Witnesses of the return to God

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Jn 3:3-7

Jesus answered: In all truth I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above. In all truth I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born through water and the Spirit.

As I wrote in my reflection yesterday, two short testimonies from Jews today should make us realise what a great gift it is for Jewish people to know the Lord. They recognise Jesus as the promised Messiah and Saviour of the world. He has been expected for a long time, but in relation to the Jewish people, only a few have recognised him so far. All the greater is the joy and gratitude of having awakened to the full faith when, through the bath of Holy Baptism, they are “born again” and recognise the Son of Man “who came down from heaven”.

I will not set down the whole conversion story of the three persons I have chosen from the book by Roy Schoeman: “Honey from the rock”, but only certain elements which describe how the way to Jesus and the Church was found.

First of all, Alphonse Ratisbonne. He was born in France in 1814 and grew up in a wealthy and aristocratic Jewish family. At the age of twenty-seven he had an apparition of the Virgin Mary which completely changed his life. He had the decisive experience in a church where his friend left him alone for a short time. Ratisbonne had previously devalued it, as his whole attitude towards the Christian faith was hostile.

When the friend, who had to arrange something for the funeral of his deceased friend in the sacristy, came back to him, he described the following.

“When I returned, I did not see Ratisbonne at first. Then I caught sight of him on his knees in the chapel of St Michael the Archangel. I went up to him and touched him. But I had to do this three of four times before he came beware of my presence. Finally he turned toward me and his face was bathed in tears, he clasped his hands together and said in a expression that no words can describe: “How that friend of yours must have prayed for me” (he meant the deceased friend).

I was petrified with astonishment. I felt what people must feel in the presence of a miracle. I helped Ratisbonne to his feet and almost carrying him out of the church. Then I asked him what was the matter and where he wanted to go. He said: “Take me wherever you like. After what I have seen, I shall obey.” I urged him to explain his meaning, but he was unable to do so- his emotion was too strong. Instead he took hold of his miraculous medal (given to him by Catholics) and kissed it with great devotion. He burst into tears when he thought of the heretics and unbelievers….

Ratisbonne found very understanding priests, soon entered the Catholic Church, then the Jesuit order, and began studies to become a priest. After ordination, he was allowed to go to the Holy Land and work there for the conversion of the Jews. With his brother Theodor, he founded the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion to pray especially for the conversion of the Jews.

On 10 October 1821, Herman Cohen was born into a wealthy Jewish family from Hamburg. His parents belonged to the “liberal Jews” who no longer cultivated many traditional elements of the Jewish faith. His exceptional musical talent made him a favourite of European elites. He fell increasingly into darkness through a life of sin.

By God’s grace he was saved through a Eucharistic experience, consecrated his life to God, and then became a soul-searching Carmelite priest and monk. He made a great contribution to the Carmelite Order.

Now a snippet of his decisive experience:

Cohen was invited by a friend to conduct a church choir on his behalf. He was 26 years old. He describes what happened then like this:

During the ceremony I felt nothing special, but at the moment of the benediction, even though I had no intention to prostrate like the rest of the congregation, I felt an indefinable agitation, my soul, deafened and distracted be the discord of the world, re-found itself, a bit like the prodigal son coming to his senses, and sensed that something previously entirely unknown was taking place. I felt for the first time a powerful, but indefinable emotion. Without any participation of my will, I was forced, despite myself, to bow down. (…) When I returned the following Friday, the same emotion came over me. And I was struck with the sudden thought of becoming Catholic.

Hermann Cohen’s path then led very straight to Holy Baptism and deep experiences showed him the truth of God’s world. He came home.

It is worthwhile to read every single testimony of these Jewish people and to share in the joy of God, as well as in the joy of the one who came home, as well as the gratitude also of the earthly Church.

Tomorrow I would like to conclude this reflection with a testimony of a rabbi who also found his way to the Lord.