Monthly Archives: July 2013
“This is a picture from Dachau Nazi concentration camp. It also happens to be the same place that Blessed Titus Brandsma was martyred. There is currently a monastery of Carmelite nuns now who live within the walls of the former concentration camp and who intercede on all our behalf that such atrocities never happen again. I am awestruck by the power of Titus, who despite great pain and suffering, was able to continue to profess, “I see God in the work of his hands and the marks of his love in every visible thing.”
– Fr.Dave, Carmelites of Darien, IL
Bl. Titus Brandsma, O.Carm.
January 19, 1942: Father Titus is Arrested
Having spent the night in Arnhem, I was told that I must spend another night there. With these words I was brought into cell 577 on January 20. Next morning I had to be ready at half past eight to be tried at the Hague. This would probably be finished in the afternoon, and in view of my health I would probably be allowed home. On the night of January 21, I was told that my confinement was to be prolonged in order that more evidence might be obtained. Mr. Hardegen, who tried my case in a courteous way, said that this would not be difficult for me on account of my religious life. Indeed, it was not. I remember an old stanza of Longfellow which I have retained since my college years in Megen, and it is particularly appropriate in my present situation:
In his chamber all alone,
Kneeling on a floor of stone,
Prayed a monk in deep contrition
For his sins of indecision;
Prayed for greater self-denial
In temptation and in trial.
As to that “trial,” it was not so difficult as I had expected, though one has to get accustomed to many things in prison. Indeed, going to prison at the age of 60 is a strange experience. Jokingly I said so to Mr. Steffen who had arrested me, while entering the prison. His answer, however, comforted me: “It is your own fault, for you should not have taken the Archbishop’s commission.” Now I knew why I was here and I said to him fearlessly that I looked upon such a thing as an honor, and that I was not conscious of having done anything wrong by doing that. I said the same thing to Mr. Hardegen and I added: “On the contrary, it was an honest effort to relax the contrasts.” On the one side this was accepted, on the other side it was looked upon as an organisation of resistance against the occupying power. I had to oppose this last opinion, and to stress the exclusive intention of communicating both to the press and to the Reichskommissariat the Catholic point of view about the propaganda of the National Socialist Movement, as it was pointed out by the Bishops. This point of view was to be communicated to the Reichskommissariat, even if the managers and editorial staffs of the Catholic dailies were not in agreement; but undoubtedly, they were.
The first day of my commission I asked Mr. Schlichting to go to the Reichskommissariat; on account of his journey to Rome this interview took place after mine with the Catholic press. Meanwhile I quite understand that the attitude of the Bishops and of the Catholic press is not considered agreeable, and that the commission of the Archbishop to me and carried out by me, is looked upon as some act of resistance. Our Catholic principles are at conflict with their principles; the contrast of principles is there. For this confession I joyfully suffer what is to be suffered.
My vocation to the Church and to the priesthood brought me so many grand and beautiful things that I willingly accept something unpleasant in return for it. I repeat in complete agreement with Job: We have received good things at the hand of God, why should we not receive the evil he sends us in his Providence? The Lord gave, the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Apart from that, I have not had too bad a time. And although I do not know what will become of it, I know myself to be wholly in God’s hands. Who will separate us from the love of God? I am thinking of my old motto: <Prenez les jours, comme ils arrivent, Les beaux d’un coeur reconnaissant Ft les mauvais pour ceux qui suivent, Car le malheur n’est qu’un passant>.
With Gezelle, I praise “my old breviary,” which was luckily left to me and which I can say now as quietly as possible. Oh! in the morning Holy Mass and Holy Communion are missing, I know full well, but nevertheless God is near me, in me and with me. It is in him that we live, and move and have our being. “God, while so near and yet so far, is always present.” The well-known couplet which was always in St. Teresa’s breviary—I sent it to my colleague Professor Brom when he was in prison—is also a comfort and encouragement to me; “Let nothing disturb thee, let nothing frighten thee. All things are passing. God does not change. Who possesses God wants for nothing. God alone suffices.”
Scheveningen Police-prison, January 23, 1942.
Born in the Frisian city of Bolsward, Holland, in 1881, Bl. Titus Brandsma joined the Carmelites while still young and was ordained priest in 1905. He undertook further studies in Rome and was awarded a doctorate in philosophy at the Gregorian Pontifical University.
