Monday, October 29, 2007

Blessed Franz Jägerstätter

Franz Jägerstätter was beatified on Oct. 26th in Linz, Austria.

Taken from One Man’s Decision, by Willard Jabusch, America, August 27, 2007…

Does being a martyr make one, ipso facto, a saint? Certainly the young Franz did not appear very saintly. He was a rowdy type, known for getting into brawls with the other young men of the area. It would seem that he fathered a child out of marriage and then disappeared for a year or so, going to another part of the country to work in the mines. When tempers had cooled he returned, fell in love with a local girl and married her. The lovely Franziska was just what this undisciplined young man needed. She was lively and full of fun, but also mature and deeply devout… Franz was, as everyone said, a lustiger Mensch (“lively fellow”), who had found the perfect partner.

He became quite devout himself. Neighbors said they could hear him singing hymns as he worked the family farm. He became friends with the Rev. Josef Karobath, the pastor, who named him sacristan and put him in charge of training the altar servers, planning the holy day celebrations and caring for the church.

But some serious political changes were taking place at the time. Franz was the only one in town who voted against the annexation of Austria by Germany. The German army entered the country and was greeted with wild enthusiasm. Hitler made a triumphal entry into Vienna and was met by the Cardinal Archbishop. Franz was one Austrian who was not pleased.

A year later Poland was invaded. Franz decided he could not in conscience serve in such an unjust war. Poland had not invaded Germany; Germany had invaded Poland and, very soon, other countries. Many of his friends were enlisting; others waited to be drafted. Franz told his wife, his mother and his pastor that he would not serve. Father Karobath was understanding. In fact, soon he would be removed from his parish for having delivered a less than totally patriotic homily. But he reminded the younger man that his widowed mother, his wife and now his three tiny daughters depended on him. Franz decided to seek advice from the bishop in Linz.

But the bishop simply lectured him about the other young men who were fighting and dying in Russia in defense of the fatherland. He should do the same.

Franz’s determination would not be eroded. For a long time the induction notice did not come. The government needed farmers like Franz for the war effort. But as the war took more and more lives, older men and even boys were being sent to the front. The notice came in the mail: Franz was needed in the army. There could be no such thing as a conscientious objector.

Franziska remembers that she and Franz got up early in the morning while the grandmother and the three girls were still asleep. Would she ever see him again? They said their farewells and he walked off into the pre-dawn darkness toward the induction center. He refused to take the oath of obedience to Hitler and was quickly put into jail in Linz. He was held there for some time and sent some truly beautiful letters to his wife. Eventually he was sent to a dreaded prison in Berlin.

Franziska very much wanted to visit him. The new young priest who had taken the place of Father Karobath said he would accompany her. They set off by train although the Americans and the British were bombing the rail lines. At the prison they could see through a window that Franz was brought in a van, pulled out and knocked to the ground. Yet he was allowed to visit with them. The priest repeated some of the old arguments: there was still time to change his mind; he could still be saved. But Franziska knew that to her strong willed husband, saving his body was not as important as saving his soul. For him it was a clear case of right and wrong: the war was unjust; he could not serve...

He was taken away, and the two visitors made the dangerous trip back to St. Radegund. Franz was beheaded by the prison guillotine. When the war ended, the prison chaplain, who knew where the body had been buried, had the bones put in a box. A nun agreed to take them back to St. Radegund for burial. Father Karobath had returned as pastor and he announced that Franz would be given a solemn funeral and buried in a place of honor directly next to the church...

There were two priests in Germany who were executed as conscientious objectors, but Franz seems to have been the only layman. It was a dangerous and risky business to say no to Hitler’s insane war. Could he have done it without the support of a strong and loving wife? Now, however, his three daughters know that their father was a martyr. And martyrs are saints.

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