Vocation Grasped in Retrospect

Today is the feast day of St. Edith Stein, a Jewish-Catholic saint and martyr born one century before me and to whom I have special devotion and affection.

In fact, I even spent one month a few years ago living in her former childhood home in Wroclaw, Poland (formerly Breslau, Germany).

Edith Stein was a German Jewish philosopher who became a Catholic nun and patron saint of Europe. Martyred in the Holocaust, she has been on my mind as I reflect on the meaning of vocation.

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Initial hypothesis about resurrection

After nearly 200 days of blogging about death every day, where is this leading?

I find myself becoming fascinated and absorbed by the topic of the resurrection of the dead.

As a friend remarked to me the other day, this is one of the most fundamental beliefs underlying our civilization and yet, it is a teaching about which most people are, if they are being honest about it, rather incredulous or indifferent.

My very preliminary hypothesis is that belief in resurrection is subliminally decisive to how we live and that it has wide-ranging implications in ethics, technology, and culture.

To play with these ideas, we can ask: What difference does it make whether or not we believe in a resurrection of the dead? What are the practical consequences in our lives of its possibility or impossibility?

Another question: If people believed in the resurrection of the body, what would it change in our public bioethics?

I do not yet have many answers to propose. However, my first intuition is that the precariousness of our embodiedness needs redemption.

Whether this redemption is possible and whether we stake (or mistake) our hope about it in the correct place is, I think, a more interesting and practical question than many realize.

Don’t make yourself afraid

One of the most well-known Hebrew songs, Kol Ha’Olam Kulo has these simple lyrics:

The whole world
is a very narrow bridge
a very narrow bridge
a very narrow bridge

The whole world
is a very narrow bridge –
A very narrow bridge.

And the main thing to recall –
is not to be afraid –
not to be afraid at all.

And the main thing to recall –
is not to be afraid at all.

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What does it mean to follow an exemplar?

The very interesting philosopher, Max Scheler, died on this date in 1928. He was a prominent influence in ethics, phenomenology, and personalism. He had an eclectic trajectory involving his German Jewish background, his youthful interest in Nietzsche and Marx, his gradual embrace of Catholicism, and his eventual distancing from the Church.

Scheler was quite interesting and imaginative and the impression he made on twentieth century thought is detectable, particularly in many Jewish and Catholic thinkers who address such topics as shame, resentment, and values.

Today I was returning to his book Person and Self-Value and, in particular, to the third section on “Exemplars of Persons and Leaders” in which he reflects on the question of what is actually meant by following an exemplar:

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Parting Words

If you died today, what are the last words of yours that your loved ones might find in your bag, on your computer, in a text message, or on your desk?

One of the victims of the recent tragedy in Meron reportedly gave his friend an envelope and told him not to open it until Sunday.

Rabbi Shimon Matlon could never have imagined that he would die that very night and that his note would be opened not only to his friend but to the world.

According to this source, the letter said:

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When genocide concerns you

Today is Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day and I’ve been reading through Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story: A Personal Account of the Armenian Genocide while eating some Armenian snacks from my Ararat Box.

Genocide is a weighty word and the recognition of it implies our moral responsibility not to be bystanders to the egregious evils of which we admit being aware.

During the First World War, Henry Morgenthau, a German-born Jewish American was serving as the the fourth 4th US Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.

As ambassador, he did his utmost to try to reason with the Ottoman authorities, to stop the genocide, and to implore the U.S. government on behalf of the Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians who were being persecuted and massacred.

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Where are your wounds?

Thanks to a dear friend of mine who recommended this fantastic episode of The Rubin Report in which David Rubin speaks with Bishop Robert Barron and Rabbi David Wolpe about what Easter and Passover teach us about freedom and hope.

I am equally recommending the episode and could not be more impressed by the quality of Jewish-Catholic relations presented in this cordial and substantive conversation.

In the course of the discussion, Rabbi Wolpe says, “This South African author, Alan Paton, has a beautiful scene in one of his novels about a guy who goes to heaven and he comes before God and God says, ‘Where are your wounds?’ And he says, ‘I don’t have any wounds.’ And God says, ‘Why? Was there nothing worth fighting for?'”

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Just Passing Through

Yesterday I started a six-week course called Journey of the Soul: A fresh look at life, death, and the rest–in peace. Throughout the course, we study death in its philosophical, emotional, and practical dimensions.

One highlight from the first session was hearing an anecdote about Rabbi Dovber of Meseritch.

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The Holocaust and Fruitfulness

Today is both International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat. The coinciding of a solemn commemoration with a celebration of the trees and fruits of Israel makes me reflect on all the tenacious ways that new life is sometimes brought forth from barren situations.

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Suffering happens for us, not to us

Today an article appeared in my newsfeed titled, “Rabbi Yehuda Dukes, 39, Inspired Thousands in Health and in Sickness.” In it, I learned that Rabbi Dukes, much-loved around the world and most especially by his wife and their six children, passed away from Covid.

What I found most striking was this interview the rabbi gave in August. Upon recovering from months in a coma, Rabbi Dukes spoke over a video call about his experiences and was honest about the excruciating physical pain he faced in addition to the anguish of being separated from his family.

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