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.
Jozef De Veuster was a Belgian Catholic who asked God to be sent on a mission.
Having done his formation for the priesthood in Belgium, he was then sent to Honolulu and was ordained two months later.
He took the name Damien and began his priestly ministry in the Hawaiian Islands.
During Fr. Damien’s time, there was a public health crisis. Mortality rates were high due to infectious diseases for which there was no herd immunity. Chinese workers were suspected of having brought the disease to the islands. The outbreak was not well understood and experts were unsure as to how it spread, whether it could be cured, and whether transmission could be stopped. The government passed mandatory quarantine legislation, even sending some people to isolate in remote locations. The officials insisted that these were not prisons, but there was certainly not enough medical supplies or doctors and nurses. Some experts thought the lepers would be better off dead. One health official conjectured, “It would seem that even demons themselves would pity their condition and hasten their death.”
It was on this date six years ago that Islamists beheaded 21 Coptic Christians along the beach in Libya.
I have been thinking about this all day and remembering the video footage that is seared in my memory.
What difference is it making?
What does the martyrdom of these Copts have to do with us today?
To this question, I found an extraordinary piece published today by Lord David Alton.
In Henri Nouwen’s book Aging: The Fulfillment of Life, he tells this anecdote:
Not too long ago a thirty-two-year-old, good-looking, intelligent man, full of desire to live a creative life, was asked: “Jim, what are your plans for the future?” And when he answered: I want to work with the elderly and I am reading and studying to make myself ready for that task,” they looked at him with amazement and puzzlement. Someone said, “But Jim, don’t you have anything else to do?” Another suggested, “Why don’t you work with the young? You’ll really be great with them.” Another excused him more or less, saying: “Well, I guess you have a problem which prevents you from pursuing your own career.” Reflecting on these responses, Jim said: “Some people make me feel as if I have become interested in a lost cause, but I wonder if my interest and concern do not touch off in others a fear they are not ready to confront, the fear of becoming an old stranger themselves.”
Commenting on this, Nouwen expounds, “Thus care for the elderly means, first of all, to make ourselves available to the experience of becoming old.” And, in another place he asks, “How can we be fully present to the elderly when we are hiding from our own aging? How can we listen to their pains when their stories open wounds in us that we are trying to cover up?”