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This evening I finished reading Jordan Peterson’s latest book, Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life.
In the last chapter, Rule XII: Be grateful in spite of your suffering, Peterson mentions that he has repeatedly suggested to his various audiences “that strength at the funeral of someone dear and close is a worthy goal” and he notes that “people have indicated to me that they took heart in desperate times as a consequence.”
After a worldwide book tour and many other public appearances, Peterson has had the opportunity to test and play with his ideas with many audiences. And it is interesting to read his thoughtful reflections based on his careful observation of the reactions of persons in the audience.
Earlier in the book, he mentions, as he has said elsewhere, that he sees people’s faces light up whenever he speaks about responsibility. Peterson is keenly aware that people have been raised with a greater emphasis on rights and the corresponding sense of entitlement that ensues with this focus. Yet, a sense of responsibility is what ennobles and fills persons with a sense of their proper dignity and capacity.
Accordingly, this challenge to have strength at funerals is an extension of his usual exhortation to responsibility.
I am getting ready to leave Canada’s capital city of Ottawa where I have lived and worked for the past four years.
As I prepare to leave, there are many farewells with friends. More subtle, however, is the occasional realization of having attended my last mass in a certain church, of having had my last coffee at a certain cafe, and of having brunched for the last time at a certain favourite restaurant.
Yes, I could be back here one day. But for now, I am saying goodbye and it’s uncertain whether or not I will ever be back to these specific people and places again. A lot of change happens year to year and the people who adorned your life in one season may not be there in the next.
This, I think, is one of the challenges of uprooting oneself or even of being uprooted due to some necessity.
But there is also something beautiful about it because, as I prepare to leave, my heart fills with gratitude and a sense of the preciousness of all of these particular encounters.
If there were not a last time for certain experiences and visits, there would not be the same sense of their value.
Perhaps this is partly what is meant by Augustine’s meditation on the Psalms: “He begins to leave who begins to love.”
Photo: The Shipping Container Coffee Shop Little Victories on Bank Street
It was on this date five years ago that Elie Wiesel died.
The Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate felt a tremendous responsibility to bear witness to all that he and others suffered.
“If I survived, it must be for some reason: I must do something with my life. It is too serious to play games with anymore because in my place someone else could have been saved. And so I speak for that person. On the other hand, I know I cannot,” he told a New York Times interviewer in 1981.
This evening I re-read Wiesel’s brief Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech from a few years later in 1986.
I love Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s writing so much.
It has that confident aphoristic quality to it that elicits attention.
Such is the case with his short essay entitled, “Death as Homecoming.”
Right at the beginning, Rabbi Heschel proposes that “in a way death is the test of the meaning of life. If death is devoid of meaning, then life is absurd. Life’s ultimate meaning remains obscure unless it is reflected upon in the face of death.”
Still, Heschel is keen to note that the Hebrew Bible and Jewish tradition do not stress “the problem of dying” so much as they stress “how to sanctify life.”
Today is the anniversary of the death of a Polish poet named Cyprian Kamil Norwid.
Unfortunately, Janusz Korczak was right when he said, “The world is deaf to the names of many great Poles.”
I first learned about Norwid through reading texts and addresses by John Paul II since the pope quoted him often. Then, when I moved to Lublin, I found more traces of Norwid – from schools bearing his name, to collections of his works in bookstores, to the statue of him on the university campus.
It was during an address in 2001 that Pope John Paul II told representatives of the Institute of Polish National Patrimony: “I honestly wanted to offer my personal debt of gratitude to the poet, with whose work I have been bound by a deep spiritual kinship since my secondary school years.”
He went on to acknowledge that, “Norwid’s poetry was born from the travail of his difficult life.”
This Mother’s Day Weekend, I attended mass in a church parking lot listening to Fr. Ken speak over radio from an Outdoor Chapel that was built by the Knights of Columbus.
My friend and I – as I’m sure is true of all parishioners – were saddened to hear from Fr. Ken that both his mother and father passed away earlier in the week due to COVID complications they suffered in the Philippines.
During the homily, Fr. Ken spoke a bit about his parents in connection to the Gospel and to Mother’s Day.
First, he spoke about how he is surprised by many of the memories being shared about his parents.
While his father was the friendly extrovert, his mother had been more discreet and introverted.
And so, Fr. Ken was not surprised with what people have been saying about his father but when it comes to his mother, he said he is hearing all of these new stories about her hidden generosity and thoughtfulness from so many people that he had not known she had touched.
Fr. Ken spoke about how his parents made a great team. His mother was good at business and sales and his father was good at networking and PR.
The other day, Fr. Mike Schmitz released this video, “The Key to a Happy Death” in which he shares that a student recently asked him, “In your experience, have you found that people who live a long and fulfilling life are more prepared, or better prepared to die–that they’re able to let go of their life more easily?”
And to this, he answered no.
This evening I’ve been reading Tomáš Halík’s book, I Want You To Be: On the God of Love in which the thirteenth chapter is titled, “Stronger than Death.”
In this chapter, the Czech priest, philosopher, and Templeton Prize laureate discusses how, “in order to perceive death as a gift, one must first deeply experience life as a gift.”
Gratitude is the appropriate response to a gift but, importantly, life is not only a gift but also a responsibility. Halik, like Abraham Joshua Heschel, speaks of life as an assignment:
Death is not a mere returning of the gift of life. Only loans are returned, and to return a gift is always regarded as an insult to the donor. The entrance ticket to life (think of the conversation between Alyosha and Ivan Karamazov) is not returnable. Life is not just a gift; it is also an assignment. At the moment of death, the handing on of the life that was given to us as an opportunity and entrusted to us as a task is—in religion terms—a sort of completed task report, the hour of truth about the extent to which we have fulfilled or squandered the opportunity we were given. Aversion to that religious concept of death is possibly only assisted by arguments from the arsenal of materialistically interpreted science, although in fact it is more likely based on the anxiety aroused by the need to render an account to a Judge who cannot be bribed or influenced. Compared to that the atheist view that everything comes to an end at death is a comforting dose of opium!
How often do we consider giving God an inventory about how we have spent our lifetime?
To be accountable for our days is a basis for man’s proper dignity.
As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry put it, “To be a man is, precisely, to be responsible.”
And responsibility is not only a matter of what we do but, most importantly, of who we become through the moral footprint of our deeds in this world.
Photo: With Fr. Tomáš Halík in Prague in April 2016
Today is Alice von Hildebrand’s 98th birthday. I was delighted to meet this wonderful philosopher, teacher, and author when I set out to visit her at her home in New Rochelle a couple years ago. The widow of eminent philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand, Alice exudes a profound joy – that is, a joy that is rooted in her deep existential gratitude through which she has grown to love the reality of her present circumstances, no matter what they may be.
In honour of her birthday, I read this piece of hers titled, “Made for Joy“, in which she writes: