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(Semion Shchedrin. The Eagle Column at Gatchina. [Source])
How could we compare a poor gravedigger afflicted with Down's Syndrom, with a brilliant Ph.D. in Philosophy and world-famous Ethicist?
The job of a gravedigger is not particularly complicated. He must dig a grave that is two meters deep, and big enough to let a casket in. Said in a very crude way, he has to dig a hole for the carrion in the wooden box.
The poor gravedigger afflicted with Down's Syndrom, if he received catechism lessons, however understands many things. Firstly, he understands that the contents of the wooden box is not a human person.
This gravedigger also understands that once a person is dead, we can't do any good or harm to that person by fiddling with their corpse. That person is dead. That person's spiritual soul is now separated from "his or her body". Strictly speaking, it's not even "that person's body", but a carrion. What makes a heap of matter become the body of a person, is that God created a soul and "puts it in" that heap of matter.
This gravedigger listened to the explanations of the good nun who taught catechism. He knows that once a person is dead, the only thing we can do for that person's soul is to pray (and the summit of Christian prayer is the Eucharist, which is the living and essential heart of the Mass).
So much for that person's soul. But what can we do for what used to be that person's body, i.e. the carrion in the wooden box? Wherever the gravedigger digs the hole, he knows that it won't change a thing for the carrion in the wooden box.
On the other hand, the gravedigger knows that the family of the deceased is still alive. The family, friends and acquaintances of the deceased are not carrions. These people are still alive, and the gravedigger knows he has to love them, and talk to them about God. Indeed, the good nun told him many times that his Baptism had given him a prophetic mission.
This "prophetic mission" expression had really impressed our gravedigger afflicted with Down's Syndrom. He had started to understand it when the good nun had told him: "If you saw a fire break out in the rectory, and nobody else knew about it, what would your mission be?" He had spurted out the answer, with a big smile: "To pull on the big red fire handle!" So the good nun had then made him understand that he had to go tell other people how the fire of sin was bad, and how Jesus was the Fireman who could save us. He had understood his mission.
Our trisomic gravedigger, if his parents were very rich, might decide to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, by choosing the location of the holes he dug.
He could hop over to Iraq, pick up the coffin of a small girl killed during "a surgical-precision air strike" made by the US troops, then come back and bury it in New-York, next to the inevitable monstrous monument dedicated to the glory of the innocents who died on September 11, 2001, at the World Trade Center.
He could also fly South, pick up the coffin of a poor little boy who died in a slum somewhere in Latin America, then come and bury it here, in the beautiful indoor garden of one of our gigantic, luxurious shopping malls.
Our gravedigger also could go rummage in the garbage of an abortuary in the USA, where we ship our pregnant women so they can kill their child (paid for by the taxpayer). He could pick up the corpse of a poor newborn (or should we say "newly-aborted"?), put it in a real coffin, and come and bury it here, next to the tomb of the grand-parents of the mother, right here, in a Catholic cemetery in the Province of Quebec.
Our gravedigger afflicted with Down's Syndrom could even, if we were very brave, go dig a hole next to the discharge pipe of a factory that pollutes the St. Lawrence River, when he'd be asked to dig the grave of a rich businessman, who during his life made lots of profit with that very same factory.
This gravedigger, even if he's trisomic, would understand that the location of the hole he digs can have a great impact on all of society. Perhaps this lowly gravedigger, with his shovel and his little catechism course, could illuminate the moral conscience of his country, more than numerous Ph.D.'s and world-renowned Ethicists could do.
"Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings
hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies,
that thou mightiest still the enemy and the avenger."
[Psalm 8:3, quoted by Jesus in Mt 21:16]
One sad day, the gravedigger had to dig a hole for the good old nun that had taught him catechism lessons. Never did a hole seem so long to dig, especially since it seemed that the deeper he dug, the more he filled everything back up with his tears. What had finally consoled him was the memory of this nun, and what she had taught him in his catechism lessons.
"A soul that dies in a state of grace goes to Heaven", she used to say. And he knew full well that this good nun had done everything to live and die in a state of grace. She had worked all her life without being paid, for the good of the people around her. She had disseminated the truth about Jesus, in her catechism courses. She had prepared many children for Baptism, Confirmation, Confession and the Eucharist. She had respected all of God's Commandments, as Jesus orders us to do [Lc 18:20]. She had even herself received the Last Sacraments before her death. Trust in God's mercy had finally dried the gravedigger's tears.
A while later, the brother of this old nun had also passed away. Except this brother had not lived anything like his religious sister. He had done everything he could to renounce his Faith publicly. He had publicly lived in adultery, and had not even had his children baptized. Before his death, he had refused the Sacraments (encouraged in this refusal by his family). And once dead, his relatives had refused a funeral Mass, because that "had nothing to do with his beliefs or those of his family".
But this brother wanted a nice fashionable ceremony in a beautiful catholic church (the most beautiful, the one that has the best view on the St. Lawrence River). And of course, he had asked to be buried next to the old nun, since it looks good to be buried in a Catholic cemetery, next to people who lived saintly lives.
Once in the church, our gravedigger afflicted with Down's Syndrom had looked in vain for Jesus really present in the Eucharist. "It's a fairy tale! It's magic! And anyway God is dead, and the Pope is not the Vicar of Christ!", had said the people who were there, while mocking him abundantly.
Later on, when he was ordered to dig a hole right next to the tomb of his old nun, our gravedigger said:
"No. Dig it yourselves."
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