“But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them.” (Wisdom 3:1)
Yet, Titus Brandsma went through torment: he was punished in the eyes of men. Yes, God tried him. The former prisoners from concentration camps know very well what kind of human Calvary those places of punishment were.
Places of great human trial.
The test of physical strength, ruthlessly driven to complete annihilation.
The test of moral forces…
Perhaps today’s Gospel speaks to us even better, recalling the commandment to love our enemies. The concentration camps were organized according to the program of contempt for man, according to the program of hatred. Through what a test of conscience, of character, of the heart a follower of Christ had to pass, who remembered Christ’s words about loving your enemies! Not responding to hatred with hatred but with love. This is perhaps one of the greatest tests of a man’s moral energies.
Titus Brandsma emerged victorious from this test. In the midst of the raging hatred, he knew how to love; everyone, even his torturers: “They, too, are children of the good God,” he said, “and perhaps something still remains within them…”
Certainly, such heroism cannot be improvised. Father Titus went on to develop it over the course of a lifetime, starting from the first experiences of childhood, lived in a deeply Christian family, in the beloved land of Frisia. From the words and examples of parents, from the teachings heard in the village church, from the charitable initiatives experienced within the parish community, he learned to know and to practice the fundamental commandment of Christ concerning love for everyone, not excluding even our own enemies. It was an experience that marked him in-depth, to the point of orienting his whole life.
The activities that Father Brandsma carried out during his existence were of a surprising multiplicity; but, if one wanted to look for the inspiring motive and the driving force, you would find it right here: in the commandment of the love taken to extremes.
Saint John Paul II
Homily, Mass for the Beatification of Titus Brandsma (excerpt)
3 November 1985, Vatican Basilica
This English translation is the blogger’s own work product and may not be reproduced without permission.
I met Sister Teresia Benedicta a Cruce, known in the camp as Edith Stein, on the 2nd of August 1942, in the transit camp at Amersfoort, in barracks No. 9, if I am not mistaken.
[Nota Bene: Other sources clarified that Edith and Rosa arrived at Camp Amersfoort on August 3 after processing in Roermond]
On that Sunday all Catholics of Jewish, or partly Jewish, ancestry were arrested by the German hangmen’s helpers as a reprisal for a pastoral letter that had been read from the pulpits of all Dutch churches the previous Sunday. They were taken away and at first assembled at Amersfoort before being deported from there to the gas chambers and crematoria…
When your Sister, together with about three hundred men, women and children had been driven behind the barbed wire fence of the camp,they had to stand for hours on the barrack-square, where they could watch, just as a pleasant welcome, a roll call that had been in progress for two or three days. It was to punish the entire camp, so far as I remember—one of the starving internees who had “stolen” some dry bread that had been thrown away. That is to say, some of them were still standing, the rest had collapsed and were being variously mishandled to get them on their feet again.
Among those still standing I noticed an inflexible opponent of the Third Reich, Ministerial Director Dr. Lazarus, who, like the new arrivals, was a courageous and avowed Catholic. Nor can I forget how the day was one long series of kickings and beatings, although these were tolerable.
More upsetting was the condition of most of the women… It was at this moment that Edith Stein courageously showed her commitment.
It must be mentioned that, to begin with, all were released who had been brought in by mistake, Protestants, Greek (Bulgarian) Orthodox, etc., and then the monotony of camp life set in. Roll calls and nightly deportations.
With diligence, they read the Imitation of Christ that someone had smuggled in; a Trappist faithfully said Holy Mass for them—his six brothers and sisters who had all joined the same Order were with him [the Loeb family], all prepared for transport. Holy Communion was distributed diligently, and despite the harassment by the SS, every one of this flock destined for death steadfastly sang the Confiteor daily,until the last of them had gone their way…
It was also very moving to see the response of this brave flock of believers when they heard that there were priests somewhere in the camp;immediately they gave up some of their meager rations, their tobacco, their money, etc., that were now useless to them but might help the priests to placate their torturers and so hope to experience the day of liberation.
