In Judaism, there is the idea: “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”
This is very good. And yet, it is but half the equation. As much as each person is a whole world, there is also a sense in which the world really can and does go on without us. But far from diminishing us, this perspective can give us tremendous peace.
On the Feast of Christ the King, I was at Emmaus with the Community of the Beatitudes for mass. During his homily, the priest traced history of nationalism and totalitarianism throughout the twentieth century. Then, he said, “Today the conflict is more with my individual kingdom, my personal sovereignty. Today we don’t have much sense of the common good because we think it’s against our personal good.”
A few days ago, I attended a conference at which I met a Venezuelan currently in exile in the U.K.
This young man is passionate about politics and philosophy.
When I shared with him about some of the current debates in Canadian politics concerning bioethics, he was perplexed.
Essentially he expressed his perplexity as follows: My country is a mess. There is massive corruption, countless human rights violations, and many basic needs of citizens are unmet. We imagine that Canada is so much more advanced. Yet, you seem to be divided on the most fundamental questions.
Indeed, Canadians are divided about what it means to be a man, to be a woman, to be married, to be a person, to be alive.
Despite industrial development, material prosperity, and impressive longevity, we are still unsure about a lot of the basics.
It is revealing that someone from Venezuela can question our supposed advancement in this way.
During my studies in Poland, I learned about a satellite campus of the Catholic University directly across the street from the former Nazi concentration camp, Majdanek.
One of my roommates was studying journalism there and I asked her what it is like to go to school across from the former camp.
She admitted that she no longer thinks about it every time she goes to class. But, she recalled, “One Friday, a professor gave us an assignment just when we all thought we would have a free weekend. Naturally, we started to complain a bit. Then he told us to think about what had happened across the street and take some perspective before we grumble about an assignment, and we all fell silent.”
It was the summer of 2018 when I crashed an Aramaic summer camp for Maronite children living in northern Israel. I got to have a blast singing songs and playing games with the children who are growing up navigating a complex identity with an extremely fraught history in a pretty volatile region.
One day during that camp, I decided to ask an 11-year-old girl named Marie who lives just a few kilometres away from the border with Lebanon, “Who do you think is in greatest need of our prayers?”
The preteen immediately answered, “The kids of Florida.”
“Florida?” I repeated curiously.
“Yes,” she told me. “Because of the school shootings there.”
I was quite struck by this answer to the extent that I still remember it.
It is interesting to consider this perspective on danger.
After all, I am sure that, were I interviewing 11-year-olds in Florida about who most needs our prayers that someone there would have told me, “The kids of the Middle East.”
One of the best things about doing this daily blog is that my friends now think to share with me anything particularly good and interesting about death or dying that they’ve seen or heard lately.
And so, quite a few of my friends have brought up this homily by Fr. Mike Schmitz’s from Palm Sunday:
In it, he says, “We’re all going to be dead at some point and I don’t think that that’s the problem. I think the problem is that we pretend that we’re not. We pretend that that’s not true and then, when tragedy happens, when death cuts close, I think it cuts through the illusion that my choices don’t matter.”
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.