still don’t get it? Here are some Jewish Catholics you might know:

  • The Catholic Archbishop of Paris, Aaron Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger (✝ 5 August 2007)
  • The Catholic auxiliary of Jerusalem, the Most Reverend Jean-Baptiste Gourion

Miserando atque eligendo, right?

Since I sojourned for a time above the cave of Elijah on Mount Carmel, and on so very many occasions wandered among the caves along the wadi where the ancient Carmelite monastery was destroyed by the Islamic crowd in bygone centuries, I hasten to add that all the big Spanish names among canonized Catholic Discalced Carmelites also declared to be Catholic Doctors of the Catholic Church have Jewish roots. And then there is, of course, Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), a Discalced Carmelite nun. Did I mention she is a Jewess, and Catholic? Perhaps you know how she died.

If we had to mention literature, I’m sure you’ve all read Michael O’Brien’s Father Elijah: An Apocalypse. The main character is Jewish and a Catholic priest.

There are, of course, countless others. And we could go on to mention the Jewish saints in the traditional Roman Canon of the Sacrifice of the Mass, etc., but, I think, the point should be clear:

One can be Jewish and Catholic at the same time.

But just to be crystal clear: I am indeed a Catholic priest, belong to a Catholic pontifical right clerical religious congregation, and am taking care of a Catholic parish of the Catholic diocese of Charlotte, on behalf of the Catholic bishop of this Catholic diocese. All Catholic. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be a Jewish Scripture scholar appointed by Pope Francis to be one of his Jewish Missionaries of Mercy, it being that I am 100% Jewish, what with my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother all speaking Yiddish from their native Poland.

I laugh with great belly laughs of Jewish mirth and… and… I really should grow pe’ot also for the sake of creating teachable moments like this. Having said all that, don’t be angry with me. Laugh with me for the joy of being instructed in the faith of our fathers.


Filed under Jewish-Catholic dialogue, Mercy, Missionaries of Mercy, Pope Francis, Year of Mercy

23 responses to “Mirthful reaction against Pope Francis’ Jewish Missionary of Mercy

  1. Hello Fr. Byers………….

    WOW, I’m excited. I can’t say why, but most of my life, I have been excited about coming to know, personally, Jews and their ‘religion’, too. I don’t know if I’m confused, because, my heart skipped when I read the title of this blog.

    One of my deepest desires has always been to learn about the religion of Judaism. Since our own Catholic faith stems from it, many parts of our Mass derived from the same source, how can one NOT be excited? Makes me feel that I would be knowing Jesus more intimately. Ironically, with all of this desire, I haven’t met very many of them.

    I have read articles from such places as “Jews for Jesus”…. (http://jewsforjesus.org/?gclid=CMTJrZ7J28kCFc4XHwod_1YJvw) and am thrilled, even more. I actually DO get physically joyful. These people are FULFILLED Christians! WOW… isn’t that precious? I LOVE IT!

    Thank you, so much, for writing. Confuse me all you want… makes me even more wanting to know more!

    Ah..Jesus loves you, Fr. Byers………and so do we!! Keep on keeping on!!


  2. Father George David Byers

    Hello Helen. The first thing to be done is to make sure there is no confusion about whether or not a Jew can be Catholic, and, of course, yes, is the answer. I know a Jewish layman who converted to be Catholic and teaches in a Catholic seminary, and who will be the first to tell you that he is Jewish, that is, a Catholic Jew. :)

  3. Pingback: Mirthful reaction against Pope Francis’ Jewish Missionary of Mercy by Father George David Byers | Deaconjohn1987's Blog

  4. SognPlaci

    The alternative is not Jewish and Catholic. But it is being a Catholic as opposed to everything else. We are [supposed to be] the new humanity. This rhymes for mnemotic reasons.

