Ash Wednesday, fraternal correction, and the White Rose

In his Lenten message this year Pope Benedict called Catholics to renew the practice of “fraternal correction,” recovering the spiritual work of mercy of “admonishing the sinner” as a dimension of Christian charity.

I believe that admonishing the sinner is not only something that concerns individuals. I believe that we are called to denounce injustices in our society as failures of love. That’s why I share stories of witnesses who have given their lives.

On this day, February 22, in 1943, Sophie Scholl, her brother Hans, and Christopher Probst, three young Germans, members of the White Rose, were put to death by the Nazis. The White Rose was a clandestine group of mostly young Catholic, Lutheran, and Orthodox Germans in the Munich area who opposed Hitler and disseminated written material by mail, by night distribution, and by throwing pamphlets in public places.

Sophie and Hans were caught after distributing the leaflets at a Munich University.

Another member, Alexander Schmorell, was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia on February 4 of this year. Jim Forest has some beautiful and moving pictures of the canonization, of places connected with the White Rose, and of some of the members in his Flickr set.

A few years ago a moving film on Sophie Scholl was produced, called “Sophie Scholl: The Final Days.”

As Lent begins it is helpful to remember these witnesses against evil for their courage and ingenuity in resisting. For many of them their faith and the search for God sustained them in the struggle and the difficult times of Nazi Germany.

This is clear from these words of Sophie Scholl:

The only remedy for a barren heart is prayer, however poor and inadequate…

I’m still so remote from God that I don’t even sense his presence when I pray. Sometimes when I utter God’s name, in fact, I feel like sinking into a void. It isn’t a frightening or dizzying sensation, it’s nothing at all — and that’s far more terrible. But prayer is the only remedy for it, and however many devils scurry around inside me, I shall cling to the rope God has thrown me, even if my numb hands can no longer feel it.

This Lent let us cling to the rope God has thrown us, pray often, and speak out against injustice – admonishing our society and our nation to stop practices of injustice and oppression.


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