Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, has recognized 27,921 Righteous Among the Nations. That’s the number of non-Jews who risked their lives to help and save Jews during the Holocaust that Yad Vashem has been able to ascertain with evidence.
These are remarkable stories of personal risk, self-sacrifice, living in truth, fidelity to conscience, charity toward neighbour, and the unshakable determination to live honourably in the sight of God.
Consider that number: 27,921. If you learned the story of one Righteous Among the Nations each day, it would take you 76 years.
On November 22nd, the anniversary of C.S. Lewis’ death, I am revisiting the book he wrote after the death of his wife titled, A Grief Observed.
The section that interests me most this evening is about loving God and persons rather than merely our ideas or images of them. Here is the relevant excerpt:
The other day I had my first class called “Post-Holocaust Jewish Theologies and Selected Christian Responses.”
Among the readings with which we began the course, we were given this single page containing the following epitaph:
From the Psalms I learned to pray: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19)
From Irving Greenberg I have learned to add:
“May they be credible in the presence of the burning children.”
The rabbi teaching our class also introduced us to some pages of Zalmen Gradowski who gave an eyewitness account of the death camps. Gradowski perished in October 1944 and his manuscripts were found after the war, hidden underground near the crematoria at Auschwitz.
On this anniversary of Saint John XXIII’s death, I took the opportunity to re-read Hannah Arendt’s chapter, “Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli: A Christian on St. Peter’s Chair from 1958 to 1963” in her book Men in Dark Times.
It is an amusing title for the German Jewish political theorists reflections on his pontificate and, more broadly, his whole life and death.
By calling him “A Christian” in this emphatic sense, she intended to convey the remarkable extent to which Pope John XXIII wanted to follow Christ, “to suffer and be despised for Christ and with Christ”, and to “care nothing for the judgments of the world, even the ecclesiastical world.”
I was pleased to see Fr. Raymond de Souza’s piece in the National Post titled, “What happened at the Kamloops residential school was an offence against humanity.”
In it, he discusses the thought of Hans Jonas, a German Jewish philosopher about whom I wrote my undergraduate thesis.
Separately from that thesis but very much related to these themes, I wrote this short academic paper in 2017 about what it is that sets human persons apart from animals and machines.
Sometimes I wonder about how we will look back at this Covid period of our lives.
Will this time be regarded as “lost years” or “missing years”?
Will we be able to recall events clearly or will they be blurred, absent the ordinarily vivid and communal expressions of milestones?
And, will trauma and grief be suppressed by gradual good humour and selective nostalgia?
In The Year of Our Lord 1943, Alan Jacobs writes about the effects of the end of World War II saying, “As war comes to an end, and its exigencies cease, and people return to a freedom absent for so long that its return is discomforting, they think of the apparent lawlessness of Nature and Man alike…”
A few pages later, Jacobs says:
Thomas Aquinas died on this date 747 years ago. Accordingly, I decided to see what came up first with a quick search about Aquinas on death. I was led to the Summa Theologiae and, specifically, to Question 69 on “Matters concerning the resurrection, and first of the place where souls are after death.”
During his lifetime, Thomas Aquinas considered many questions that most people would never consider at all. Take, for example, Article 4 of Question 69 in which he asks: “Whether the limbo of hell is the same as Abraham’s bosom?”
I had not heard (or didn’t particularly recall hearing) of “Abraham’s bosom” but a detailed Wikipedia article discusses the concept as it appears in the Bible, Jewish and Christian history, and religious art and literature.
“When anxiety was great within me,
your consolation brought me joy.”
– Psalm 94:19
Today Christians celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord commemorating when Jesus was brought to the temple by Mary and Joseph.
About this feast, Pope Francis says: