Declaration of Dependence

The other day a friend of mine shared this profound aphorism from Nicolás Gómez Dávila which says:

Death is the unequivocal sign of our dependence.
Our dependence is the unequivocal foundation of our hope.

In 1993, a Canadian Supreme Court judge included the following statement in his decision:

“Although palliative care may be available to ease the pain and other physical discomfort which she will experience, the appellant fears the sedating effects of such drugs and argues, in any event, that they will not prevent the psychological and emotional distress which will result from being in a situation of utter dependence and loss of dignity.”


Here “utter dependence” is conflated with a “loss of dignity”, not the foundation of our hope.

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The Shelter of Wounds

Recently a friend of mine said something to me that was an epiphany. She reflected, “I don’t know anything about suffering being redemptive without others’ suffering being open to me.”

This immediately struck a chord and resonated within me profoundly.

Sometimes we need a friend to speak the truths we’ve known all along with the credibility of living witness.

In Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict XVI explains the way in which suffering that is shared becomes transformed:

Indeed, to accept the “other” who suffers, means that I take up his suffering in such a way that it becomes mine also. Because it has now become a shared suffering, though, in which another person is present, this suffering is penetrated by the light of love. The Latin word con-solatio, “consolation”, expresses this beautifully. It suggests being with the other in his solitude, so that it ceases to be solitude. 

Something else that comes to mind in thinking about this is the line from the Anima Christi prayer which says: “Within your wounds hide me.”

What is it to be hidden within another’s wounds?

How can a loved one’s wounds actually be a shelter for us?

Have we considered the ways in which a wound creates the actual space for greater openness and depth?

Without attempting to justify any evil, hurt, or injustice, how can revealing our woundedness to others create the hospitality in us for others in their woundedness such that “suffering is penetrated by the light of love”?

“We serve with reverence.”

My friend just sent me this photo of the sign outside of Majestic Mortuary Service Inc., a funeral home in New Orleans.

The motto caught her attention, and I can see why.

The dead are not the only ones who deserve to be treated with reverence, of course. For the living, too, this is their due. Yet, if you went to a restaurant that advertised “We serve with reverence”, you might think that’s a bit much.

This, however, shows my point that how we die (and how we naturally conduct ourselves before the mystery of death) has the power to humanize our culture.

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What this Holocaust survivor wants on her tombstone

Whenever I read about recently committed antisemitic acts in the news, my heart and mind immediately goes especially to Holocaust survivors. What must it be like to survive the Holocaust and then to be witnessing antisemitism in your own city in the twenty-first century?

Two years ago, after the synagogue shooting near San Diego, I visited my friend Faigie Libman. Faigie is one of two survivors with whom I travelled on a Holocaust study trip to Germany and Poland.

In my clip with her, Faigie says that her motto, which she hopes will go on her tombstone is, “If you have hatred in your heart, there’s no room for love.”

Take a look at this clip. It’s such a good reminder that darkness is best combatted with light and hatred is best combatted with love.

Having something at stake

This weekend I read Sohrab Ahmari’s new book The Unbroken Thread. While there is much upon which I could comment and that I plan to discuss with friends, for the purpose of this post I refer ever so briefly to his final chapter on death.

In this concluding chapter, Ahmari raises his twelfth question of the book: What’s Good About Death? (The other day an excerpt of this chapter was published, here.)

Throughout this section, Ahmari largely discusses Seneca, a Stoic philosopher who said, “Whoever doesn’t want to die, doesn’t want to live.”

In considering why this is, Ahmari explains:

Here is why: The state of being alive—fully alive—is possible only in relation to an endpoint, death. It is the certainty of an end to life that allows us to appreciate sacrifice, heroism, love, beauty, the kind of virtuous life a man like Seneca lived of the self-sacrificing death of a Maximilian Kolbe. As any decent novelist or screenwriter knows, if there is nothing at stake in the story, the story is boring. If there is no final terminus to life, life loses its vitality, its zest, its drama.

What is good about death is that its inevitability means that there is always something at stake in life.

The vulnerability of life increases its preciousness; the risk in life increases the adventure.

This “goodness” of death does not diminish grief or sorrow, though. Instead, it makes the drama of human responses to death intelligible, meaningful, and even capable of pointing beyond themselves to realities transcending this-worldly concerns.



An Appetite for Affection

The other day I was having a call with my aunt and godmother who is a hospice nurse in the U.S.

She had texted me to ask, “Have you talked about dying and food? How our bodies need less and less but families want to keep feeding the dying person? Food = Life = Love. It’s quite a psychological issue.”

I was interested to hear more from her about this, so I gave her a call.

She told me, “I have some patients who, if left on their own, wouldn’t eat. They would just stop eating and it’s not that they would be starving. It’s simply that their body doesn’t need the food anymore because they are approaching death. However, their loved ones worry they’ll starve and so they think that they must feed them.”

Sometimes hospice caregivers will spend an hour trying to feed someone a bowl of oatmeal or three hours trying to feed someone a shake, she told me.

My aunt expressed some frustration over this saying that is makes her wonder: “Why are you doing this? You’re forcing it.”

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“Don’t Wait to Honour Your Mother”

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.

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Is your work to die for?

Today is the feast of St. Joseph the Worker and this post examines Pope Francis’ beautiful Apostolic Letter “With A Father’s Heart” to explore the practical ways in which we can see work as a context for self-gift through which we fulfill the meaning of our lives.

I have organized the themes of the letter into the following eight categories. Each category begins with a excerpt from the letter and then includes a question or two for our contemplation of some possible practical applications.

1. Names and Relationships:

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What would you do with a longer life, anyway?

I just finished re-reading Leon Kass’s splendid essay, “L’Chaim and Its Limits: Why Not Immortality?

I was reminded of that 2001 piece when I read this interview published yesterday about Archbishop Emeritus Charles Chaput’s new book Things Worth Dying For: Thoughts on a Life Worth Living.

Leon Kass begins his piece by exploring the primacy of life in Judaism and our wider culture’s interest in prolonging life and forestalling death.

Then, he raises some questions:

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The Task Report in Death

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