Returning to Holland, he taught in a number of schools before taking up a post as Professor of Philosophy and the History of Mysticism at the Catholic University of Nijmegen where he was later appointed Rector Magnificus. A noted writer and journalist, in 1935, he was appointed adviser to the bishops, for Catholic journalists. He was noted for being ready to receive anyone in difficulty and to help in whatever way he could. In the period leading up to and during the Nazi occupation in Holland, he argued passionately against the National Socialist ideology, basing his stand on the Gospels, and he defended the right to freedom in education and for the Catholic Press. As a result, he was imprisoned. So began his Calvary, involving great personal suffering and degradation whilst, at the same time, he himself brought solace and comfort to the other internees and begged God’s blessing on his jailers. In the midst of such inhuman suffering, he possessed the precious ability to bring an awareness of goodness, love and peace. He passed from one prison or camp to another until he arrived in Dachau where he was killed on 26th July 1942. He was beatified as a martyr by Pope John Paul II on 3rd November 1985.
Titus, A Model for Peace and Forgiveness
Living in Nazi occupied Holland, being arrested and made a prisoner by the Nazis and, eventually, being sent to die in the concentration camp of Dachau, were all extreme circumstances which tested Titus’ commitment to peace and reconciliation. His witness during these events offers us inspiration, concrete examples of how he practiced what he preached, and models for us the presence of faith in the most inhuman conditions.
Titus’ courage and advocacy of peace did not come out of nowhere: both his close ties to the medieval mystics of the Lowlands and his vocation to the Carmelite order rooted him in both an active involvement in the world and in the springs of contemplative prayer, which nourished his active life. He was a self-described “lover” of Jan van Ruusbroec, the medieval Flemish mystic, who described the Trinitarian pattern to the Christian life: just as God expresses Godself through the Trinity, so too, the Christian who experiences the fruits of contemplative prayer, is driven back into the world in incarnate this Love. Titus’ active life as spiritual advisor to the Dutch Catholic press, as professor at the Catholic University, and as vocal opponent of Nazi policies, was the public forum in which he incarnated the fruits of his prayer life. He was also known as a peacemaker within Carmel, at the university, and on the numerous committees where he served. There are numerous anecdotes of his small acts of charity and efforts toward reconciliation which show why he was considered “a permanent enemy of discord.” This permanent dialectic between love and works avoids the “bare vacancy” of self absorbed prayer about which Ruusbroec warned.
Titus articulated his particular view of society, which grounded his vision of peace. In 1931 in a speech to a Catholic peace group, he lamented the sense of inevitability that led to World War If (“the Great War”) and which continued to permeate the plans of much of Europe. Since self-interest of individuals and nations continued to be paramount, he acknowledged that a cycle of war and rearming appeared inevitable unless thinking changed. He stated that such exclusive focus on self-interest subverted the real purpose of society, which, he argued, was to be “a means of rendering another a service”. If offering service to one’s neighbor or adjacent country were the goal, he suggested that strife between individuals and nations would be replaced by an ethic of cooperation and respectful dialogue. Much as he opposed the Nazi policies, Titus always spoke well of the German people and wished publicly for reconciliation between the two countries, even after Germany invaded the Netherlands in World War II. We should consider today, over 50 years later, how our country’s policies might be different if “rendering a service” were seen as a national goal.
Titus’ teachings on peace and forgiveness were probably put to the most radical test during his seven months as a prisoner of the Nazis. He was subjected, not only to loss of freedom and appalling prison conditions, but to brutal mistreatment by his captors, including medical experimentation. Two particular incidents stand out as concrete examples of his response to these extreme conditions of suffering. Once another Dutch prisoner challenged him about his admonition that the prisoners should pray for their Nazi captors. How could they be expected to do that, the other Dutchman asked, when they were being mishandled and terrorized by the guards? With typical humor and realism, Titus replied, “You don’t have to pray for them the whole day! The good Lord will be happy with one prayer”. Always lovingly cognizant of the gap between the human ideal and the reality of human limitations, Titus counseled a practical, achievable goal. Secondly, the nurse, who administered the fatal injection in the “hospital” at Dachau, testified at his beatification process that he had given her his rosary at the end and said “What an unfortunate girl you are. I shall pray for you”. His response, the nurse said, was instrumental in bringing her back to the practice of her faith.
A brief video on his life:
For Bl. Titus’ Carmelite Proper Office for the Divine Office, scroll to page 114 here.
Saint Anne, Mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary
from the Liturgical Year, 1909
To whom shall I liken me? I cannot liken me to the beasts of the earth: for they, too, are fruitful before thee.
To whom shall I liken me? I cannot liken me to the waters; for they are not barren in thy sight, and the rivers and the oceans full of fish praise thee in their heavings and in their peaceful flowing.
To whom shall I liken me? I cannot liken me even to the earth, for the earth, too, bears fruit in season, and praises thee, O Lord.