  5. Father George David Byers

    @ SognPlaci — This is actually what I would like to discuss a bit in this series. For instance, I would like to do a commentary on the Novus Ordo prayer for the Jews, and also the prayers of 1962 and 2008 (that date from a faulty memory) for the Extraordinary Form. The point would be to investigate what is meant by Israel and when, and what is meant by the veil. It is certainly something altogether different than other religions. And this is where Saint Paul’s exclamations come in. But, we will see where this takes us. At any rate, yes, Jesus is Himself the way, truth and life. Yes.

  6. pelerin

    I am fascinated to know of your Jewish heritage Father. Of course you can be both Catholic and Jewish and I am sure I remember Cardinal Lustiger explaining how he himself was still Jewish even though he had converted to Catholicism. Did he not have Jewish prayers for the dead said over his coffin outside Notre-Dame? I really did hope that he would one day be elected Pope…

    Many years ago I worked as a secretary in an Orthodox Jewish boarding school here in England. My work there taught me a lot about people with whom I had previously had no contact at all. I was impressed by the kindness of the staff there who knew that I was not Jewish. Those of us who were Christian went round putting on the lights on Friday evenings. When I asked what they did in Israel I was told that they came on automatically with a timing switch!

    I used to enjoy joining in the singing when on coach outings with the children (hava na gila?) and visiting Jewish restaurants was an experience too with pictures of Ben Gurion looking down on us. The school food was of course kosher and absolutely delicious and I soon got used to not having milk and meat at the same meal. My time there was an education for me and it taught me many things especially tolerance when I learnt of the discrimination which some of the staff had experienced before fleeing their own countries of origin. I learnt the word ‘mazel tov’ quite soon when I dropped a cup and broke it when handing it to the headmaster!

    Yes some people forget that Our Lord was Jewish. Our Lady too of course and the apostles.

  7. Helen, Jesus is a Jew, Mary and Joseph are Jews.
    Jesus came to fulfill the prophecies in what we call “the Old testament”about the coming of the Messiah. Well there are still many prophecies in the Old Testament that need to be fulfilled. I am a Messianic Christian as is my husband. I went as a kid to a catholic school (pre-and high school) but NOT a single word was said about the old Testament, we did NOT read the Bible. The Bible that was for the Protestants. I learned more about Jesus and His ancestors, my Jewish descent, the last 23 years being here in the USA. Thank you Lord for bringing us here. my faith grew and grew and I’m so happy about it.
    Merry Christmas. Think of it Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Beth=House Lehem (pronounce Lekhem) : The House of the Bread = well Jesus says : I am the Bread of Life, whoever eats me will have everlasting life.
    Also Bethlehem is the place where they breed the passover lambs that were slaughtered in the Temple. God never does anything without a reason.
    I’m so in awe for my Judeo-Christian Faith.
    Rivka (Rita)

  8. Absolutely, I’m always saying : I’m a Catholic Jew and very proud of it. Jewish via my mother and my father. It was such a revelation when we detected it, my mother had a lot of her family killed in the concentration camps. Indeed christianity is a fulfilling of the Old Testament and still not everything of the Old testament prophets has been fulfilled.
    Merry Christmas.

    O Mary, Daughter of Zion
    Mother of Judah’s Lion
    bring us, children of Your Tribe,
    to Your Son, God’s Divine Scribe

    Though being the chosen people
    we act as dumbed down sheeple
    if we keep rejecting Him
    our future looks extremely grim

    Some of us accepted the Messiah
    after prompts by Jeremiah
    but most descendants of Judea
    live as in the times of Hosea

    O Virgin of Israel
    bring the ones seduced by Samael
    to Yeshuah  Savior and Son of God
    even “ceaselessly” us do prod.

    Rita Biesemans, July 16 2013
    Our Lady of the Mount Carmel lead us up the Mountain

  9. Father George David Byers

    @ Pelerin — הבה נגילה

  10. Rita, I just knew you would have something beautiful to say about this! God love you!

  11. pelerin

    Translation please Father as I never learnt Hebrew there!

  12. pelerin

    PS I have just looked up ‘hava nagila’ and discovered it means ‘Rejoice’ – how appropriate following Gaudete Sunday yesterday! I still remember the tune even after fifty years have passed.