Doctor Fritz Lenig (Friedrich Moritz Levinsohn) was a native of Gelsenkirchen, Germany; he was a physician, entrepreneur, and a refugee in the Netherlands like Edith, Rosa, and so many others. He had been arrested and was interned at Camp Amersfoort at the same time that the transport arrived carrying the Carmelite Stein sisters and the Trappist Loeb family, as well as the Dominican Sister Judith Mendes Da Costa and other Catholics of Jewish ancestry.
Saint Edith Stein’s first biographer—her Cologne novice mistress and prioress Mother Teresia Renata Posselt, O.C.D.—indicates that after the war the Sisters in Cologne, Echt, the friars at the Discalced Carmelite General Curia, as well as family and friends of Edith worldwide were anxiously searching for news of the whereabouts of Edith and Rosa. As far as the Order, family, and friends were concerned, the Stein sisters were still considered to be missing persons and everyone held out hope for their return:
“Neither the office of the Father General of the Carmelite Order in Rome, nor the relatives in America, nor the Carmelite convents in either Germany, Holland or Switzerland were able to discover any trace of them.”
An unexpected article published in l’Osservatore Romano at the Vatican in 1947 prompted a new flurry of activity and inquiries. Written in a very authoritative tone, the biographical article entitled “From Judaism to the University and Thence to Carmel”indicated that Edith and her sister were beaten, imprisoned, and then killed “either in a gas chamber or as some think, by being thrown down into a salt-mine.”
Mother Teresia Renata states that the source of the announcement was untraceable. Nevertheless, coming from a publication as authoritative as l’Osservatore Romano, the news item was reprinted in diocesan newspapers around the world despite errors in Sister Teresa Benedicta’s biography.
The Cologne Carmelites decided to send a circular letter, as is the custom of Discalced Carmelite nuns; except they decided to distribute thousands of copies across the globe to enlighten, edify, and correct any previous misstatements concerning Edith and Rosa.
As a direct result of the dissemination of that circular letter, the noted German physician, Professor Max Budde from Gelsenkirchen, contacted the nuns in Cologne to tell them that one of his friends from Gelsenkirchen days, Dr. Fritz Lenig was at Camp Amersfoort when Sr. Benedicta and Rosa arrived,but he had been able to escape death.
The nuns in Cologne wasted no time in contacting Dr. Lenig.
The excerpt published here presents the salient points of Dr. Lenig’s response to the inquiry from the Carmel of Cologne concerning the whereabouts of Edith and Rosa, in particular as it pertains to their arrival at Camp Amersfoort on the 3rd of August 1942.
Posselt, Teresia Renata. Edith Stein: The Life of a Philosopher and Carmelite (p. 212). ICS Publications. Kindle Edition.
Père Jacques of Jesus, O.C.D. Silence Retreat for the Carmel of Pontoise, Conference Eight Thursday evening, 9 September 1943
The Servant of God Jacques de Jésus, O.C.D., who was a professed friar of the Province of Paris-Avon, an ordained priest, and the headmaster of the Discalced Carmelite friars’ boys’ preparatory school at Avon, the Petit Collège Sainte-Thérèse de l’Enfant-Jésus, died on this date, 2 June 1945 in St. Elizabeth Hospital in Linz, Austria following 70 weeks in Nazi prison camps. Père Jacques was weakened by a year of hard labor and harsh conditions at Mauthausen and Gusen concentration camps in Austria; when the Allied Forces liberated the camps on 5 May 1945, he summoned the strength to help restore order and organize relief efforts. But 15 days later the Allied camp commanders transferred him to St. Elizabeth Hospital so that he could be close to the community of the Discalced Carmelite friars at Linz. It was there that he succumbed to illness and exhaustion at 45 years of age.
The diocesan process of his cause for beatification was opened in 1990. You can find the prayer for his beatification here and the website for his cause here.
The World Holocaust Remembrance Center Yad Vashem has a featured story dedicated to Père Jacques. It includes a description of his heroic acts to shelter Jewish students at the preparatory school, for which he was arrested. It also quotes the testimony of witnesses to his arrest and imprisonment and provides links to read full accounts of witnesses’ testimonies. On 17 January 1985 Yad Vashem recognized Père Jacques as Righteous Among the Nations. You can read the Yad Vashem featured story, find the links, and see the Yad Vashem photos here.
