“Once a flower, I have become a root.”

I have got to share with you this remarkable excerpt from Pope Francis’s recent address to members of the Jewish community in Hungary:

I am moved by the thought of all those friends of God who shone his light on the darkness of this world. I think in particular of Miklós Radnóti, a great poet of this country. His brilliant career was cut short by the blind hatred of those who, for no other reason than his Jewish origins, first prevented him from teaching and then separated him from his family.

Imprisoned in a concentration camp, in the darkest and most depraved chapter of human history, Radnóti continued until his death to write poetry. His Bor Notebook was his only collection of poems to survive the Shoah. It testifies to the power of his belief in the warmth of love amid the icy coldness of the camps, illumining the darkness of hatred with the light of faith. The author, crushed by the chains that constrained his soul, discovered a higher freedom and the courage to write that, “as a prisoner… I have taken the measure of all that I had hoped for” (Bor Notebook, Letter to his Wife). He also posed a question that resonates with us today: “And you, how do you live? Does your voice find an echo in this time?” (Bor Notebook, First Eclogue). Our voices, dear brothers and sisters, must not fail to echo that Word given us from Heaven, echoes of hope and peace. Even if no one listens or we are misunderstood, may our actions never deny the Revelation to which we are witnesses.

Finally, in the solitude and desolation of the concentration camp, as he realized his life was fading away, Radnóti wrote: “I am now myself a root… Once a flower, I have become a root” (Bor Notebook, Root). We too are called to become roots. For our part, we usually look for fruits, results or affirmation. Yet God makes his word fruitful on the earth with a soft rain that makes the fields flower (cf. Is 55:10). He reminds us that our faith journeys are but seeds, seeds that then become deep roots nourishing the memory and enabling the future to blossom. This is what the God of our fathers asks of us, because – as another poet wrote – “God waits in other places; he waits beneath everything. Where the roots are. Down below” (Rainer Maria Rilke, Vladimir, the Cloud Painter). We can only reach the heights if we have deep roots. If we are rooted in listening to the Most High and to others, we will help our contemporaries to accept and love one another. Only if we become roots of peace and shoots of unity, will we prove credible in the eyes of the world, which look to us with a yearning that can bring hope to blossom. I thank you and I encourage you to persevere in your journey together, thank you! Please forgive me for speaking while seated, but I am no longer fifteen years old! Thank you.

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Death Rehearsal

This year I came upon this interesting sermon for Yom Kippur titled, “Let Death Be Our Teacher.”

This piece explains the way in which Yom Kippur is traditionally understood to be “a rehearsal of our death.”

In it, Rabbi Dara Frimmer says:

Let’s be honest, most of us wait until a crisis is upon us to make significant changes in our lives.

My father had a great life before he was diagnosed. He worked hard AND played golf every Wednesday. He loved photography, travel, and good food. He collected recipes from the New York Times and once a month our kitchen would become a gastronomy lab.

And when he was diagnosed, as most of us might do, he took account of his life – a Cheshbon Ha- Nefesh – literally, an accounting of his soul. Which is exactly what we are asked to do on Yom Kippur. A Cheshbon HaNefesh invites us to take inventory: Are we wasting moments of our life or are we lifting up and celebrating what is most precious?

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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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“I know that he will rise again…”

On the Feast Day of St. Martha, I am thinking about what I consider to be one of the most intriguing sentences in the New Testament – “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” (John 11:24)

This statement demonstrates the forcefulness and solidity of Jewish belief in an eventual resurrection of the dead.

Another pertinent section is 1 Corinthians 15 in which St. Paul discusses the importance of Christ having been raised from the dead saying, “If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.” (1. Cor. 15:14)

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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.

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Moving into grief instead of moving on from it

This past weekend (from Saturday night to Sunday night) was Tisha B’Av, the Jewish date for communal mourning of the destruction of the temples in the Jerusalem as well as all other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people through history.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to experience Tisha B’Av in Jerusalem and perhaps that will provide inspiration for another post.

Today, however, I wanted to share something I heard on Yocheved Davidowitz A Deeper Conversation podcast episode for Tisha B’Av.

In it, she discusses the solidarity Jews experience in mourning loss collectively and also the profound rituals Jews have for funerals and the grieving process.

Yocheved then discusses how, in her work as a therapist, she would notice the sense of dread people have about feeling sadness and mourning.

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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.

Death as gratitude

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.”

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The Humanness of Burial

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.

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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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