As we move this month through the sorrowful climax of the Lenten season, and into the joy of a new Easter, the Church’s liturgy takes on its most appealing richness. And it does so by a poverty of place, a limit of locale, which barely allows our meditations to stray beyond the gateways of the city of Jerusalem.
Our inseparable Lenten devotion is the Stations of the Cross — fourteen remembrances of Our Lord’s bleeding progress through the streets of Jerusalem and out to the hill of Calvary. And as the Passion time yields to the Paschal time, Jerusalem becomes the site of our triumphs: the Resurrection, the Descent of the Holy Ghost, and the Apostles’ first preaching and miracles.
Throughout the remainder of the year, the official prayer of the Church offers us Jerusalem as a most versatile symbol — now of the just soul, now of the Church itself, now of that celestial city which will be the eternal home of the saints. And so also with our private prayers — in the most beloved of which, the Rosary, eleven of the fifteen commemorated mysteries are Jerusalem occurrences. Indeed, two of them, the Ascension and the Assumption, begin in Jerusalem and terminate only in Heaven.
This prayerful preoccupation of Catholics with the city of Jerusalem is a key to the most potent geography lesson that the world has ever been taught. The lesson started with Our Lord’s own prophecy that the obstinate Jews to whom He was speaking would “fall by the edge of the sword and be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down by the Gentiles ... ”
It was less than forty years after the Crucifixion that Jerusalem quaked and collapsed under the force of Jesus’ fulfilled words. Roman armies under Titus slaughtered over a million Jews, dispersed the Jewish nation and demolished the Temple, in explicit resolution of Our Lord’s threat that “there shall not be left here a stone upon a stone.”
A couple of generations later, around the year 132 A.D., the Jews tried hard to regain their rule over Jerusalem. This time the destruction extended even to the name of the city. For years, Jerusalem was known as the strictly Roman town of Aelia. A law was enforced which prohibited all Jews from residing in this capital which God had once given them, and which God had now irrevocably taken away.
With the ascendancy of the Christians, there came a restoration of Jerusalem’s name, and a reclaiming of its Catholic Holy Places. Just once, in the mid-fourth century, under an apostate Emperor, was there a movement to de-Christianize Jerusalem in favor of Christ’s crucifiers. An attempt was made to rebuild the Jewish Temple — an attempt which was quickly abandoned at the miraculous intervention of earthquakes and fires. And no one has tried since.
By the middle of the fifth century, the Bishop of Jerusalem had gained the title of Patriarch, and the city itself had become a center of pilgrimage for Catholics in the remotest corners of Christendom. And so it remained to our own day, despite the intermittent changeovers in its political control: despite the fall of the kingdom of the Crusaders to the Saracens at the end of the thirteenth century; despite the Turkish Empire’s seizure of Jerusalem at the time of the Protestant revolt; despite the continual persecutions of the official Franciscan custodians of the Holy Land, who have protected our Catholic claims there, uninterruptedly, for over six centuries.
Thus, tragic as the details have often been, this Jerusalem geography lesson has taught a stark truth — that God has turned aside from the people who rejected His Divine Son, that He has blotted their name out of the book of the living (as King David foretold He would) and that He has given over the holy city of the Old Testament to the love and prayers of His New Testament, Gentile faithful.
In any historical study of Zionism (the name the Jews give to their nationalist movement), Rome and Jerusalem must be accorded the position of a new Torah, a formularization at last of that unwritten law which has guided the nation of the Jews during all of Christian times.
The book was written in Paris by a Jew named Moses Hess, who aimed it principally at the assimilationist Jews of his native Germany. A long-time disciple of Karl Marx, Hess had a revolutionist’s bent for explosive ideas. On the very first page of his frank preface, he bursts into that basic Jewish thesis which gives Rome and Jerusalem its title. “Papal Rome,” writes Hess, “symbolizes to the Jews an Inexhaustible well of poison. It is only with the drying up of this source that Christian German anti-Semitism will die from lack of nourishment.”
As the text unfolds, he adds such refinements as: “It is true that Christianity shed a certain glow during the dark ages of history ... but its light only revealed the graves of the nations of antiquity. Christianity is, after all, a religion of death.”
Hess then proceeds to the positive means by which Catholic Rome could be defeated. That means, he says, is the building up of Jerusalem — an undefined job which Hess apparently feels must start with each individual Jew. “Every Jew,” he proposes in casual blasphemy, “has within him the potentiality of a Messiah and every Jewess that of a Mater Dolorosa.” In Hess’ dispensation, no Jew could plead for exemption from service to the Jewish nation, because “A Jew belongs to his race and consequently also to Judaism, in spite of the fact that he or his ancestors have become apostates ... A converted Jew remains a Jew no matter how much he objects to it.”
By the time he gets to page 138, Hess is confidently telling his Jewish patriots that “The Messianic Era is the present age.” A “regeneration” of the world has been going on since the “great” French Revolution. Rome is already on the way down, he declares, and the job of the loyal Jew is to establish Jerusalem in its place. Christianity will be “finally replaced among the regenerated nations by a new historical cult. To this coming cult, Judaism alone holds the key.”