Listen to the Silence – A Retreat with Père Jacques, is available for purchase from the publisher, ICS Publications.
Born in Bolsward (The Netherlands) in 1881, Blessed Titus Brandsma joined the Carmelite Order as a young man. Ordained a priest in 1905, he earned a doctorate in philosophy in Rome. He then taught in various schools in Holland and was named professor of philosophy as Rector Magnificus. He was noted for his constant availability to everyone. He was a professional journalist, and in 1935 he was appointed the ecclesiastical advisor to Catholic journalists. Both before and during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands he fought, faithful to the Gospel, against the spread of Nazi ideology and for the freedom of Catholic education and of the Catholic press. For this, he was arrested and sent to a succession of prisons and concentration camps where he brought comfort and peace to his fellow prisoners and did good even to his tormentors. In 1942, after much suffering and humiliation, he was killed at Dachau. He was beatified by Saint John Paul II on Nov. 3, 1985.
From the Common of One Martyr, except the following:
Office of Readings
THE SECOND READING (Alternative 1)
Introduction to Het lijden vergoddelijkt
From the writings of Blessed Titus Brandsma
The mysticism of the Passion
Jesus called Himself the head of the Mystical Body, of which we are the members. He is the vine, we are the branches. He laid Himself in the winepress and Himself trod it. He handed us the wine so that, drinking it, we might lead His life, might share His suffering. Whoever wishes to do My Will, let him daily take up his cross. Whoever follows me has the light of life. I am the way, He said. I have given you an example, so that as I have done so you may do also. And when His disciples did not understand that His way would be a way of suffering, He explained this to them and said, “Should not the Christ so suffer, in order to enter into His glory?”
Then the hearts of the disciples burned within them. God’s word had set them on fire. And when the Holy Spirit had descended on them to fan that divine fire into flame, then they were glad to suffer scorn and persecution, whereby they resembled Him Who had preceded them on the way of suffering.
The prophets had already marked His way of suffering; the disciples now understood that He had not avoided that way. From the crib to the cross, suffering, poverty and lack of appreciation were His lot. He had directed His whole life to teaching people how different is God’s view of suffering, poverty and lack of human appreciation from the foolish wisdom of the world. After sin, suffering had to follow so that, through the cross, man’s lost glory and life with God might be regained. Suffering is the way to heaven. In the cross is salvation, in the cross is victory. God willed it so. He Himself assumed the obligation of suffering in view of the glory of redemption. St. Paul makes it clear to us how all the disasters of this earthly life are insignificant, how they must be considered as nothing and passing, in comparison with the glory that will be revealed to us when the time of suffering is past, and we come to share in God’s glory.
Mary, who kept all God’s words in her heart, in the fullness of grace granted her, understood the great value of suffering. While the apostles fled, she went out to meet the Savior on the way to Calvary and stood beneath the cross, in order to share His grief and shame to the end. And she carried Him to the grave, firmly trusting that He would rise.
We object when He hands us the chalice of His suffering. It is so difficult for us to resign ourselves to suffering. To rejoice in it strikes us as heroic. What is the value of our offering of self if we unite ourselves each morning only in word and gesture, rather than in thought and will, to that offering which we, together with the Church, make of Him with whom we are in the one body?
Jesus once wept over Jerusalem.
Oh, that this day you had known the gift of God!
Oh, that this day we might realize the value God has placed on the suffering He sends: He, the All-Good.
R/. God forbid that I glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, * by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. V/. We preach Christ crucified, to others a stumbling block and a folly, but to us the power and the wisdom of God, * by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Lord our God, source and giver of life,
you gave to Blessed Titus the Spirit of courage
to proclaim human dignity and the freedom of the Church,
even in the throes of degrading persecution and death.
Grant us that same Spirit
so that in the coming of your kingdom of justice and peace
we might never be ashamed of the Gospel
but be enabled to recognize your loving-kindness
in all the events of our lives.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.