"The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Blessed Franz Jagerstatter, Pray for Us

The story of Franz Jagerstatter should be known to every peace activist. Here is a short summary from Bishop Thomas Gumbleton: "He was in his early 30s when he was finally called up to be conscripted into Hitler's armies. As a peasant farmer, he was not called at first because they needed farmers to produce the food for the nation and for the army, but then as the war turned against the Nazis and they began to be defeated in Russia, North Africa and so on, in late 1942, the command came for Franz to be conscripted into the army.

Now he had already spoken out very strongly against Hitler and Hitler's ideology because he was the one person in his tiny village of St. Radegund in Austria, who voted against the joining together of Austria and Germany that Hitler was insisting upon. That was back in 1938. Franz was known as someone who was speaking out against Hitler and Hitler's ideology, so it was not a surprise to the people that he was going to say no, but they tried to talk him out of it.

They resented the fact that he was showing what, in fact, all of them should have been doing. Many, in fact the parish priest and the bishop of the diocese, tried to convince Franz, 'Wait, you must go. You must serve your country like all the others are doing. Besides, you have three children and a wife. If you don't go, they will kill you.' They tried to convince him that he had to go, but Franz continued to say no.

So he was taken off to prison, first to the city of Linz and then over to Berlin, and then on Aug. 9, 1943, he was beheaded, a true witness to faith, one who rejected war, who rejected violence, and who, like St. Paul tells Timothy, was willing when it's convenient or inconvenient, when it's dangerous or not dangerous, when it seems sensible or not sensible, 'You must follow the way of Jesus,' so Franz did."

The lives of the saints lead us to the source of life. But now we must sadly contrast Franz's noble act with the unwillingness of most Christians to follow his example in the face of the Iraq occupation. Most of those who have studied the situation without right-wing blinders agree with the following assessment: "Only Iraqis--not the U.S., UN or any other power--can overcome the catastrophe that the U.S. has caused in Iraq. The damage will not be undone overnight, but only Iraqis have the right to shape their society and overcome their divisions. The only role for the U.S. government is to pay unconditional reparations for the nightmare it has caused." - Socialist Worker.

Franz paid for his Christian convictions with his life, saying yes to family values in far deeper way than most of us will ever know, to oppose an unjust war, whose injustice was an almost exact analogy of the injustice of the Iraq occupation. But most Christians can't bear the inconvenience of driving a few miles to participate in a demonstration, though the vast majority of them now strongly oppose the war. It is our undying attachment to the conveniences of consumerism which corrupts the love of justice that God placed in our hearts.

Yet we could be so much more. In the Nazi court papers found after WWII, it soon becomes clear that resistance arising from Christian convictions was what the Nazis feared above all. Of one executed religious resister, they said, "Moreover, due to its inherent persuasive power, his behavior is particularly capable of undermining the morale of others. It was therefore necessary to impose the death penalty." The phrase "inherent persuasive power" occurs over and over again in the court papers referring to religious resisters. What might have happened in Germany if all those who bore the name of Christian had exercised that persuasive power for peace?

"Jägerstätter said that he could not be both a Nazi and a Catholic; it was impossible. It was twice mentioned that Jägerstätter was ready to serve as a military paramedic out of Christian brotherly love. He said there are some things in which one must obey God more than men; due to the commandment 'Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself', he said he could not fight with a weapon."

Can one be a Christian and support the Iraq occupation? Can one support the deliberate destruction of an entire country to create an wasteland without resistance to U.S. oil corporations and still kneel in Church on Sunday? Can one remain pious while 1.2 million Iraqis are put to death?

I leave you with the judgment of the Church: "The farmer and sacristan Franz Jägerstätter recognized the complete irreconcilability of the Christian faith and the criminal system of Nazism more clearly than many of his contemporaries.
Despite being well aware of the consequences, he felt compelled
by his conscience to refuse to perform military service for Hitler.
Jägerstätter’s witness is a shining example in dark times, which can also help people today, living in a very different situation, to sharpen their consciences through studying the Gospels."

See the biography of Franz Jagerstatter at
Franz Jägerstätter – Martyr - Long biography
A Shining Example in Dark Times
Author: Erna Putz


Anonymous said...

I am confused. Was Jagerstatter a pacifist, against war, or was he just against Hitler and Hitler's war. Most articles I find about him indicate he was against the Nazi's and refused to participate because the cause was not just--as opposed all war or thinking that all war was not just. However, most pacifists seem to push him as a support for their cause of either being against all war.

Anonymous said...

Was Jagerstatter a pacifist or just against Hitler's war. There is a big difference between the two. Most information seems to support the later position. Most pacifists seem to think he supported the former, judging by the way they write about him.

Boyd Collins said...

Interesting comment. The real question is why was Jagerstatter against Hitler's war. He was against it because it violated God's justice. I don't know whether he was a pacifist or not, but he saw that an unjust war of aggression was not something that he could participate in, so he laid down his life for God's justice. Are all wars of this nature? Some of us believe so, but almost all of us believe that the current war in Iraq constitutes the same unjust violation of a people's sovereignty as Hitler's war. And that is one reason why Blessed Franz Jagerstatter must be our guiding light today.