The Vocation of Sion and its Responsibility in the Church
Br. Elio Passeto, NDS
The starting point of the Religious of Our Lady of Sion must comprehend our reality as religious community that takes place within the Church and in Her must find its definition. Furthermore, our being Sion articulates itself from its particularity, unicity, originality, and responsibility as within Church and for the Church. Our fundamental element is that we are a part of the Church, a complement in Her side and for this reason, our activities and way of being are an expression of Church’s being.
The sioniense vocation gets its support from the affirmation of the Church when she defines herself in an “intrinsic” relation with the Jewish People. If other vocations in the Church get their definitions in practical activities, we, Sion, define ourselves from the “raison d’être” of the Church, giving testimony of an important portion of Her identity.
Second Vatican Council’s teaching and its continuation states that the Church is Jewish in Her foundation: the context of her birth is entirely Judaic and the elements that constitute Her are Jewish. The Pontifical Biblical Comission Document, 2001 n. 2, clearly affirms: “It is above all by virtue of its historical origin that the Christian community discovers its links with the Jewish people. Indeed, the person in whom it puts its faith, Jesus of Nazareth, is himself a son of this people. A perennial manifestation of this link to their beginnings is the acceptance by Christians of the Sacred Scriptures of the Jewish people as the Word of God”.
So, therefore, at the time of the Apostles, even, witnessing the originality of their faith in Jesus as the Messiah, the Christian community expressed it in a Judaic manner seeking to self-affirm and distinguish from the other Jewish groups, they did it as a Jewish entity. Certainly, within this normal diversity in Judaism, the group that followed Jesus self- affirmed themselves in a special way believing in Jesus as Son of God who becomes God. However, at this point, even such an affirmation only could be possible within the Judaic context and the world. Only the Jews expected the Messiah and the expression of faith in the Messiah is an affirmation genuinely Jewish.
We know that various historic factors were the basis for the distance that the Church took in relation to Her roots (and today we know that there was a big reciprocal collaboration from both sides) and yet this reality of distance from the Judaism made the Church to go back and return to Her roots. Today, on this account, She is living in times of re- discovering of Her origins the documents teach us after 50 years of the Second Vatican Council. We must be aware that the teaching from the Second Vatican Council are normative for all the Catholics. On his speech to the American Jewish Committee, on 15th February 1985, Pope John Paul II stated: “I want to affirm, with absolutely conviction, that the teaching of Vatican Council II on its Nostra Aetate Declaration…, remain always for us, for the Catholic Church, for the Episcopate … and for the Pope a teaching that must be followed. A teaching that is needed to be accepted, not only as something convenient but as a faith experience, an inspiration from the Holy Spirit, a Word of divine Wisdom.” Some examples of Church’s teaching principles result from Nostra Aetate confirm its implications to our identity and mission specificity as Sion: We have in common patrimony with the Jewish People; the Jewish Wisdom has been up to today an important help for our comprehension of the Christian faith, We Christians have an intrinsic relation with the Jewish People; A complete rupture between Church and Synagogue is in contradiction with the Sacred Scriptures.
How should such thought be translated into the Christian Practice? There isn’t an adequate elaboration yet, nevertheless, we can’t think theologically our faith anymore without considering this truth which is an integral part of our faith history and that must be integrated into the teaching. Furthermore, Sion finds in these teachings the fundament of its call renewed in the Church. For that reason, the fact that these Church’s proclamations were not translated yet into theological language for the life of the Christians, this demands from us, Sion, to work in its formulation.
We know by our own experience that these teachings of the Church invite us to a different Christian behavior, not to be better but at least to be more coherent to the being Christian. It’s not only a knowledge – of already having read a document or get to know a language…, it is demanded a way of being and living as Christian, applying the affirmation that we are not in rupture with the Synagogue and knowing that the Word of God which nourishes the Church is the same Word of God given to the Jews and it is still valid as such up to today.
These teachings don’t resonate outlandish to Sion and even before they were elaborated in documents we already had them as part of our identify; one part of that was latent but the other one was already expressed since the beginning. In other words, for us, Sion, this way of reflecting is our vital element. Therefore, Church’s teachings towards the Jewish People must be the guiding basis of our identity and without this we lose our very reason of existence.
Actually, our Congregation’s history assures us our especial call: two Jewish brothers discovered their Christian faith. This fact unique make a curious existence within the Church. Certainly, this has its explanations in God’s design. The two founders already recognized the gratuity of this event and sleeked in God for answers. What is extraordinary is the fact that the two brothers entered into Church, the spectacular is that both of them decided to found a Community in the Church and to call it Our Lady of Sion. In fact, the Congregation is advanced one century ahead from the Vatican II proclamation, that hasn’t said anything new as such for the Judaic reality is Church’s integral part since the beginning.
At the time that the Church didn’t have neither a theological comprehension nor an appropriate language to talk about the Jewish People in a positive way, the existence in Her boson of a Community called Our Lady of Sion made great difference in the way which someone can be Christian in the Church even without renouncing one’s “Judaism”.
Today, it is known by us that Theodore and Alphonse Marie’s generation projected their own anti-Semite vision on the founders. Looking at their writings and studying their behaviours, we understand that the Jewish question remained a serious and important part for both brothers already in their familiar scope; the Jewish People was always the point of reference for them and in no way, they despised those who remained Jews and curiously they didn’t carry with them any difficulty to recognize their Jewish identity.