  13. I knew it was about you! I was the second comment!

  14. To Father George David Byers
    הבה נגילה
    When I took Hebrew classes in 1969 and 1970 before going to Israel where I worked two years in Sha’are Tsedek Hospital in Jerusalem, the Rabbi Teacher whose name I forgot, said : Rita which Hebrew name would you like to choose. I said I : the name Rivka. He said well I was rather thinking for you of the name Gila = נגיל which means : “joy, delight, gladness, exultation” ( I giggled and laughed a lot and still do, “Jewlarious”)
    But I said no I want to be Rivka. I met my husband in Jerusalem, they came to Israel in 1958 from Kurdistan Iraq. My husband was as a young boy mutilated by a muslim, carved with a knife on his back – awful scars.
    We both suffered unbelievable persecution for being christian-jews or jewish christians as did our kid in the school.
    But Jesus was always at our side, thru the sufferings we came closer and closer to Him. I’m so thankful for everything I went thru because He was undeniably at our side and nothing happened without His permission or out of His Will. Our God is an awesome God !!!!
    Rivka ( Riki what my husband calls me)

  15. in Hebrew Jerushalaim (ירושלים)= stands for Jerusha( יְרוּשָׁה ) la’em which means :”their HERITAGE. Jerusha means inheritance,heritage, la’em means to them, thus their (the Jews) inheritance. Our Hebrew teacher taught us this in the Hebrew classes in 1969-1970. That’s also what Chief Rabbi Medalie, may he rest in peace, told me when I was his nurse in a hospital in Antwerp. When I was living and working in Jerusalem in the early 1970’s, Rabbis told me that this was absolutely correct.
    Peace in Hebrew is “shalom” in Arabic it is “sala’am”, “salem” in the word “Jerusalem” has nothing to do with the Arab word.
    Jerusalem is Jewish by HASHEM’s decree.
    The name itself tells it : JERUSHA LA’EM = their INHERITANCE it was given in heritage to G’D’s people, but then the people need NOT to turn their back to the Holy One from Whom all good and blessings come.
    BTW : the translation of the Unites States of America in Hebrew is : אַרצוֹת הַבְּרִית
    the lands (states) of the COVENANT : THIS SAYS IT ALL about America’s role towards Israel
    Rivka (Rita)Miró-Biesemans


    Biesemans : the end “S” stands for “the son” of

  18. DeaconBrian

    Hi Fr Byers. You have a very interesting background and story. Your listing of Jewish Catholics brought to mind Fr Alphonse Ratisbonne, converted through the Miraculous Medal in the 1800s

  19. Here is a link to a short story of Fr. Ratisbonne’s conversion and his ministry to convert the Jewish people. http://www.marypages.com/ratisbonneEng1.htm

  20. Dear Father Byers:
    There is a wonderful film available on Netflix: “Praying With Lior” – about the prayer life and Bar Mitzvah of a Downs Syndrome boy named Lior – the beauty of the prayer, the singing, the davaning, and the Bar Mitzvah itself are so moving and delightful. It just made me so happy – truly a spirit-filled little film that shows the beauty of Judaism and of this wonderful person, Lior, who loves God with all his heart.

  21. I tried to find that film on Netflix, USA, “Praying With Lior” but the search did not reveal it’s existence. Is that the proper title? Thanks.

  22. Praying with Lior Poster
    Watch on Netflix
    Release Year:
    MMPA Rating:
    Netflix Star Rating:
    3.7 / 5 Stars
    Available Since:
    March 31, 2011
    More Info:
    Praying with Lior

    Raising tough questions about notions of faith and disability, Ilana Trachtman’s coming-of-age documentary follows Lior Liebling, a Jewish boy with Down syndrome who spends his days praying endlessly to God as he approaches his bar mitzvah.

    Cast Summary:

    Lior Liebling, Mordecai Liebling, Lynne Iser

    Spiritual Documentaries
    Biographical Documentaries
    British Movies
    Faith and Spirituality
    Judaica Movies

    It still says that it is on Netflix

  23. Praying With Lior is available on Amazon Prime

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