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Christ’s crucifixion and the Holocaust: ‘appropriating suffering’

by Brad A. Greenberg

March 16, 2009 | 4:00 pm

Peter Manseau

You would think that Peter Manseau, the gentile winner of the National Jewish Book Award for fiction and the son of a priest and a nun, would have an interesting perspective on the whole Bishop Richard Williamson controversy. And you’d be correct.

Manseau writes for Commonweal about a different kind of Catholic revisionism than Williamson’s Holocaust denial:

When Benedict XVI visited Auschwitz in 2006, the prayer service he led began with the words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Words from the Psalms, they no doubt had been uttered within the prison gates before, by Jews praying as Jews in their final days. Yet that’s not why they were spoken during the pope’s visit. They were invoked then because Christians remember the same verse as words cried out by Jesus from the Cross.

Who becomes the victim in this kind of remembrance? The pope himself provided a hint: “By destroying Israel,” he said of the Nazis, “they ultimately wanted to tear up the taproot of the Christian faith.” Might this be another kind of revisionism?

The same could be asked of Pope John Paul II-the first pontiff to enter a synagogue, regarded by many as the best friend Jews have had in Rome. Early in his career, he was called upon as bishop of Krakow to give support to the beatification of the Polish priest Maximilian Kolbe, killed at Auschwitz in 1941. Asked if there were any relics available for this future saint, the man who would be pope said he could offer only “a single grain of Auschwitz soil.” With Kolbe’s canonization in 1982, the Catholic Church aligned itself with the victims of the Nazis as never before. In the making of a Christian martyr, however, it enlisted the earth below a concentration camp whose principal victims were Jews.

There is a difference between facing up to history and seeing one’s own theology play out at every turn. If the first frame of reference for the murder of 6 million Jews is the death of a Christian savior or saint, one can see how the dark spots of history might be forgotten beside the light of faith.

Speaking of the Holocaust is never easy-except for those who blithely deny it-but at times Catholics seem to find it easier to speak of the unspeakable in terms that make clear that we, too, know about suffering. We believe we know which words to invoke at the scene of faith-challenging atrocities because feeling forsaken by God is part of the story of our faith as well. The difficult thing to accept, however, is that nothing shows how little we understand the suffering of others more than the attempt to use our story to make sense of it.

This is an easy concept to understand. Just think of any time that a friend or family member was telling you about how difficult their workload had been or how slighted they’d been by another friend. Putting that person’s ordeal in the context of your own pain only inflames their suffering.

So how than should Catholics respond to Jewish suffering? I’m not sure, and Manseau doesn’t answer that question. But you can read the rest of his article here.

Previously on The God Blog:

Cardinal Mahony: Holocaust-denying bishop not welcome in LA

Pope tells bad bishop to recant views on Holocaust

Bishop who denied Holocaust booted from seminary leadership

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Since launching the blog in 2007, I’ve referred to myself as “a God-fearing Christian with devilishly good Jewish looks.” The description, I’d say, is an accurate one,...

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