The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

On Death Camps, Hope and Love

Last week, at his general audience at Castel Gandolfo, Pope Benedict focused on two 20th Century martyrs, St. Teresa Benedicta (Edith Stein) and St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe, who both suffered martyrdom at the hands of the Nazis in Auschwitz, Poland. I was particularly struck by one the Holy Father's comments: "It would seem that their existence could be regarded as a defeat, but it is precisely in their martyrdom that the brilliance of Love shines which conquers the darkness of egoism and hatred. Attributed to St. Maximilian Kolbe are the following words which it is said he pronounced at the height of the Nazi persecution: 'Hatred is not a creative force: Love alone is.'"

His comments had special meaning to me because of an experience I had back in 1951, when I was just a lad of seven. My father, an Army Reserve officer, was recalled to active duty and sent to Germany. My mom, my older brother and I joined him soon afterwards in Heidelberg where we lived "on the economy" in a fourth-floor, walk-up, cold-water flat on a little street called Schlosserestrasse -- quite a change from our nice, suburban home in Larchmont, NY. It was an interesting experience. I attended school in a tiny one-room schoolhouse run by Frau Scharmer, a lovely young teacher. As I recall there were about a dozen students, and I was one of two Americans. The other was a girl of eight -- an older woman. I avoided her.

This was in 1951-52, so the war was by no means a distant memory. Germany, along with much of the rest of Europe, was still digging out from under the rubble and, with the help of the Marshall Plan, was rebuilding its devastated infrastructure and at the same time building a new nation.

My father, who believed that a person learned as well from experience as from formal education, took us on frequent short trips to help us experience the country and its people. On one trip to Munich, he decided we should visit Dachau, one of the notorious concentration camps where so many perished. Some might think it cruel and abusive to take young children to such a place with its crematoria and mass graves and bleak barracks, but believe me I have often thanked my dad for the experience. Although many of my childhood memories are vague and indistinct, I can recall those few hours at Dachau with remarkable clarity. And if I learned anything from that day in Dachau it was the same lesson stressed by Pope Benedict: that hatred only destroys, and that God's love is the only true creative force.

It seems odd to me that Auschwitz and Dachau and the Gulags and 911 and the myriad other examples of man's capacity for hatred and cruelty lead so many people to question the existence of a loving God. To me these are instead proofs of it. Left to our own devices we would have destroyed ourselves long ago. It is only through the love and mercy of God that we are able to survive and overcome the effects of original sin . And such martyrs as Teresa and Maximilian and the countless others who preceded and followed them are beacons of hope to the world, outward manifestations of God's love and its power to transform us all...if only we let it.

Storm update: It would seem that Fay has wimped out...thanks be to God. We will likely get lots of needed rainfall, accompanied perhaps by some moderate winds -- just enough bad weather to intensify the grandchildren's cabin fever, but mild enough to keep us all safe and sound. Life is good. Being is good.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever...

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