Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
November 12, 2007
This hedonistic train is bound for hell
It is no small matter that Franz Jagerstatter has been beatified. Jagerstatter, an Austrian peasant who was executed in 1943 for refusing to join Hitler's army, was opposed in his conscientious objection by the Church authorities of his day. Now the Church is acknowledging the holiness of what he did.
A husband and father of three girls, he was convinced of the evil of the Nazi war machine and witnessed to this truth. His friends said he betrayed his faith by refusing to defend European Christian civilization from communism. Others argued that he was forsaking his duty to provide for his wife and children (ignoring that millions of fathers would be killed by living up to this "duty" to go to war).
Jagerstatter corresponded with his bishop who granted only that he had "an innocently erroneous conscience." For the bishop of Linz, the real heroes were "those exemplary young Catholic men, seminarians, priests and heads of families who fought and died in heroic fulfillment of duty and in the firm conviction that they were fulfilling the will of God at their post."
Jagerstatter saw what others failed to see. The Trappist monk Thomas Merton relates how Jagerstatter had a dream of a splendid, shining train coming around a mountain and thousands of people running to get on board. Observing this, he heard a voice say, "This train is going to hell."
After a stint of basic training in the German armed forces, he returned home and began to reflect on the person of faith in times of war. He became a secular Franciscan and deepened his prayer life.
He lamented that many people were living their lives as though nothing had changed. He was horrified that Church leaders in Germany were complicit with "the worst and most dangerous anti-Christian power that has ever existed."
"The situation in which we Christians of Germany find ourselves today is much more bewildering than that faced by the Christians of the early centuries at the time of their bloodiest persecution," he wrote in one meditation.
Jagerstatter was beatified in Linz on Oct. 26. Today's Austrian bishops' conference calls him "a shining example in dark times."
Jagerstatter's life and lonely martyrdom remain a witness today when we must ask to what extent Christians must obey civil authorities whose laws and demands conflict with the Gospel. Sadly, for many this is not an issue. We live as though nothing is awry, that millions of abortions, the coexistence of massive wealth with grinding poverty and the threats to the continuance of life on this planet make no call on us.
Our choice is not as stark as that which Jagerstatter faced. Martyrdom is not likely for those who stand up against today's evils. Neither is opting out of a system that promotes environmental destruction and enforced poverty something that happens with one decision. The culture of death is bound up with the most routine acts of daily life. It is extremely difficult to step out of this culture.
Indifference, apathy and passive resignation surround us. As we busy ourselves with daily life, we fail to see that we dwell in an anti-Christian power that saps the spirit.
Another shining train has come around the mountain and millions are clambering to get on board. It is the train of comfort, pleasure, material possessions, wealth and security. This train too is bound for hell.
How does one get off the train? The first step is prayer. It is through prayer that we acknowledge the life of the spirit, that something much greater than comfort, possessions and our own desires has a claim on us. Through prayer, we open up to the Gospel, to God calling us to places we never dreamt of going.
Prayer will lead to action, maybe prophetic action. Follow the way of the spirit as an individual and one will leave the train. Follow it as a society and the train will grind to a halt.
- Glen Argan
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