Some years ago in Poland, an elderly professor of mine who had been a student of John Paul II told us that, earlier that day, he had been giving a lecture to some high school students, a society of Young Humanists, as they called themselves.
He says he spoke to them about Dostoevsky and said: “In all of Dostoevsky’s books you can find characters who are very poor from the worldly view, especially in The Idiot with Prince Myshkin who is so poor and naive. But can such persons be heroes from the moral point of view?”
He continued to us, “Of course, high schoolers are beginning to look toward their careers and for success. And I wanted to say to them, ‘Look, if you close your understanding of happiness in a human life to this sort of success, you miss these important characters who were definitely not professionally successful. Look out for your goals, okay. But please do not lose these special characters. Sometimes these aspirations cannot be easily held together. Remember, though, that even if you lose this success for which you strive, you do not need to lose your humanity, your heart, your life,’
“Your lessons are hard, oh God, let me be your good and patient pupil. I feel that I am one of many heirs to a great spiritual heritage. I shall be its faithful guardian.” – Etty Hillesum, killed in Auschwtiz on November 30, 1943
Today I am reflecting on the transformative impact of encountering misery – past or present – to discerning one’s path in life.
Confrontations with grave moral evils and injustices can be decisive turning points in a person’s life when he or she becomes summoned to personal responsibility with a sense of mission.
I was always intuitively and viscerally upset whenever women who had suffered miscarriages would lament well-intentioned people having attempted to console them with the words, “You can try again.”
Like Job’s “friends”, such people unfortunately misunderstood the nature of the situation so profoundly as to be unable to offer a meaningful response to those suffering this loss.
Having understood it intuitively, I also wanted to try to understand as rationally as possible why saying, “You can try again” is so inappropriate.
That is when I came upon this compelling paragraph by bioethicist Robert Spaemann who tackles various intellectual positions that would seek to eject members from the human family.
July 9th is the feast day of the Chinese Martyrs.
It was October 2000 when Saint Pope John Paul II canonized 120 martyrs in China. As Alejandro Bermudez noted in his recent piece, “87 were Chinese laypeople and 33 were missionaries.”
Bermudez says, “The feast is an occasion for the Chinese Catholic diaspora, and for the Universal Catholic church as a whole, to pray for Christians currently persecuted in Communist China, especially those Catholics who despite being a minority in Hong Kong, constitute the backbone of the freedom movement and are currently being jailed such as Catholic convert Jimmy Lai, owner of the pro-democracy paper Apple News; or those forced to exile, like pro-democracy Catholic leader Joseph Cheng.”
In his homily, John Paul II said the, “martyrs are an example of courage and consistency to us all, and that they honour the noble Chinese people.”
The stories of these modern martyrs are captivating and it is important for them to become accessible and familiar so to bolster the faith and tenacity of Christians and people of good will worldwide.
Today is the anniversary of the death of a Polish poet named Cyprian Kamil Norwid.
Unfortunately, Janusz Korczak was right when he said, “The world is deaf to the names of many great Poles.”
I first learned about Norwid through reading texts and addresses by John Paul II since the pope quoted him often. Then, when I moved to Lublin, I found more traces of Norwid – from schools bearing his name, to collections of his works in bookstores, to the statue of him on the university campus.
It was during an address in 2001 that Pope John Paul II told representatives of the Institute of Polish National Patrimony: “I honestly wanted to offer my personal debt of gratitude to the poet, with whose work I have been bound by a deep spiritual kinship since my secondary school years.”
He went on to acknowledge that, “Norwid’s poetry was born from the travail of his difficult life.”
On this date in 2008, Mieczysław Albert Maria Krąpiec OP, passed away.
I learned about this man as I gradually also learned how to pronounce his name.
This Polish priest-professor was a former rector of my university and is considered the founder of the Lublin Philosophical School – the most notable proponent of whom became Karol Wojtyła/Pope John Paul II.
It was in my very first week of classes that a professor of mine named Fr. Maryiniarczk spoke in an earnest yet convivial manner about this tradition saying, “The Lublin Philosophical School prepared, amid a very harsh time, an understanding of the human person and of reality. We aim to continue in this tradition of realistic philosophy. Metaphysics is concerned with discovering the content of being, not a conception of being and not merely a definition of concepts. We do not try to grasp a theory of man, but rather to understand man himself. This is part of what is meant by the approach called existential Thomism – an integration of truth and experience in our lives.”
I’m thankful to a friend who reminded me that today is the feast day of St. Gianna Beretta Molla and who, accordingly, suggested that I devote today’s post to her.
Gianna was an Italian Catholic pediatrician and mother of four. She is known for refusing life-saving medical interventions that would have resulted in the death of her fourth child with whom she was pregnant at the time.
While it would have been morally licit for her to opt for the interventions in an attempt to save her own life, since the loss of her child would have been wholly unintended and inadvertent, Gianna was willing to die in order that her unborn child might live.
How someone comes to such a decision with faith and courage is almost never momentary happenstance. As John Paul II put it– that Gianna knew how to offer her life as a sacrifice was the crowning of an exemplary existence.
In 1993, John Paul II inaugurated the World Day of the Sick to be celebrated each year on February 11th. He wanted the annual day to serve as “a special occasion for growth, with an attitude of listening, reflection, and effective commitment in the face of the great mystery of pain and illness” and he specifically addressed all those who are sick, calling them “the main actors of this World Day.”
What did he mean by this?
Canon Andrew White, formerly the vicar of St. George’s Church in Baghdad, has a chapter in his memoir titled, “Don’t Take Care; Take Risks.”
I’ll admit that I usually say, “Take care” to someone before hanging up the phone or getting out of an Uber. Nevertheless, the first time I heard the motto, “Don’t Take Care; Take Risks”, it struck me as better and truer.