When I was a religious Jew, I did not believe that God loved me the way I was. Now, when I am a Christian – yes, I do believe!
Perfection or Grace?
A Christian, when striving to be a better person, knows that he cannot count on human powers alone. A Christian should base his efforts upon the time he devotes to God in prayer, especially silent prayer, face to face with God, in which he tries to establish a relationship with God. For we know that it is His grace that makes us change, provided that we let it act in us. In Judaism – if I can say so – I acted as if I had been rowing a boat. Even if I believed that God was helping me, I could become a just man only thanks to my own powers and merits. A Christian, by contrast, believes that God Himself acts in him and that it is the role of man to let God act in him and through him. I know now that our will is weak; our will is above all about the strength of our faith. In Judaism I looked for perfection. In Christ, I do not look for perfection. Jesus told Paul, who was complaining about the physical ailment that Christ made him suffer from: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) We do not need to worry about our imperfections; we must humbly accept them instead, being aware that it is through them that God mysteriously acts. Accepting oneself the way one is, together with one’s vices, wounds and weaknesses, can prove to be a heavy cross to bear, and believing that Jesus-God uses them to attract other souls to him is something I never learned in Judaism.
Since it is Jesus who acts in us, he may appear to any person he wishes – even the least important – as for instance St. Margaret Maria or Marthe Robin. God’s servant, Marthe Robin, possessed no extraordinary qualities; she was plain. Nevertheless, in her room, in which she lay bedridden due to an illness, she hosted hundreds of thousands of people. Christ approaches also great sinners such as St. Augustine, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Ignatius of Loyola or Bl. Charles de Foucauld. In Judaism, for God to appear to a man, the man must be pure, wise, spiritually mature and scrupulously observing the laws. Remember the haughty remark of the Pharisees and the high priest addressed to Jesus: “Aren’t you the son of a carpenter?”
A Christian believes that God Himself acts in him and that it is the role of man to let God act in him and through him
Of course, the Bible tells the story of God healing a foreign widow and a Persian dignitary. The Jews, however, were outraged. I repeat myself, but this is important: in Judaism, it is not believed that God can speak to just any person. In the Church – yes – God can really speak to me during prayer. Even if, naturally, the words I hear must be verified. The great saints, such as St. Teresa of Avila, often spoke of this. Pope Benedict XVI once said during Advent: “The Lord takes us all in the arms of his love that saves and consoles.” I have never heard a great rabbi speak like that. And I am not particularly emotional, mind you, and Benedict XVI is even less so.
For God or in God?
“I do not call you servants any longer, but I have called you friends” (John 15:15) – Jesus tells his disciples before his death. This is the difference I have experienced. Jesus-God calls on all of us to be his friends and I today, now when I am a Christian, can enjoy this deep friendship with him, although I am at the same time a sinner. What is more – as St. Paul says – Jesus is our older brother. God is our brother! This is unthinkable in Judaism, where every evening when we fall asleep, we are judged. Our soul is judged by God and if the scales tip towards the good side, we can go on living to collect points by observing the law. When you are a Jew, there is no intimacy or friendship with God in everyday life. Exceptions include a few great just men that the Holy Scriptures tell us about. Thus, when Jesus calls on all of us to share in his Divine Life, to live in him, as he does in us, to change our natural life into a supernatural one, to deify it by our relationship with God, it is nevertheless mad! “God has become man so that man becomes God,” wrote St. Irenaeus in the 2nd century and St. Athanasius in the 4th century. As the consecrated bread is his Body, we, when we consume a consecrated Host, become his Body. God invites us “to share in his Divine nature” – as St. Peter says in his Second Epistle. In Judaism, it is different: I perform acts for God. I do not, however, really share in his Divine Life. Jesus said: “Abide in me as I abide in you.” (John 15:4) The most important thing, thus, is our relationship with God.