Indeed, the Community of Sion, each one of its members, inscribes itself inside a defined and limited space as part of one all, with a particularity and singularity in the Church. It is what we call Congregation and with a responsibility in the Church to which we call vocation or Charism. So, we are distinct: Sion is, or we are, the fruit of a specific call from God – this fact shall question us each second of our existence. This distinction from the others is very important for it allows the Church to form Her body on Her own diversity where each member has necessarily different function so that the whole works well. It is through this diversity that the harmony of all reaches its fullness (Cf. Cor 12). This principle is applied to all the Christians, consequently it serves as basis for different vocations in the Church.
If the Dominicans do what is proper to the Franciscans and not what is expected from their own especial vocation in the Church or vice-versa, some vital element will be lacking in the Church. This is true for all the levels and, of course, for us in Sion as well. Then, the clear conscience of the vocational specificity and its applicability is the major duty of each Congregation. We must have this requirement present: Sion is an unique ecclesial reality and it is in the relation with the Church that we define ourselves.
Looking at today’s situation, from the teachings in relation to the Judaism launched by the Vatican Council II, we note that many things belong to the whole Church, some teachings are more advanced, in this domain, than what is being lived as Community of Sion. It confirms that to become interested and studying Judaism and is an exclusivity of no one.
What to do then? Change our vocation or initiate a new community? To do nothing? Follow the force of nature and wait for the death? It is important to state more than ever that our vocation is needed in the Church and that this necessity must be assumed by each one of us.
It is true that the Church took big steps, but as it was said before, she didn’t formulate a new language to express these advances about teaching our Jewish roots; this fact demands a life experience, it requires a sensitive faith. It presumes time to immerse into the ocean of the Judeo- Christian Tradition. The individuals can do it and many did and are still doing it but there is the risk of losing in the middle of the experience and don’t get followers, not having continuity. The religious community is constituted for that. It is the mean that ports and sustain the experience elaboration of this new language demanded by the Church. Our place is there, our mission is to live this teaching from inside.
It is necessary to emphasize that many other communities in the Church are also guiding their formation towards Judaism. This mustn’t cause in us jealousy but to comfort us for this is precisely the Church’s work and not something exclusive to us. However, it is demanded from us an exclusivity of life regarding this subject (Unless we change our name into Our Lady of Guadalupe, Aparecida, Medjugore, etc…). The name Sion, already theologically, demands an exclusivity of the importance about what the Church teaches on Judaism to the Christian faith.
No Christian has the right to dismiss oneself from the social justice practice and put aside the well- fair of the other as its behaviour, as well as witnessing the love of God for the humanity, for these elements are principle for anyone who believes and consequently for the religious vocation. However, don’t let us take by what is in vogue, by what everybody is doing; we must have it clear that all the elements that compose the Christian practice must be present in being Sion. Yet, we can’t focus our efforts that are common to all the Christians without prioritize our particularity in the Church. We should analyse ourselves and see how much time we are investing energies in activities that are not priority of Sion.
There are things which others are responsible to do and not us and there are things that we are the only responsible and there is no one else. Sometimes it seems that our mission is the most difficult but we must be sure that the Church will not be complete without our part – our performance from what is specific is vital for the fullness of Church’s mission in the world.
This particularity demands a manner of being, a way of life. Since the first steps in Sion and in a permanent fashion our lives must be ruled in this direction. The specific of Sion must be learned, studied, discussed, taught and lived. It is not acquired by the name we carry with us. The values of Judaism for the Christian faith understand, which is a Church principle of teaching, must be a constitutive element of Sion member’s identity.
Indeed, our dynamic of definition shall continue but above of all our concrete acting as Sion with a specific and unique vocation in the Church must be clarified. The Tradition knowledge of the Church must be completed by the Tradition knowledge of Judaism that nourished it. The reading of the Word of God must be helped, as it says the teaching of the Church, by the Jewish Tradition that interpreted the same Word along the centuries until our days. That’s why an elaboration of a new theological language with Sion definitions is a work done to the Church that we do in elucidating elements that are already stated but yet unknown as formulation. Every sector where Sion acts, every formation space that Sion reaches, we are responsible for a teaching that carries a comprehension which respects the improvement on Church’s teaching that is evident our particularity. Our experience lived as Congregation from this “intrinsic” relationship with Judaism and with this “no rupture with the Synagogue” must be present since our basic catechesis, where it is done by Sion, up until parishes, schools, academic formation centers… The teaching of the Word of God, in all its dimensions, is the Sion’s field of action and must reach the Church. There is no specific activity, but our specific must be transparent in what we do, it means, our particularity of being Church, in other words, the particularity of the Church which we are, must be the guideline of our activities.
Every new teaching, new interpretation supposes re- elaboration of language and methodology of work. We live in a historic moment in the Church of new discovering and supported by recent teachings we are as Congregation daily encouraged to better express our way of being Sion in the Church. The existent models don’t comprehend the current advances. Furthermore, sometimes the concepts have vicious of understanding which prevent perceiving the novelty that arises from the existing. In relation to Judaism, the church announces the principles and the conclusion but it misses the speech elaboration, the didactic formulation of the teaching. The Religious of Sion identify themselves and their “raison d’être” with these teaching. However, it necessary the continuous joint reflection of our specific in the Church to the world, and this dynamic must be the carrier of this new practical model of study, service, life and teaching to ourselves in Sion, first of all and to spread in the Church work where and in the way we act.
Translation: Br. Tiago Cardoso, nds