Ave Maria Meditations
But the souls of the just are in the hand of God and no torment
shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be
dead and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they
are in peace…chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed
because God tried them and found them worthy of Himself.
(Wisdom, chapter 3)
In this day and age , perhaps in every day and age, there are opportunities to stand for what our conscience dictates what is right. How is ‘what is right’ determined? It must be something within the natural law, the commandments, and the teachings of the Catholic Church. To stand up for these things will generally mean being a sign of contradiction in this world. From the time St. Joseph and Our Blessed Lady presented Jesus in the temple, they knew from the words of holy Simeon : Behold this child is set for the fall and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted; and thy own soul a sword shall pierce…(Lk.2″34-35). Our Lord would both warn and comfort His disciples with these words: These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have distress: but have confidence, I have overcome the world.(Jn.16:33-34). He warned them also with these words: If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.(Jn.15:20) But in every trial Jesus promised not to leave us orphans and also that our hearts are not to be troubled or afraid (cf Jn.14).
As it is now, I myself am aware of people whose job situations and livlihood are on the line for their conscientious objections. One friend lost her job when she said something that a homosexual co-worker, a former Catholic, took offense to. They had been friends and it was a comment made in private as they discussed a return to the faith; it was reported and my friend is no longer in this position. A pro-life doctor with five children of my acquaintance is having difficulty in finding a niche in accord with his conscience. Pharmacists are losing their jobs not only for not dispensing contraceptives but now for refusing to give or receive shots and vaccinations. One pharmacist was forced to resign after 15 years on the job. She was told there was nothing wrong in her service but that this new arena for pharmacy is now mandated. There is much profit in these injections, by the way. Another pharmacist is presently working as a baker at a salary only a fraction of what was earned in the medical field because a safe niche has not been found in the practice of pharmacy according to conscience. I am sure there are nurses and others facing some decisions as more procedures that contradict conscience are asked of them.
Where do we draw the line? Where do we say that we will go so far and no farther? Sometimes the cost may be more than the loss of a job or career. I am reminded of two Franciscan Tertiaries who chose martyrdom rather than deny what their conscience told them what was right.
One is well known in the martyr St. Thomas More. His family and others begged him to go along with the king and the new religion; what could it hurt? Look even the bishops are going along. The family would also suffer for his stance; surely God would understand that the price was too high for he looked at the price of his very life. He paid that price. Another martyr of more recent times is Blessed Franz Jagerstatter. He was martyred in 1943, beheaded like St. Thomas More, for refusing to serve in the Nazi army. His family, his priests, even bishops told him he could do so. After all so many others were serving and he had a family to consider. He stood fast against the pressure and he is the one now beatified. He paid the greatest price and gave the greatest witness to God.
Donald deMarco wrote the following on Bl. Franz:On March 11, 1938, Hitler’s forces crossed into Austria and two days later incorporated it into Grossdeutschland. In due time, the invaders presented Jägerstätter, and all the other able-bodied men of St. Radegund, their orders to swear allegiance to Hitler and serve in the Nazi army. Jägerstätter, alone, refused to comply. He was a Catholic, and in conscience could neither honor nor serve the evil purposes of an intrinsically immoral regime. He refused, knowing that his refusal would cost him his life. The drama, in the words of Professor Zahn, was “nothing less than a repetition of an old story, the ever-recurring confrontation between Christ and Caesar.”
Jägerstätter was also married and father to three little girls. He was urged by many of his neighbors to be “prudent” and not risk his life by offending the Nazis. But Jägerstätter was resolved. While in prison and awaiting execution, he wrote: “Again and again people stress the obligations of conscience as they concern my wife and children. Yet I cannot believe that just because one has a wife and children, he is free to offend God by lying (not to mention all the other things he would be called upon to do). Did not Christ Himself say, ‘He who loves father, mother, or children more than Me is not deserving of My love?’” Just a few hours before his death, he stated in a letter to his family, “I will surely beg the dear God, if I am permitted to enter heaven soon, that He may also set aside a little place in heaven for all of you.”
On August 9, 1943, in a Berlin prison, Franz Jägerstätter, like St. Thomas More, was beheaded.
The night before the execution, a Fr. Jochmann visited Jägerstätter in his cell. The priest found the prisoner, who had already received the last sacraments earlier that day, completely calm and prepared. The opportunity to avoid death was still available. On the table before him lay a document that Jägerstätter had only to sign in order to have his life spared. When the priest called his attention to it, Jägerstätter provided a simple explanation: “I cannot and may not take an oath in favor of a government that is fighting an unjust war.”
On 9 August, before being executed, Franz wrote: “If I must write… with my hands in chains, I find that much better than if my will were in chains. Neither prison nor chains nor sentence of death can rob a man of the Faith and his free will. God gives so much strength that it is possible to bear any suffering…. People worry about the obligations of conscience as they concern my wife and children. But I cannot believe that just because one has a wife and children, a man is free to offend God”.
Jägerstätter remained calm and composed as he walked to the scaffold. On that very same evening, in the company of a group of Austrian nuns, Fr. Jochmann said: “I can only congratulate you on this countryman of yours who lived as a saint and has now died a hero. I say with certainty that this simple man is the only saint that I have ever met in my lifetime.”
Jägerstätter died convinced that his manner of death would pass unnoticed by the world and would completely fade from human memory with the passing of the handful of people who had known him personally. He was a martyr, not a prophet. In December 1984, responding to a nationwide petition, the president of Austria formally issued a special posthumous Award of Honor to Franz Jägerstätter. He was beatified on October 27, 2007.