And behold an Angel of the Lord stood by, and said to her: Anne, God has heard thy prayer; “thou shalt conceive and bear a child, and thy fruit shall be honoured throughout the whole inhabited earth. And in due time Anne brought forth a daughter, and said: My soul is magnified this hour. And she called the child Mary; and giving her the breast, she intoned this canticle to the Lord:
I will sing the praise of the Lord my God: for He has visited me and has taken away my shame, and has given me a fruit of justice. Who shall declare to the sons of Ruben that Anne is become fruitful? Hear, hear, O ye twelve tribes: behold Anne is giving suck (Protevangelium Jacobi)!”
What human lips, unless touched like the prophet’s with a burning coal, could tell the admiring wonder of the Angelic Powers, when the Blessed Trinity, passing from the burning Seraphim to the lowest of the nine choirs, bade them turn their fiery glances and contemplate the flower of sanctity blossoming in the bosom of Anne? The Psalmist had said of the glorious City whose foundations were now hidden in her that was once barren: The foundations thereof are in the holy mountains (Ps. lxxxvi. 1); and the heavenly hierarchies crowning the slopes of the eternal hills, beheld in her heights to them unknown and unattainable, summits approaching so near to God, that He was even then preparing His throne in her. Like Moses at the sight of the burning bush on Horeb, they were seized with a holy awe on recognizing the mountain of God in the midst of the desert of this world; and they understood that the affliction of Israel was soon to cease. Although shrouded by the cloud, Mary was already that blessed mountain whose base, i.e., the starting point of her graces, was set far above the summits where the highest created sanctities are perfected in glory and love.
How justly is the mother named Anne, which signifies grace, she in whom for nine months were centered the complacencies of the Most High, the ecstasy of the Angelic Spirits and the hope of all flesh! No doubt it was Mary, the daughter, and not the mother, whose sweetness so powerfully attracted the heavens to our lowly earth. But the perfume first scents the vessel which contains it, and even after it is removed, leaves it impregnated with its fragrance. Moreover, it is customary to prepare the vase itself with the greatest care; it must be all the purer, made of more precious material, and more richly adorned, according as the essence to be placed in it is rarer and more exquisite. Thus Magdalene enclosed her precious spikenard in alabaster. The Holy Spirit, the preparer of heavenly perfumes, would not be less careful than men. Now the task of blessed Anne was not limited, like that of a material vase, to passively containing the treasure of the world. She furnished the body of her who was to give flesh to the Son of God; she nourished her with her milk; she gave to her, who was inundated with floods of divine light, the first practical notions of life. In the education of her illustrious daughter, Anne played the part of a true mother: not only did she guide Mary’s first steps, but she co-operated with the Holy Ghost in the education of her soul, and the preparation for her incomparable destiny; until, when the work had reached the highest development to which she could bring it, she, without a moment’s hesitation or a thought of self, offered her tenderly loved child to him from whom she had received her.
Sic fingit tabernaculwm Deo, thus she frames a tabernacle for God. Such was the inscription around the figure of St. Anne instructing Mary, which formed the device of the ancient guild of joiners and cabinetmakers; for they, looking upon the making of tabernacles wherein God may dwell in our churches as their most choice work, had taken St. Anne for their patroness and model. Happy were those times, when the simplicity of our fathers penetrated so deeply into the practical understanding of mysteries, which their infatuated sons glory in ignoring. The valiant woman is praised in the Book of Proverbs for her spinning, weaving, sewing, embroidering, and household cares: naturally then, those engaged in these occupations placed themselves under the protection of the spouse of Joachim. More than once, those suffering from the same trial which had inspired Anne’s touching prayer beneath the sparrow’s nest, experienced the power of her intercession in obtaining for others, as well as for herself, the blessing of the Lord God.
The East anticipated the West in the public cultus of the grandmother of the Messias. Towards the middle of the sixth century, a Church was dedicated to her in Constantinople. The Typicon of St. Sabbas makes a liturgical commemoration of her three times in the year: on the 9th September, together with her spouse St. Joachim, the day after the birthday of their glorious daughter; on the 9th December, whereon the Greeks, a day later than the Latins, keep the feast of our Lady’s Immaculate Conception, under a title which more directly expresses St. Anne’s share in the mystery; and lastly, the 25th July, not being occupied by the feast of St. James, which was kept on the 80th April, is called the Dormitio or precious death of St. Anne, mother of the most holy Mother of God: the very same expression which the Roman Martyrology adopted later.