It has been the mission of present-day Zionists, who regard Moses Hess as their prophet, to grasp that key securely, and start it turning.
Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the Jews found their needed leader, in the person of an obscure, obsessed Jewish journalist named Theodore Herzl. With fanatic energy, Herzl hurtled from one end of Europe to the other, arguing, writing, organizing, preaching a gospel that entranced wealthy Jews into opening their checkbooks, and fired millions of down-trodden delicatessen-keepers with a vision of triumph.
In the early 1900’s, shortly before his death, Herzl set forth upon a final grand tour of the European capitals. Having captivated his own people, he now hoped to win the Gentile heads of state to the Zionist cause. To no one’s surprise, the Masonic coterie then ruling Europe received Herzl and his plans with wide-open arms. Whereupon, enflamed with success, he decided to call on the Pope. Perhaps Herzl fancied that with the changing times the Vatican might have tempered its traditional anti-Jewishness. Perhaps he was carried away with the thought of what a magnificent plum it would make if he could coax a pontifical blessing on his ideas. But whatever high-flying hopes prompted his visit, Herzl was about to see them dashed to the ground. For the year was 1904; and the Pope on whom he called was Saint Pius X.
In his Diaries, Herzl describes the visit. After listening quietly to the Zionist plan for restoring the Holy Land to the Jews, Pius X “answered in a stern and categorical manner: ‘We are unable to favor this movement. We cannot prevent the Jews from going to Jerusalem — but we could never sanction it. The ground of Jerusalem, if it were not always sacred, has been sanctified by the life of Jesus Christ. As the head of the Church, I cannot answer you otherwise. The Jews have not recognized Our Lord; therefore we cannot recognize the Jewish people.’ ”
And to the Pope’s pointed words, Herzl adds in his Diaries the pointed comment: “The conflict between Rome and Jerusalem, represented by the one and the other of us, was once again under way.”
At first the Holy City itself was not touched. The Jewish state — which the Jews dubbed “Israel” — had set up its capital at Tel Aviv, on the Mediterranean coast; for Jerusalem lay beyond its reach, some thirty miles into Arab territory. But almost immediately the Jews started hammering at their Arab neighbors, and before long had bulged out the borders of their state in every direction, and had thrust a finger into Jerusalem.
At Vatican insistence, enforced by the votes of Catholic countries, the United Nations decreed in December, 1949, that Jerusalem should be governed by neither Jews nor Arabs but by an international council. This administration, the Vatican hoped, would be able to safeguard the Holy Places. In response to this decision, the Jewish state promptly announced that it was moving its capital from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
When the United Nations (after much hemming and hawing) and the U. S. State Department issued timorous protests against such rank defiance, Jewish Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion snarled back, “That city’s future is settled.” Jerusalem, he said, was and would remain his capital. Wild with delight, the Jews of America shrilled their approval of Ben-Gurion’s behavior with full-page advertisements in the daily press and a gloating article in the National Jewish Monthly entitled, “Jerusalem: Now and Forever, Capital of Israel.”
Though at present the Jews control only half the Holy City, it is plain they want it all. Itching for a final take-over, Prime Minister Ben-Gurion has called on his compatriots to “show the world that Jerusalem is a Jewish city” — a suggestion that has been carried out with a thoroughness and ferocity only Jews could have conceived.
The few hundred Arabs who have remained in the Jewish sector of the city have been subjected to an ordeal of hardship and horror calculated to drive them from the Holy Land, and to discourage previously-evicted Arabs from returning. They are hired for jobs only when no Jews apply, and are paid reduced wages; they are harassed with travel restrictions and nightly curfews; they are given continual and vivid reminders that they may be at any time arrested as enemies of the state, dispossessed of their houses and lands, even murdered in official “reprisal” for some affront of an Arab national against the Jews. As Archbishop Hakim of Galilee recently insisted, the main reason why one million Arabs have fled from their life-long homes in the Holy Land is that they “were terrorized out by the Israelis.”
Even more forceful as a way of showing the world who is running Jerusalem, has been the Jews’ deliberate, wholesale destruction of Catholic shrines, churches, and institutions. Trying to calculate an incalculable loss, the Vatican has charged the Jews with ravaging Church property in the Holy Land at the rate of two million dollars’ worth a year. Targets of Jewish attack in Jerusalem have included the Cenacle, where Our Lord celebrated His Last Supper; the Convent of Mary Reparatrix, which was dynamited during the night while six nuns were known to be still inside; and the Church of the Dormition, which marks the venerated place of Our Lady’s Death, and which the Jews turned first into an artillery post and then into a dance hall for the Jewish army.
As a symbol, a liturgical remembrance, Jerusalem will be once again the center of Catholic attention this Lent. But as a place, a living, sacred, bled-for city, Jerusalem will remain, at our peril, abandoned to the enemies of God.