Attentiveness to the person

The other day, I learned about this interesting section in the Mishneh Torah (Hilkhot Gifts to the Poor 7:3) concerning charity which says:

One is commanded to give to a poor person according to what he lacks. If he has no clothes, they clothe him. If he has no utensils for a house, they buy [them] for him. If he does not have a wife, they arrange a marriage for him. If [the poor person] is a woman, they arrange a husband for marriage for her. Even if it was the custom of [a person who was rich but is now] a poor person to ride on a horse with a servant running in front of him, and this is a person who fell from his station, they buy him a horse to ride upon and a servant to run in front of him, as it is said, (Deut. 15:8) Sufficient for whatever he needs. You are commanded to fill whatever he lacks, but you are not commanded to make him wealthy.

My professor, in remarking upon this passage, noted the two-fold dimensions to charity being discussed here.

First, there is the idea that giving charity involves restoring the person in need to their proper dignity.

Secondly, and perhaps more beautifully, there is the implicit virtue that this demands of showing real attentiveness to the person.

In order to perceive that a person is lacking in some respect, it is necessary to be familiar with their ordinary standard of living.

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“Angry enough to die”

In today’s reading, the prophet Jonah became so frustrated with God for not carrying out the evil He’d threatened against Nineveh that Jonah said, “I would be better off dead than alive.”

Then, when God asked Jonah if he had reason to be angry, Jonah responded with pathos, “I have reason to be angry. Angry enough to die.”

Recently, I met up with a friend who I hadn’t seen for quite some time. We were having one of those conversations that immediately cuts to the heart.

“What have you wrestled with God over lately?” my friend asked, as though this were a casual question friends discuss after years apart. “What has caused you even to be angry with Him?”

The deepest friendships and the deepest relationships admit such pathos and consternation.

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A Premium for Conversation

The other day I was having a conversation with my nonagenarian buddy.

He regaled me with the highlight of his week which, as many Ontarians can relate, was getting a haircut.

His son, who had just gotten his haircut in BC, had told my friend that he would pay an added fee to avoid needing to talk to his hairdresser.

“You see,” my friend began, “I’m the complete opposite! I’d pay a premium for the conversation!”

He proceeded to tell me all the details he could remember about his 24-year-old Arab barber.

Then he told me about some of the business tips that he’d given to the young man.

“And would you believe it? The young man was so grateful for the advice that he refused to accept payment altogether!”

What an endearing story, I thought.

How incalculable is the value of genuine human relations.

A patron saint of persistence

Today I spent some time contemplating St. Benedict since his feast day is usually celebrated on July 11th and he is a patron saint of the dying.

What came to mind, in thinking about Benedict however, is the legendary story of his last visit with his twin sister Scholastica.

Here is the splendid story as recounted by Saint Gregory the Great:

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Making Use of Languishing

Today there is a very interesting piece published in The New York Times titled, “There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing.”

This article describes the paradoxical combination of restlessness and lethargy that many people are now experiencing as “languishing.”

It turns out the etymology of the word is “to fail in strength, exhibit signs of approaching death” and the word is derived from the Latin word languere meaning to be listless, sluggish, and lacking in vigour.

The whole New York Times piece is very much worth reading because the author is not only articulate in describing the phenomenon but is also edifying in proposing some possible antidotes.

Adam Grant writes:

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Made for Inexhaustible Joy

Today Facebook reminded me of this quotation I’d posted a few years ago from Brother Alois’ 2018 letter:

In privileged circles, where people are well fed, well educated, and well taken care of, joy is sometimes absent, as if some people were worn out and discouraged by the banality of their lives.

At times, paradoxically, the encounter with a destitute person communicates joy, perhaps only a spark of joy, but an authentic joy nonetheless.

This reminded me of what has been among the most joyful times of my life – the semester I lived at a homeless shelter as part of an intentional community at the Calgary Mustard Seed.

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My Last Visit with My Last Grandparent

I didn’t know it at the time, but April 11th, 2015 marked my last visit with my last grandparent.

Joseph Achtman (Zaida) died two weeks later, and I am so grateful not only for my final visit with him, but also that I took the time to journal about our visit right after the fact.

Here is an excerpt from exactly what I wrote in April 2015.

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Achievement in Dying

Founder of modern palliative care, Cecily Saunders, was the 1981 Laureate of the Templeton Prize.

In her address, this section, in which she speaks about “achievement in dying”, especially struck me:

The first challenge was for the better understanding and control of pain. The seven years part time volunteer experience in St Luke’s and the later seven years full time developing this in St. Joseph’s laid the foundation for the increasingly sophisticated symptom control that means hospice today. There was much more to learn from St. Joseph’s from the strength and prayerfulness of the community of the Irish Sisters of Charity and, above all, from uncounted hours with the patients. It was they who showed me by their achievements how important the ending of life could be and many that I knew briefly and a few long stay patients, friends over the years, are the real founders of St. Christopher’s. One, another Pole, special among them all, left me other key phrases. When I told him he had not much further to go, he asked me, ‘Was it hard for you to tell me that?’ When I said that it had been, he said, ‘Thank you. It is hard to be told, but it is hard to tell too. Thank you’. We have to care what we say; this work is hard and demanding as well as rewarding. Two other things he said were separated by some three weeks. The first, ‘I do not want to die, I do not want to die’. The second, ‘I only want what is right’. Sometimes people ask me what I mean by achievement in dying. Here was one, Gethsemane made present today.

Later, in the same address she says:

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Matters of Consequence

This evening, over a dinner reunion with a dear friend of mine, she confided to me that she did not consider herself to have been up to anything interesting lately.

As soon as I heard this, I objected because my friend most certainly has been up to a very many interesting things, and it is only a matter of clarifying what “interesting” truly means.

If you have ever had the delight of reading – or, even better, having read aloud to you – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry The Little Prince, you will remember the Little Prince’s reproach of the those grown ups who are ever concerned with matters of consequence:

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