The world will not collapse without me

In Judaism, there is the idea: “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”

This is very good. And yet, it is but half the equation. As much as each person is a whole world, there is also a sense in which the world really can and does go on without us. But far from diminishing us, this perspective can give us tremendous peace.

On the Feast of Christ the King, I was at Emmaus with the Community of the Beatitudes for mass. During his homily, the priest traced history of nationalism and totalitarianism throughout the twentieth century. Then, he said, “Today the conflict is more with my individual kingdom, my personal sovereignty. Today we don’t have much sense of the common good because we think it’s against our personal good.”

This priest continued, “We know that God’s kingdom is not of this world and that mystical life and heaven are places of authentic communion with God, with others, and with the common good. How can we give witness to this?”

Then, he told us the story of a Polish priest named Jan Franciszek Macha who had been beatified the day before in Katowice at the Cathedral of Christ the King.

Preaching at that mass, an Italian cardinal had testified:

[Fr. Macha] too died, just like the grain of wheat: he was killed by a Nazi system full of hatred for those who were sowing good, in order to show the people of today that earthly dominion is passing away, while the Kingdom of Christ — which, as its supreme law, has the commandment of charity — endures.

Fr. Jan Franciszek Macha was arrested and sentenced to be guillotined when he was only 28-years-old due to all of the support he provided, irrespective of nationality or religion, to those suffering Nazi brutality.

The priest at the mass I attended read from Fr. Jan’s last letter that he had written to his family just before his execution in which he said:

This is my last letter. In four hours, the sentence will be carried out. So when you read this letter, I will no longer be among the living! Stay with God! Forgive me for everything.

I am going before the Almighty Judge who will judge me now. I hope that He will accept me. My wish was to work for Him, but it was not given to me. Thank you for everything!

I die with a clear conscience. I have lived a short life, but I believe that I have achieved my goal. Don’t despair! Everything will be all right.

Without one tree, the forest will stay a forest. Without one swallow, the spring will come, and without one man, the world will not collapse.

To be so radically oriented to God’s sovereignty and to the Kingdom of God shows extraordinary spiritual poise and resolve.

Yes, on the one hand, whoever destroys a soul destroys a world. But, on the other, the world really does not collapse with the loss of great souls; it is rather sustained and renewed by them long after their deaths.

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