“He died in the fullness of years.”

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.

Continue reading

Can you die of success?

In his piece, “The Patient As A Person,” Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel says:

Striving for personal success is a legitimate and wholesome ingredient of the person. The danger begins when personal success becomes a way of thinking, the supreme standard of all values. Success as the object of supreme and exclusive concern is both pernicious and demonic. Such passion knows no limit. According to my own medical theory, more people die of success than of cancer.

Heschel contends that “making money is expensive” and that “making money may cost us values that no money can buy.”

Continue reading

Creaturely Sovereignty

Today I came upon the Oath of Maimonides. Here is the short text written by the preeminent rabbi, physician, and philosopher of the medieval period:

The eternal providence has appointed me to watch over the life and health of Thy creatures. May the love for my art actuate me at all time; may neither avarice nor miserliness, nor thirst for glory or for a great reputation engage my mind; for the enemies of truth and philanthropy could easily deceive me and make me forgetful of my lofty aim of doing good to Thy children.

May I never see in the patient anything but a fellow creature in pain.

Grant me the strength, time and opportunity always to correct what I have acquired, always to extend its domain; for knowledge is immense and the spirit of man can extend indefinitely to enrich itself daily with new requirements.

Today he can discover his errors of yesterday and tomorrow he can obtain a new light on what he thinks himself sure of today. Oh, God, Thou has appointed me to watch over the life and death of Thy creatures; here am I ready for my vocation and now I turn unto my calling.

Continue reading

In solidarity with the sufferers

In his book, Patience with God: The Story of Zacchaeus Continuing In Us, Tomáš Halík has an intriguing chapter on Thérèse of Lisieux. In it, I read many things I hadn’t known about her and gained a completely novel perspective on her value.

Here are some selected excerpts:

Continue reading

The Breath of the Spirit of Life

I have very much been enjoying Charles C. Camosy’s new book, Losing Our Dignity: How Secularized Medicine is Undermining Fundamental Human Equality.

Camosy begins with sketching the anthropological views undergirding our contemporary secular bioethics and then proceeds to explore recent cases, particularly at the beginning and end of life, where human equality has been questioned or undermined.

In a fascinating chapter on brain death, I was interested to learn about how Jews have succeeded in challenging the notion that brain death constitutes the death of the person.

Continue reading

Suffering is a school in humility

A friend of mine just sent me this article of his, “Cancer is back, so I have a request …

In it, Charles Lewis discusses his ambivalence about writing and speaking publicly about his illness.

Of course, in reading a column about it, his decision is made clear and obvious.

The first reason he gives for being public about it is because he hopes that others will pray for him.

A second reason he discerns is that he does not want to go through the burden alone or for he and his wife to shoulder it privately.

A third reason, which I found particularly interesting comes up when Lewis concludes, “Besides, why hide it? Would not that be a form of pride?”

Continue reading

“Every day is a good day to die.”

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.”

Continue reading

A Grocery Store Memorial

The janitor at my local grocery store was named Allen Baker.

I didn’t know Allen when he was alive, but I came to know of him by this memorial that the Farm Boy team set up to commemorate him at the entrance of the store, right next to the stalks of asparagus and Gruyère cheese.

Continue reading

Rabbi Bulka is a Role Model in How to Suffer

It would be understandable if, upon receiving a cancer diagnosis, a person were to retreat, to withdraw.

But that’s not Rabbi Dr. Reuven Bulka’s way. Instead, as ever, he continues to show leadership, to give example, and, above all, to generously go outside of himself for the good of others.

It seems that every time there is a tragedy or crisis, particularly in which his community or he himself is implicated, Rabbi Bulka has something to say with humility, sincerity, and gratitude.

Continue reading