My Father Died Long Ago—but His Example Lives On

By Larry Peterson

Sometimes things happen that you never forget

I remember that Friday night long ago very well. The screaming started about midnight. It was September, and the windows were still open because it was hot, and the screaming seemed exceptionally chilling. Dad got up, and my brother, Danny, whispered from his bed, “I think he’s going down there.”

“Down there” was the apartment of Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz. We got up and followed him. We watched as, without hesitating, Dad walked up to Leo’s apartment door and began banging on it with his fist. We watched from the stairs as the door slowly opened. Leo poked his head out, and just like that, my father was embracing this little Jewish man who, crying unashamedly, had buried his head in Dad’s chest.

My brother and I had crouched down, and peeking from the landing above, were stunned. Leo was the landlord, and everyone seemed to be afraid of him. Not Dad. He disappeared into that apartment with Leo Rabinowitz and did not leave for several hours.

Nightmares created years before

Sophie Rabinowitz was a tormented woman who suffered from horrible nightmares. These nightmares were created years before, when her two boys, ages 12 and 9, were clubbed to death by the Nazis. As her children were brutally beaten, their killers made Sophie and Leo watch. They had begged their captors to kill them and spare their children, but the Nazis tortured the helpless parents further by laughing and allowing them to live.

Try as I may, I cannot imagine what those moments were like for them. Sophie and Leo  were loving parents, and soldiers were forcing them to stand there, defenseless and powerless, as they clubbed their children to death. And why did they do this?  Simply because they were Jewish. Such evil can only come into people and be accepted by them if Satan has successfully won them over.

My father has been dead for many years, but he is still teaching me about being Catholic today. How? Through the gospel reading from Matthew 5:1-12—aka The Sermon on the Mount. This is when Jesus, a Jewish man, gave the world The Beatitudes. The one that always grabs me is #2, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

They had never mourned their boys

As my memory travels back in time I remember how a Catholic man had gone to his Jewish neighbor and how they became friends. My father became their ‘comforter’ by reaching out with an impromptu embrace and initiating the grieving process for Leo and Sophie. They had never mourned their boys and tried to go on living. It was an effort in futility. But this proved to be the moment when they began confronting what had happened to them. Ironically, reliving the sadness and horror also released a sense of beauty that shone through it, for it united them in a renewed marital bond that had been missing for nearly twenty years. They now became each other’s strength.

We Catholics read and hear during the Mass from the Roman Canon (aka First Eucharistic Prayer). the following words said by the priest before the words of consecration: “In communion with those whose memory we venerate, especially the glorious ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ, and blessed Joseph, her Spouse, —–and all your saints—” 

I ask you, were not all of those mentioned Jewish? Yes, they were. There is no denying this fact. They are all canonized saints, and their Judaism was always part of who they were. It all extrapolated into who we Catholics/Christians are today. We Jews and Christians are joined forever by Spiritual DNA.

It is now 2022, and Judaism and Christianity are under attack all over the world, including in the United States of America. It is in our face. We here, in the USA,  have had the absolute luxury of practicing our religions and worshiping as we so chose for as long as most of us can remember. It is, in my opinion, the greatest freedom given us by the Founding Fathers. We must fight to protect this freedom no matter what the cost.

Of course, there have always been those who have hated someone for being either Jewish or Catholic/Christian. I just wish those folks could have met my dad.

HAPPY FATHER”S DAY  Pops;   Love you

 


They desired to help the poor and their lives connected across the ages–Today they are all saints

   St. Vincent de Paul; Bl. Frederick Ozanam; St. Jeanne Jugan                      public domain

By Larry Peterson

Saint-Servan, France,1839:  On a bitterly cold winter night,  Jeanne Jugan, 47, looked out from her bedroom window and saw a person huddled outside. She went out and somehow managed to carry the shivering woman into her own home and place her in her own bed.

The woman’s name was Anne Chauvin and she was blind, paralyzed and quite old. She was also close to freezing to death. And so it began, for on that very night Jeanne Jugan turned her life to serving God by caring for the elderly poor.

Word spread quickly throughout the small town and before long more elderly sick and poor were being brought to Jeanne. Other women, younger and healthier, were coming to her also. But they were coming to join her in her work. The small group of women grew and became known as The Little Sisters of the Poor.

Forty years, in 1879, there were over 2400 Little Sisters of the Poor in nine countries. That year was also the year that Pope Leo XIII approved the by-laws of the order. Ironically, it was also the same year Jeanne Jugan died at the age of 86. She was canonized a saint on October 11, 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI.

Saint Jeanne Jugan never knew that when she was founding the Little Sisters of the Poor a young countryman of hers in Paris was responding to God’s flowing graces. Frederick Ozanam was a 20 year old student at the University of Paris. Challenged by his “enlightened” college peers, he embraced their taunts “to practice what you preach”.  So he went out and gave his coat to a beggar.  Then he and his four pals founded the St. Vincent de Paul Society. That was in May of 1833.  They named the  society after St.Vincent because he was known for his work with the poor.

Vincent de Paul never knew that 170 years after his death an organization named after him would take up the mantle of helping the poor all over the world. Fred Ozanam died at the age of 40 and was beatified and declared ‘Blessed’ by Pope John Paul II in 1997. Fred would never know that the organization he had founded would one day work side by side with the Little Sisters of the Poor in their mission of charity toward the elderly poor.

St. Jeanne Jugan could never have known that from the moment she carried Anne Chauvin into her home she would change the world for thousands upon thousands of the sick and disabled elderly. She could never have imagined that in the 21st century her order would be serving the poorest of the elderly in cities all over the United States and in 31 countries around the world.

Blessed Fred would never have imagined that his Society of St. Vincent de Paul would become a worldwide organization with close to a million members helping the needy all over the world. The grand irony is that over the course of several centuries the paths of these three saints have been interwoven dramatically as their followers help the poor, homeless and downtrodden no matter where they may be.

The three saints mentioned here never knew what their simple acts of kindness would lead to. The difference with them was that, unlike most folks, they responded to God’s grace. Jeanne took care of that sickly woman and Fred gave away his coat. Vincent worked with poor tenant farmers and founded the Daughters of Charity.

These three unpretentious, God loving people had two things in common.  First, they embraced God’s grace and followed His call. Secondly, they asked for NOTHING for themselves and welcomed whatever came their way, including poverty. Their legacies live on in the thousands upon thousands of their followers and in all those millions who have been helped by their simple acts of faith. This is a beautiful thing.

As a Catholic I love all of these people and I am proud to consider myself part of their extended family. They set examples for us that we are supposed to emulate. They are our Catholic heroes and therefore members of our Catholic Hall of Fame. They asked for nothing and gave everything. I love being able to talk to them. What I love best is when they talk back. And they do, sooner or later and one way or another.

St. Vincent de Paul, St. Jeanne Jugan and Blessed Frederick Ozanam, please keep praying for all of us. And —THANK YOU.

copyright© Larry Peterson 2021