Sunday, August 09, 2009

August 9th: Three Martyrs of the 20th Century

In the Third Secret of Fatima, the Blessed Mother gave the children of Fatima a preview of the horrors that lay in store for the world, and especially the Church, if people continued to refuse to reform their lives and do penance for sin. We know that Our Lady's message went unheeded, and the result was the bloodiest century in human history. But God raised up saints amid the wrack and ruin, and on August 9th, the Church remembers three of them.

St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) (1891-1942)
Edith Stein was born in Breslau in 1891 during the festival of Yom Kippur. She was raised up in the Jewish faith, which she abandoned at the age of 13. Possessed of a brilliant intellect, she earned her doctorate in philosophy from the University of Göttingen at the age of 25. The witness of her Catholic friends awakened in her an interest in the Catholic faith; after several years of reading and study, she accepted Baptism in 1922.

From afar, Edith Stein discerned the fate that awaited her people at the hands of the Nazis. In 1933, she wrote: "I had heard of severe measures against Jews before. But now it dawned on me that God had laid his hand heavily on His people, and that the destiny of these people would also be mine." Six years later, in her last will and testament, the child who had been born on the Day of Atonement would offer herself up for the sake of atonement: "Even now I accept the death that God has prepared for me in complete submission and with joy as being his most holy will for me. I ask the Lord to accept my life and my that the Lord will be accepted by His people and that His Kingdom may come in glory, for the salvation of Germany and the peace of the world."

In 1934, Edith Stein entered the Carmel and took the name Theresa Benedicta of the Cross. Anti-Semitic legislation forced her to give up her teaching career; in 1938, her order smuggled her out to the Netherlands. However, there the Nazis eventually caught up to her and her sister Rose (also a convert). In his homily on the occasion of her canonization, Pope John Paul II recounts how, just before her deportation, the saint dismissed the idea of being rescued: "Do not do it! Why should I be spared? Is it not right that I should gain no advantage from my Baptism? If I cannot share the lot of my brothers and sisters, my life, in a certain sense, is destroyed."

On August 9, 1942, God accepted the oblation that St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross had offered up four years earlier. On that day, she and her sister Rose were murdered in the gas chamber at Auschwitz. She was beatified on May 1, 1987 and canonized on October 11, 1998.

Bl. Franz Jägerstätter (1907-1943)
Bl. Franz has appeared in this space before -- once on the occasion of his beatification in 2007 and once in response to shrill demands that the Pope apologize on behalf of the Catholic Church for the Holocaust. But to truly appreciate the heroism of this humble, uneducated Austrian farmer -- inspired in part by the example of St. Thomas More, who struggled under similar circumstances -- it is necessary to understand how utterly alone he was in his decision to die rather than fight for the Nazi regime. Chris Gillibrand has his story in two parts at Catholic Church Conservation. It is a must-read.

Bl. Ceferino Jimenez Malla, OPL (1861-1936)
Bl. Ceferino was born in 1861 in Catalonia, Spain, the son of Gypsies. Although he had very little education, he possessed a sharp intellect and was a very successful businessman, and even served as a city councilman. He married late in life, and adopted a niece as his own daughter. He accepted Baptism as an adult, and was active in his parish as a catechist, choir director and Rosary leader. In 1926, he became a Third Order Dominican. Bl. Ceferino's sanctity was such that people always made sure to be on their best behavior in his presence.

Bl. Ceferino was arrested for hiding priests during the Spanish Civil War, and was offered clemency if he would throw away his rosary and renounce the Catholic faith. He refused to do so. On August 8, 1936, he was murdered by firing squad. He was beatified on May 4, 1997 by Pope John Paul II -- the first Gypsy to be so honored by the Church.

1 comment:

  1. The more I learn about the Spanish Civil war, the more I learn the US history books have neglected to mention. Thanks for this post!