Although Rome, with her usual reserve, did not until much later authorize the introduction into the Latin Churches of a liturgical feast of St. Anne, she nevertheless encouraged the piety of the faithful in this direction. So early as the time of Leo III. (795 – 816) and by that illustrious Pontiff’s express command, the history of Anne and Joachim was represented on the sacred ornaments of the noblest basilicas in the Eternal City (Lib. pontif. in Leon. III). The Order of Carmel, so devout to St. Anne, powerfully contributed, by its fortunate migration into our countries, to the growing increase of her cultus. Moreover, this development was the natural outcome of the progress of devotion among the people to the Mother of God. The close relation between the two worships is noticed in a concession, whereby in 1381 Urban VI. satisfied the desires of the faithful in England by authorizing for that kingdom a feast of the blessed Anne. The Church of Apt in Provence had been already a century in possession of the feast; a fact due to the honour bestowed on that Church of having received almost together with the faith, the Saint’s holy body, in the first age of Christianity.
Since our Lord, reigning in heaven, has willed that his blessed Mother should also be crowned there in her virginal body, the relics of Mary’s mother have become doubly dear to the world, first, as in the case of others, on account of the holiness of her whose precious remains they are, and then above all others, on account of their close connection with the mystery of the Incarnation. The Church of Apt was so generous out of its abundance, that it would now be impossible to enumerate the sanctuaries which have obtained, either from this principal source or from elsewhere, more or less notable portions of these precious relics. We cannot omit to mention as one of these privileged places, the great Basilica of St. Paul outside the walls; St. Anne herself, in an apparition to St. Bridget of Sweden (Revelationes S. Birgittae. liv. VI., cap. 104), confirmed the authenticity of the arm which forms one of the most precious jewels in the rich treasury of that Church.
It was not until 1584 that Gregory XIII. ordered the celebration of this feast of 26th July throughout the whole Church, with the rite of a double. Leo XIII. in our own times (1879) raised it, together with that of St. Joachim, to the dignity of a solemnity of second class. But before that, Gregory XV., after having been cured of a serious illness by St. Anne, had ranked her feast among those of precept, with obligation of resting from servile work.
Now that St. Anne was receiving the homage due to her exalted dignity, she made haste to show her recognition of this more solemn tribute of praise. In the years 1623, 1624 and 1625, in the village of Keranna, near Auray, in Brittany, she appeared to Yves Nicolazic, and discovered to him an ancient statue buried in the field of Bocenno, which he tenanted. This discovery brought the people once more to the place, where, a thousand years before, the inhabitants of ancient Armorica had honoured that statue. Innumerable graces obtained on the spot spread its fame far beyond the limits of the province, whose faith, worthy of past ages, had merited the favour of the grandmother of the Messias; and St. Anne d’Auray was soon reckoned among the chief pilgrimages of the Christian world.
More fortunate than the wife of Elcana, who prefigured thee both in her trial and by her name, thou, O Anne, now singest the magnificent gifts of the Lord. Where is now the proud synagogue that despised thee? The descendants of the barren one are now without number; and all we, the brethren of Jesus, children, like Him, of thy daughter Mary, come joyfully, led by our Mother, to offer thee our praises. In the family circle the grandmother’s feastday is the most, touching of all, when her grandchildren surround her with reverential love, as we gather around thee today.
St. Anne Grandmother of the baby Jesus
O blessed Anne, rescue society, which is perishing for want of virtues like thine. The motherly kindnesses thou art ever more frequently bestowing upon us have increased the Church’s confidence; deign to respond to the hopes she places in thee. Bless especially thy faithful Brittany; have pity on unhappy France, for which thou hast shown thy predilection, first, by so early confiding to it thy sacred body; later on, by choosing in it the spot whence thou wouldst manifest thyself to the world; and, again, quite recently entrusting to its sons the Church and seminary dedicated to thy honour in Jerusalem. O thou who lovest the Franks, who deignest still to look on fallen Gaul as the kingdom of Mary, continue to show it that love which is its most cherished tradition. Mayest thou become known throughout the whole world. As for us, who have long known thy power and experienced thy goodness, let us ever seek in thee, O mother, our rest, security, strength in every trial; for he who leans on thee has nothing to fear on earth, and he who rests in thy arms is safely carried.
“Carmelite Thought for the Day! Our word for the journey today comes from the Gospel of Saint John. This photo was taken in the garden of the Carmelite Monastery in Vilvoorde, Belgium on the occasion of the 400th Anniversary of the arrival of the Spanish Carmelite Mothers into Flanders and Belgium. In memory of Blessed John Soreth who died on 25 July and who founded the First Community of Carmelite Nuns.”
– from Facebook page of the Carmelite nuns of Preston, UK