May his memory be a blessing

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May his memory be a blessing

by Matthew Charlesworth SJ

When Jewish people die, people often reply: “May his/her memory be a blessing.” How should we live so that our life blesses that of others?

A friend posted a message on Facebook recently: “Live your life in such a way that the entire planet doesn’t dance in the streets when you lose your job.” This past weekend a giant left the world’s stage. I’m not talking about Trump – not even he’s talking about leaving just yet – (though the dancing was surely in his honour).

I’m talking about the passing of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who was Chief Rabbi in the UK for many years. He sadly passed away on 7 November at the age of 72. A truly righteous person, Rabbi Sacks was a respected faith leader, intellectual, philosopher, author and lecturer.

When asked about interfaith issues, he said, “Every faith is a candle we light in the public domain; a little light drives away much darkness.” There is a lot of darkness in our world at the moment, and we who have faith, need to be those little lights that can shine and offer hope, even if it’s just a little.

In response to the question of why bad things happen to good people, he said he did not know. He thought that was the right answer, because: “God does not want us to understand why bad things happen to good people, because if we understood, we would be forced to accept that bad things happen to good people. And God does not want us to accept those bad things. He wants us not to understand so that we will fight against the bad and the injustices of this world. And that is why there is no answer to that question. Because God has arranged that we shall never have an answer to that question”.

Focusing on what monotheists held in common, he said: “In the face of a deeply individualistic culture we offer community. Against consumerism, we talk about the things that have value but not a price. Against cynicism, we dare to admire and respect. In the face of fragmenting families, we believe in consecrating relationships. We believe in marriage as a commitment, parenthood as a responsibility, and the poetry of everyday life; when it is etched, in homes and schools with the charisma of holiness and grace.” Speaking about secularization, he said: “What led to [it] was that people lost faith in the ability of people of faith to live peaceably together; and we must never go down that road again.”

We must ask ourselves how peaceably we live together. Listening to the way Christians talk online and offline, one would be forgiven for doubting their Christianity.

How should we live our lives? Certainly not in a way that people celebrate our misfortune. Instead, we should emulate Rabbi Sacks a little and remember “the fine words of John Henry Cardinal Newman, who said, “We should ever conduct ourselves towards our enemy as if he were one day to be our friend”.”

A giant has gone, the world is poorer for it because there is one less light to dispel the darkness. Let his memory be not just a blessing to us, but a reminder to live as he lived: a life that is gracious and faithful, with a desire to befriend everyone, while resisting injustice.


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