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Diary Entry Assignment on This is My Song by Richard Yaxley


Task: Create a diary entry assignment that relates themes from the Book of the Year, This is my Song (for example, racism, persecution, trauma, hope etc.) to the CST principles. This may include particular ideas, events, characters or a community in the book.

Then write a personal reflection on the work that you have created, explaining the relationship between your created work, the Book of the Year and at least 2 or 3 principles of Catholic Social Thought


Diary Entry: 16-10-2020
diary entry assignment, some stories are immutable; they need to be told and retold to unearth genealogical artefact from the abyss of collective histories. Our day and age is increasingly characterized by spatial and temporal dislocation, and it becomes necessary at some point to get back to the roots and see what exactly went wrong in the past so that we may reflect upon it and envision a better future. History has many stories to tell, only if one has the right pair of ears. This introduction becomes necessary to pave the path for a reflection upon the book I finished reading today as part of my curriculum. This is My Song by Richard Yaxley examined in this diary entry assignment is a tripartite saga that grows out of the bleak reality of holocaust, and sends its ripples through space and time. It has been proved in psychology that music can have a healing effect on past trauma. Music has also been a weapon of revolutionizing potential, a voice of the working class that has been put into a reactionary rhetoric by artisans across the world. However, when religious evil manifests in society in acute political forms of totalitarianism and fascism, the eternal voice of the creative troubadour is silenced by the face of guns. In such societies, evil becomes banal and assumes a systematic structure through which oppression can be perpetrated on the basis of racial and cultural supremacy. In the enclosed space of the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz, the voice of Rafael was apparently silenced, but the resilience of the Jew community made it possible for them to endure and survive the holocaust (Kaplan, 2019). The anti-Semite sentiments were not evoked in a single day – the Jews were always a people characterized by infidelity due to their vocation of usury which is irreligious in Christianity (Bartley, 2016). But the socialist principles of Catholicism sends the message of world peace and the subsequent creation of a global community where we are not differentiated by caste, class or creed. Art is finally the bridge between communities – the crack in the system that lets the light through.

Judeo-Christian religions are inherently interested in ontological questions such as, ‘what is the meaning of life?’ The modern age can be called an age of austerity, an age where life loses its dignity (Nepstad, 2019). While modern proponents of catholic social though sees life as sacred, it acknowledges that amidst widespread violence and oppression inflicted upon life, life has lost its dignity as such. Displacement has been a major issue of debate in urban discourse in relation to the growing concerns around alienation and isolation in modern societies. In our day and age of relentless stimuli, it is easy to deviate from the path prescribed in theological doctrines. The rise of an industry based civilization in eighteenth century has already written an epitaph for the grand almighty – the transcendental being of God has been declared dead. However, as we move into the future, the existence of God appeals to the theological anthropologists as a founding principle of the supposed dignity of human life.

The book upholds the principles of catholic social thought while remaining nuanced about its depiction of cultural and situational particularities. Some of the characters of the book, including Rafael Ullman’s father, remains a strong believer in the inherent goodness of humanity, which, according to him, is the basis for the works of Goethe and Rilke (Yaxley, 2017). While being subject to hateful violence himself in the middle of an anti-Semite gathering, he refuses to leave the country and take refuge in Austria. His son, Rafael, is sceptic about his sincerest hope for the progressive humanity, but his answer to his family’s scepticism is only ‘faith’ (Yaxley, 2017). His faith for humanity, in turn, provides the narrator with an urge to tell his story, and even if his passion for music is rendered null by the atrocities performed by Nazi Germany, his voice is evoked from the locked away house of history only after two generations. The interplay of faith and humanity is woven throughout the novel. Richard Yaxley artfully puts the epic saga together as a reaction to the dominant holocaust narratives by changing the approach (Yaxley, 2017). He sets out to convey trauma across generations and write in the anthropological sense, a genealogy of trauma, but I’m not totally sure he conveys this aptly and elaborately enough to let his message through to the unsuspected reader. The heart and soul of the book is Raphael himself, and his music is what weaves the stories in the book, albeit loosely so. Raphael’s narrative is moving as it is heart wrenching, and written with compassionate lyricism.

According to Byron and his papal associates, some of the principles of catholic social thought are as follows: life and dignity of the human being, human rights and responsibilities, communal participation and family life, duty towards the poor and the vulnerable, and solidarity among global cultures (Brady, 2017). In a world where the poor and the vulnerable are increasingly marginalised at the cost of prosperity of the few, catholic socialist doctrine would say that a basic moral test of a society would be to see how those living at the fringes of global capitalism fare (Ward, 2020). The western culture is turning inward, it can be said, and becoming insensitive and indifferent to foster isolationist sentiments to other cultures around the world, but are we not a big family of humanity after all? Catholic social thought would say so and relocate our international responsibilities towards the global anthropocentric community. The doctrine of CST would believe that we are all brothers and sisters, despite our economic, social and ideological differences (Novak, 2017). Rafael’s father reinstate a similar kind of sentiment when he says that a country which has produced the tradition of Rilke and Goethe will come to its senses. When he expresses this faith in German society and culture, he envisions the society as a long tradition moving progressively towards modernity (Yaxley, 2017). However, his assumption falls far from the tree, and his family becomes subject to inhuman torture in the concentration camps. Richard Yaxley looks at culture as a global project of togetherness, and his visioning of culture is rooted in anthropocentric sympathizing for the human tribe.

I have written the diary entry from the perspective of a musician, and was profoundly moved by the narrative. Well into the twenty first century, Meghan J. Clark has proposed a progressive Catholicism which revolve around the basic universal principles of human rights and human solidarity, which according to her are two prongs on which catholic social teaching should stand (Clark, 2016). Clark’s catholic vision of a universal humanity uses as founding principles the works of Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II (Shadle, 2018). The image of God is constructed in man’s image, but the Holy Trinity is characterized ultimately by a rhetoric of reciprocity and communication (Nunez, 2018). The communication aspect becomes important in catholic social teaching, since it is the only way to create a global community in this age of increasing alienation and isolation. In the book, Rafael’s music communicates to his grandson in a similar way, moving across temporal and spatial boundaries, only to find their significance in the present moment. The world we live in is characterized ultimately by interdependence among communities, and that forms the basis of catholic social thought.

Bartley, P. (2016). Catholics Confronting Hitler: The Catholic Church and the Nazis. Ignatius Press.

Brady, B. V. (2017). Essential Catholic Social Thought 2nd edition. Orbis Books.

Caplan, J. (2019). Nazi Germany: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press.

Clark, M. J. (2016). Seeking Solidarity for Development: Insights from Catholic Social Thought for Implementing the UN Agenda. Journal of Catholic Social Thought, 13(2), 311-328.

Nepstad, S. E. (2019). Catholic Social Activism. NYU Press.

Novak, M. (2017). Catholic social thought and liberal institutions: Freedom with justice. Routledge.

Nunez, T. (2018). Sustainable Abundance for All: Catholic Social Thought and Action in a Risky, Runaway World. Wipf and Stock Publishers.

Shadle, M. A. (2018). Interrupting Capitalism: Catholic Social Thought and the Economy. Oxford University Press.

Ward, K. (2020). Universal Basic Income and Work in Catholic Social Thought. American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 79(4), 1271-1306.

Yaxley, R. (2017). This is My Song. Scholastic Australia.


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