I needed this.
I’ve been affected by the events of this week like everyone else. In addition to that, there’s been death and sadness closer in at my parish. Everything bugs me this week.
Right in the midst of my anomie comes this conversion story. Conversion to Christ is birth, re-birth, being born again. It is a person stepping in one move from death to life.
This particular conversion story describes something a little bit like the conversion I experienced in that it was instantaneous. God does that with some people. It’s as if He points His finger and says “You.”
When that happens, there is no denying the reality of it. I guess you could ignore it and say no, but you’d have to lie to yourself in a big way to do it.
This particular conversion story, is titled “The Story of how a New York Jew wrestled with Christ and became Catholic”. It describes the instantaneous and unbidden conversion of Roger Dubin. God said “You” to Mr Dubin in an airport while he was watching the announcement of Pope Benedict’s election as pope in 2005.
I won’t tell you more because it would spoil the story. I’ll put an excerpt below with a link to the rest. I hope it cheers your day as it did mine.
On April 2, 2005, there came the news of the death of Pope John Paul II. I’d always admired the pope for his courage in confronting the horrors of communism, and for aligning with President Reagan and Prime Minister Thatcher in a united front that led to the downfall of the Soviet Union. Yet as a spiritual leader he meant nothing to me.
Nevertheless, Barbara and I found ourselves becoming involved in the events and the funeral as they unfolded on television. Even the typically skewed commercial coverage couldn’t disguise the tributes from all corners of the globe, and the love for the pope and grief at losing him from Catholics and people of every faith. At some point in the two weeks following, Barbara—a long-lapsed Protestant who’d never lost her regard for Christianity—turned to me and said, “You’ve got to get religion, Roger. You’ve been drifting way too long.”
Early on the morning of April 19, I left on a business trip, first taking the commuter flight from Prescott, our home since 2001, to the Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix. There was a wait before my next flight to the west coast, so I stopped for coffee, and soon after I arrived at the gate, the white smoke appeared over the roof of the Sistine Chapel on the television monitor. Sipping my cappuccino, I watched with a large group of travelers, interested—as a news hound mostly—in who’d been chosen. From my casual observation, however, quite a few in the crowd were Catholics, and far more invested in the outcome than I.
When the announcement was made that Cardinal Ratzinger had been elected, people around me seemed to register either shock or joy. I had a pretty good sense of the reason for the split. In the days following Pope John Paul’s passing, I’d noted the avuncular and, to all appearances, mild-mannered cardinal playing a high-profile role in the funeral and related proceedings. I’d also heard quite a bit of commentary about his staunchly conservative stance as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, set in contrast to the “modernization” and “progress” many were hoping for and demanding. That hoary theme, complete with groan-inducing code words and liberal shibboleths straight out of American politics, brought on a depressing sense of déjÀ vu. “God’s Rottweiler,” some even called him, a denigration that struck me as both outrageous and naïve, though I knew almost nothing about him.
I’d been a senior corporate executive for many years, I’ve had my own consulting business since 1996, and I understood that the cardinal, like the centurion in Matthew 8:9, was “ a man under authority.” Which meant that whatever he’d done to garner his reputation had been undertaken with the guidance and approval of his boss. Yet the criticism fell on him, which also told me he was a loyal lieutenant, willing to do his superior’s will and take the hit himself without complaint. People who viewed it otherwise, I grumbled, likely had an axe to grind, or were reluctant to criticize Pope John Paul, or were simply fools.
That’s not very charitable, I admit. But remember, I was nowhere near being “Christian” in my judgments at the time. (Actually, I’m still nowhere near where I should be, yet I’m trying.) How often I’ve marveled since then at Pope Benedict’s kindness to everyone,even as he took on the agonizing work of expunging the “filth” from the Church and laying the foundation for renewal. How often I’ve wished I could feel his Christian charity towards the enemies within. But the rockiest rise on the road to becoming Christian, at least for someone like me, is learning to love as Pope Benedict loves—especially those whom you’d much rather smack upside the head and who richly deserve far worse. I suspect I’ll be wrestling with that one for a long time.
So there I was at the gate—standing now, with just a few minutes left before I’d need to board my flight. If I had to miss the introduction of the new pope, it was no big deal, though I was vaguely hoping I wouldn’t. And then Pope Benedict XVI walked onto the balcony. The camera zoomed in, his eyes seemed to look right at me and through me, and that’s the exact instant my conversion happened. (Read the rest here.)
Israeli grandchildren of Holocaust survivors are beginning to have their own arms tattooed with the same number that their grandparents had put on them in the concentration camps. This is an interesting way to memorialize what happened to their grandparents. I would guess that it also eases whatever remaining shame these Holocaust survivors may feel.
It seems especially poignant to me since we live in a time when whole sections of our population are being marginalized and reduced to non-human status. I am thinking specifically of the unborn, especially unborn children who have disabilities, and people who are feeble with age and injury whose lives we have begun to think of as so burdensome to the rest of us that they should be given the “right” to self-euthanize.
The article, which was published on the German website DW, says in part:
Soon, there will no longer be any living Holocaust survivors. But in Israel, some of their grandchildren are choosing to have themselves tattooed with the concentration camp ID numbers on their grandparents’ arms.
Holocaust survivors are disappearing and, with them, the memory of what they went through.
But some of their children and grandchildren have found a way to preserve the past – by tattooing on their arms the very numbers the Nazis inscribed on their victims. The crude mark that had been a concrete and painful reminder of the Holocaust has turned into a strong symbol of solidarity for some of the survivors’ family members.
Arik Diamant, a 33-year-old from the Israeli city of Herzliya, came up with the idea four years ago to duplicate his late grandfather Yosef Diamant’s Auschwitz identification number on his own arm.
“I went to my father and told him I wanted to tattoo my grandfather’s number,” Diamant told DW. “But I said I would do it after he passed away. My father told me right away that there was no reason to wait and that we could go and ask grandpa right now what he thought about it.”
Diamant didn’t wait. One Friday night, after the weekly dinner he and his family ate with his grandfather, he delicately brought up the idea.
“I told him that if it bothered him at all, I wouldn’t do it. At first, he was really shocked and asked me why I would want to do something like that,” remembered Diamant. “But then he stopped me and said, ‘When you have a grandchild and he asks you what it is, will you tell him about me?’”
Diamant’s story has been worked into a documentary film to be released soon: “Numbers,” produced by Uriel Sinai and Dana Doron.
Ayal Gelles’ arm on the right and his grandfather Avraham Nachshon’s on the left
Ideology of numbers
Diamant is one of a growing number of young Israeli Jews who are deciding to preserve their grandparents’ stories in this way. About three years ago, Ayal Gelles, a 28-year-old from Tel Aviv, tattooed the number of his grandfather, Avraham Nachshon, during a trip to South America. Gelles said he had thought it over for a while – but it was a cow that sealed his decision.
Gelles says that that the same day he got the tattoo he also became a vegan after reading a book by Charles Peterson, who writes that, for animals, every day is like a day in the Treblinka concentration camp. Gelles sees the story of the meat industry as a reflection of the Holocaust: a story of superiority and subordination, of one being above all else. And that triggered him to get the tattoo.(Read more here.)