some Whimsical Aphorisms, Serious and Otherwise . . . by Michael D. O’Brien One might call these “amorphisms,” which technically means (with a little etymological stretch) fragments without connection to a discernible whole. Another meaning: an amorphism is that … Continue reading
In silence, then, we bow our heads before the endless line of those who suffered and were put to death here; yet our silence becomes in turn a plea for forgiveness and reconciliation, a plea to the living God never to let this happen again.
Twenty-seven years ago, on June 7, 1979, Pope John Paul II stood in this place. He said: “I come here today as a pilgrim. As you know, I have been here many times. So many times! And many times I have gone down to Maximilian Kolbe’s death cell, paused before the execution wall, and walked amid the ruins of the Birkenau ovens. It was impossible for me not to come here as Pope.”
June is the month devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Our Lord, appearing to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, promised particular graces to those who practice the First Fridays devotion to his Sacred Heart. The twelve promises and the devotion were approved by Pope Leo XIII.
Advent has begun, the time of waiting when we turn toward the coming dawn with renewed expectancy. Each year in the liturgical cycle we are invited to pray with the entire Church for the rebirth of Christ within the stable of our hearts, and for the graces we will need as we await his final coming. The scripture readings are about hope arising in the midst of darkness, of beginnings and endings and the eternal joy when there will be no more endings. Until that ultimate homecoming, we live in a world that is still in the process of being restored in Christ. The Christ Child is among us, and so is Herod.
Every year or so I read aloud to my children Charles Dickens’ great classic, A Christmas Carol. Most of our six have also reread it quietly to themselves and watched the three better known film versions of it. There are always new lights to be found in just about any Dickens novel, and the Carol is no exception. You find yourself laughing at something which last year you found not in the least funny; this year you’re choking back a sob where last year you were left untouched.
The terrorist attacks of September 11th have shaken the entire Western world, shattering our complacency, revealing to us the state of our unpreparedness, both sociopolitically and spiritually. We must hope that the subsequent turning to God in public and private prayer will continue, and that the present conflict will not spiral out of control into a global conflict. We must pray that Christ’s peace and his true justice will triumph over man’s instinctive desire for vengeance, and his need for security.
Freedom from fear is a good, but it cannot be purchased at any cost. If our highest value is only security, then we may for a time secure the borders of the West against the fanatics who hate us. But the internal life of a people is ultimately its best guarantor of strength. If we do not return to the principles God has written into creation, and live by moral absolutes both in our private lives and in our culture, we will suffer more attacks from violent individuals and groups.
Toward the beginning of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel The Idiot, the central character Prince Myshkin is shown a portrait of a young woman named Nastassya Filippovna by a Madame Yepanchin, his hostess. She holds Nastassya in contempt because her moral reputation is tarnished.
“So, you appreciate that kind of beauty?” she asks the prince.
“Yes. That kind—” the prince replies with an effort.
“Why?” she asks.
“In that face—there is much suffering,” he says, as though involuntarily, as though he is talking to himself.
“Beauty like that is strength,” one of the other women in the room angrily declares. “One could turn the world upside down with beauty like that.”
Nastassya is indeed physically beautiful. She is also suffering from her victimization (she was seduced by a wealthy guardian at a young age).