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Sunday, June 8, 2014

A Word, A Name, and that Which is Part of Thee

I have been told I am difficult to manipulate.

I don't watch television, and therefore avoid much of the insidious propaganda. I am not given to over-emoting, other than the occasional high spirits or temperamental outburst over a temporary annoyance.  I dislike it when people try to "make me feel" a certain way, when they try to elicit the "common" reaction or emotion from me, when they try to make me "follow the herd".

I suppose that is largely why I am not just a Catholic, but an Orthodox one.  Yes, I really do believe Our Lord was born of a Virgin, and that the Virgin was Immaculately conceived.  I really do subscribe to the premise that birth control is harmful to the body and the relationship in which it is used.  I do accept that the Pope is infallible when he speaks ex cathedra in matters of faith and morals.  I firmly believe in the Real Presence, the existence of evil, and the inevitableness of death, the final judgement, heaven and hell.

Add to that, I love the Church's Traditions.  I love Her chants, Her polyphony, the constancy of Her Bridegroom's Word throughout Her daily practices, from Lauds through Compline.  I love Her Sacraments, I love the graces that flow from Host to hands to chasuble to us.   I love everything there is to love about my Faith, a Faith that bears the name of One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.   There is no other Faith that can be what She is, that can do what She does.  She is unique in Her qualities, in Her actions, and yes, in Her name.   A very important thing, a name.  A simple thing that we give to everything, from our plants to our pets, from our parents to our children.  It is the ultimate mark of identity in a world that seeks to know itself in every other possible way.

"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet", Shakespeare says, but to call it by name calls to mind the beauty, the peppery scent of its center, the waxy roughness of the petals as we touch them, the prick of the thorns that line the stem, designed to protect that which is beautiful.  All of that is conjured by an ethereal word that encompasses what the flower is.

I went to Auschwitz a few weeks ago.  My husband, an avid historian who did his undergraduate work on Joseph Goebbels, has often spoken of the Holocaust, of the savagery of this place.  It was not a place I went lightly.  I fully expected to feel a palpable evil here, to feel the horror of the millions murdered--especially knowing some of them to be Catholics, among them St. Edith Stein and St. Maximilian Kolbe.

There are areas in which we were forbidden to take photos.  Namely, the areas in which there were still human remains.  Enormous mounds of human hair, of spectacles, of shoes, of luggage, all things piled to show a fraction of the volume of people who passed through the gas chambers, who died from overwork and disease, all designed to manipulate one into an understanding of a brutality that went far beyond what we see in our everyday world.  I felt only a terrible sadness here, and I left feeling a bit guilty that I did not feel more.

A few days later, while in Prague, I visited the old Jewish quarter.  My intention was to pay my respects to Franz Kafka, but being less a fan than my husband, I made an error in finding his burial place.   I found myself outside of a synagogue through which I would have to pass in order to reach the old Jewish Cemetery that lay beyond it.  In my ignorance, I had thought this to be a functioning synagogue, and entered to find that it was not.  It had become a Holocaust memorial.  There was nothing here to remind one of the brutality of the Germans, no piles of clothing, no rebuilt barracks or empty gas canisters.  There was only an old altar with a list of the Death Camps running down the wall on either side, and on all the other walls--from the floor to the ceiling, in print not much larger than that which you are reading, the names of the dead and the dates upon which they were last seen alive or were known to have died.

This moved me.  Here there were no material goods, no physical signs of a people eradicated.  There was only a list of names, a listing of words that defined each individual in a way nothing else ever could.  The mention of any one of these would conjure up a particular way of smiling, an odd laugh, a freckle that only a lover would know, a mutual memory of another friend.  It would bring to mind an odd fleck of eye color, a way with words at weddings, a song that no one else could sing quite like that.  Maybe the name would remind you how to start a seed garden, or how to set stones in a fence without mortar, how to cut a tree to direct its fall.  There was no need to describe someone if you knew his or her name.  Those simple syllables would suffice.

Here I wept.  Here I offered a repetition of Chaplets to the Divine Mercy in reparation for the harm done to these people, the people of Our Lord.  I begged their pardon, and asked their intercession, and I wept, walking from room to room, reading the names, and then through the cemetery, where I could not read the Hebrew lettering, but still I prayed, and still I cried, and still I pleaded God's mercy on any world that could do this, that still does this, a butchery that defies the imagination, this destruction of names.

I am still here, born to this life when so many are not.  I was given the name by which God called me before He formed me, I have become all that He intended that name to be.   Through His Grace, I will continue that path, and on that path I shall pray continuously that our world will grant to each the right to be born, the right to grow old and die with dignity, to have a name, to be a rose in someone else's memory.   For surely, someone will always find such fragrance sweet.