Monthly Archives: November 2015

Martyred for greeting the outcast

“Outside, the Temple is burning, and this too is a house of God. . . .
The Jews are my brothers and sisters,
also created with an immortal soul by God!”
Father Bernhard Lichtenberg

On November 5, 1943, Father Lichtenberg died while being transported to the Dachau concentration camp.

As provost of St. Hedwig’s Cathedral in Berlin, he had been outspoken against the Nazi’s campaign for euthanasia, writing the chief physician of the Reich:

“As a human being, a Christian, a priest, and a German, I demand of you that you answer for the crimes that have been perpetrated at your bidding, and with your consent, and which will call forth the vengeance of the Lord on the heads of the German people.”

He also spoke out clearly in defense of the Jews after 1938 Kristallnacht, when the Nazis attacked Jewish businesses and homes and gave clear signs of what they planned.

He was finally arrested in 1941 after his home was searched and notes were found for a sermon denouncing a statement of a Nazi official that greeting a Jew on the street was an act of treason. He was going to respond to this with the biblical admonition, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

In one sense, Father Lichtenberg was martyred for being willing to greet Jews on the streets of Berlin.

Greeting and acknowledging the marginalized, the persecuted, is a revolutionary act, an act rooted in the revolution of love that Jesus calls for among his followers.

What would happen – or, rather, what does happen – when one greets the refugee, the immigrant, the drug addict, the gang member on the street with love?

In some cases, people are mocked for their willingness to love. In other cases, they might even be locked up.

Have we come so far from Nazi Germany? Have we followers of Christ given up the call to welcome the stranger, to protect the persecuted, to put ourselves at the side of the poor?

May Blessed Bernhard Lichtenberg inspire us to stand with all those who suffer.


This post was inspired by Robert Ellsberg’s “Blessed among Us” entry in November 2015’s Give Us This Day. Subscription information available here.

Encountering the lowly

Do not be haughty
but associate with the lowly.
Romans 12: 16

 Today’s lectionary reading from Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans (12: 5-16b) is full of extraordinary advice for us who seek to follow Christ. But it is the final verse that struck me, “associate with the lowly” partly because of my situation here and partly because that is what Pope Francis calls us to do.

Pope Francis has, from the start, called for a “culture of encounter” (The Joy of the Gospel [Evangelii Gaudium], ¶ 220).

Giving to the poor and even advocating for justice on their behalf are not enough. For, as Pope Francis also wrote in The Joy of the Gospel, ¶ 88:

…the Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face to face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us in our close and continuous interaction. True faith in the incarnate Son of God is inseparable from self-giving, from membership in the community, from service, from reconciliation with others. The Son of God, by becoming flesh, summoned us to the revolution of tenderness.

We are called to encounter the lowly, to associate with them, because that is what Jesus has done. He became flesh to associate with the poor and the lowly, those at the margins.

Jesus normally does not heal from a distance but touches the sick, speaks with them, and calls them to new life.

This is not easy but it is possible when we open ourselves, as Pope Francis has noted, to encounter Jesus.

But it has to be personal.

In Bolivia Pope Francis spoke to the World Meeting of Popular Movements and noted the importance of this face-to-face solidarity:

As members of popular movements, you carry out your work inspired by fraternal love, which you show in opposing social injustice. When we look into the eyes of the suffering, when we see the faces of the endangered campesino, the poor laborer, the downtrodden native, the homeless family, the persecuted migrant, the unemployed young person, the exploited child, the mother who lost her child in a shootout because the barrio was occupied by drug-dealers, the father who lost his daughter to enslavement…. when we think of all those names and faces, our hearts break because of so much sorrow and pain. And we are deeply moved…. We are moved because “we have seen and heard” not a cold statistic but the pain of a suffering humanity, our own pain, our own flesh. This is something quite different than abstract theorizing or eloquent indignation. It moves us; it makes us attentive to others in an effort to move forward together. That emotion which turns into community action is not something which can be understood by reason alone: it has a surplus of meaning which only peoples understand, and it gives a special feel to genuine popular movements.

We can follow the example of these secular movements and join with them in real solidarity with the poor and humble, following in the footsteps of a God who became poor.

Today, fittingly, is also the feast of Saint Martin de Porres, the mixed-race Dominican lay brother who served the poor in Lima, Perú, and was known as “the father of the poor.” He is also the patron of social justice – a quite fitting reminder of the admonition of St. Paul to “associate with the lowly.”

Franz Jägerstätter – touched by the saints

When I was in high school, in the early sixties, I became more aware of the Holocaust and of the evils of Nazism. I also was struck by the failure of the Church to respond.

The 1963 play The Deputy, which laid much of the blame for the silence on Pope Pius XII, probably overstated the case. But Gordon Zahn’s German Catholics and Hitler’s Wars: A Study in Social Control presented a Church that almost completely acquiesced to Nazi militarism.

Zahn’s research led him to unearth the life and death of an Austrian peasant from the obscure village of Sankt Radegund, Franz Jägerstätter, who refused to serve in Hitler’s army and was beheaded on August 9, 1943. Zahn’s book, In Solitary Witness, appeared in 1963.

Jägerstätter fascinated me. He was not at first what one might be considered an exemplary Catholic and even had the first motorcycle in his village. But after his marriage he began to take his faith seriously.

He took it so seriously that he recognized the evil of Nazism and had the courage to speak out. He was the only one in his village to vote against the Nazi annexation of Austria.

Finally when called up to serve in Hitler’s army he refused. Priests and others tried to dissuade him, calling on him to realize that seminarians and other Catholics were serving in Hitler’s army and that his family would suffer.

But Franz stood firm.

In fact in his writings to his family from prison he shows an extraordinary clarity in regard to Nazism that many church leaders lacked.

Letter of Blessed Franz Jägerstätter

Letter of Blessed Franz Jägerstätter

In one of his writings, written before he was imprisoned, he relates a dream he had in 1938:

“I saw [in a dream] a wonderful train as it came around a mountain. With little regard for the adults, children flowed to this train and were not held back. There were present a few adults who did not go into the area. I do not want to give their names or describe them. Then a voice said to me, This train is going to hell.’ Immediately, it happened that someone took my hand, and the same voice said to me; ‘Now we are going to purgatory.’ What I glimpsed and perceived was fearful. If this voice had not told me that we were going to purgatory, I would have judged that I had found myself in hell.”

For him that train was Nazism and he would have not part in defending it.

He was tried and beheaded.

In 2007, his heroic act was recognized by the Church that had almost abandoned him. He was beatified in Linz, Austria.

Franz is for me a person who saw through the glitter of political evil, who held firm to his love of God and to his conscience, who was not held back by fear.

Would that we had more people like Franz, more people willing to stand firm in the face of injustice, evil, and war.

Would that I might learn from him how to be courageous and truthful in the face of evil.

Blessed Franz, pray for us.


The letter pictured above is on a side altar in the church of Saint Bartholomew in Rome, in the church of the new martyrs and witnesses of the twentieth century. A blog on the church can be found here.