If I were to sit at my computer for the next three hours and think of a thousand great ideas about Judaism, but never type anything, I would fail this assignment. Even though I may have put more effort into internalizing the information in What Is A Jew? than many of my classmates, I wouldn’t have anything to show for it. If, however, I take time to understand the information in our reading, and then do something with that information (in this case, write a short paper), my efforts will be worthwhile.
I will have produced something of value, and it may even get me a good grade. People in the world’s religious communities have a similar choice presented to them; they can spend all their time thinking about their faith, or they can actually do something on its behalf. In my opinion, it is only by doing something that their efforts are worthwhile. I have realized after some reflection that the Catholic upbringing I received focused primarily on ‘thinking,’ not ‘doing. ‘ My teachers and priests worked my mind like crazy, but never dealt with my muscles.
I could not pass the second grade without reciting the Our Father, Apostles’ Creed and Hail Mary, even though I hardly understood what they meant. Who, at age 7, fully comprehends the meanings of words like ‘hallowed,’ ‘trespasses,’ or ‘apostolic? ‘ I didn’t. All this exercise served to do was strengthen my rote memory skills and carve strange run-on words like ‘blessedartthouamongwomen’ into my brain. Of course I understand that these prayers are essential to understanding the core beliefs of the Catholic Church. I regret, however, that Jesus’ legacy has been reduced to such arbitrary memorization routines in schools.
It was not until the end of my high school years that someone suggested to me that community service might be a good way to carry out my beliefs. With a couple friends, I joined my parish’s service group. Every other Sunday, this group would spend three or four hours at a nursing home, Catholic Worker House, or Habitat for Humanity project. Although the parish had thousands of congregants (it was the biggest parish in our diocese), the service group never had more than 20 people participate in the service activities.
To me, this reflects the Catholic mindset that prayers before meals and sluggish (but consistent) mass attendance constitute exemplary faith. Physical action is not important. Catholics model after Jesus, the great miracle WORKer, by doing nothing. I find it sad that I can absent-mindedly recite a handful of Catholic prayers, but I couldn’t list the works of mercy if my life depended on it. I laughed with delight when I read the passage in What Is A Jew? describing the lesson about the parting of the Red Sea that The Rabbis are believed to have taught.
God says, “Stop praying and do something! ” in response to Moses and company’s prayerful beckoning for salvation. When a brave Hebrew leaps into the sea, God responds kindly, parting the sea. The book also presents the following ‘words of God,’ as presented by historic rabbis: “As long as Jews do My will, they need not believe in Me. ” It is evident to me that Judaism is much more concerned with implementing their faith in action than their catholic counterparts. Obviously, there is a lot more to Jewish faith than these humorous supposed quotations of God.
Without a doubt, Jewish schoolchildren are made to memorize a variety of Hebrew prayers. This is perhaps even more ridiculous than the Catholic practice, since the children most likely do not have a strong command of the Hebrew language. However, I really appreciate these two Jewish proclamations of the importance of action in the life of a truly religious person. Teachings of this sort are not found in Catholicism. I wish that my teachers and parents would have presented me with action-oriented religious advice during my spiritual development.
Unfortunately, they didn’t (and still don’t) see religion the way these Jewish rabbis do. To them, the bored teenager droning her way through mass is much more religious than the ‘hippy’ kid who protests for peace movements on the highway. I’m not trying to wage generational warfare here, I appreciate all religious guidance I have received in my life and the purpose of this essay is not to stand up for ‘hippies. ‘ I just had a few thoughts about religion, and I thought I should do something with them beyond just thinking about them.