Lk 21:12-19 Persecuted And Blessed

Wednesday of the Thirty-Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

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Jesus said to the crowd:  “They will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kinds and governors because of my name.  It will lead to your giving testimony.”

As a boy, I never did much studying, and of all the subjects I detested, history was at the top of my list.  But thanks to my father’s amazing library, I began to grow in love with history, modern history to be exact.  I grew fond of World War II and read as many books as I could on the subject.  After years of reading, I thought I had a pretty good understanding on what happened in those brief years, but when I entered the seminary, I realized that I had missed some of the most moving and heroic accounts of bravery I had ever read. 

Here are just a few of the men who brought courage to my soul.

BERNARD LICTEMBERG:  Born on December 3rd, 1875 in Ohlaw, Germany.  He was ordained a priest in Wroclaw, Poland in 1899.  A year later he began his pastoral mission in Berlin and was very active in the Central party where he began to protest against the cruelties of the Concentration camps. 

From 1938, he became well known for his evening prayers in the cathedral.  After watching his every step, the Gestapo finally arrested him on May 22nd, 1942.  He was given a two-year prison sentence for “mis-use of his official position”.  The Gestapo considered his presence in the capital a threat and ordered him to be transferred to Dachau, but he never made it.  Due to his poor health, he died in a cattle car on November 5, 1945 as the transport train neared the concentration camp.

KARL LEISNER:  Born on February 28th, 1915 in Rees, Germany.  He studied theology in the Diocese of Munster and tried to establish Catholic youth groups, but the Nazis sought to control all youth work.  So he began to take teenagers on so called “camping” trips to Belgium and the Netherlands, where they could discuss the Church’s teaching.


Ordained a deacon in 1939, he was detained by the Nazis for having criticized Hitler.  On December 14th, 1941 he was transferred to Dachau, where, on Gaudete Sunday, December 17th, 1944 he was secretly ordained a priest by a French bishop also arrested by the Nazis.  In the concentration camp, he celebrated his first and only Mass.

When the allies liberated the camp on May 4th, 1945, his health was extremely poor and was admitted to the hospital where he died of tuberculosis on August 12, 1945.

BLESSED OTTO NEURURER: Born on the 25th of May, in Piller, Austria.  His father died when he was a young boy.  So all responsibilities of the home were placed on the shoulders of his mother. 


At the time of the Nazis’ occupation of Tirol, he was working as a parish priest in a village nearby.  Moved by a strong sense of responsibility, he advised a girl not to marry a certain man.  The man happened to be a personal friend of Gauleiter, the highest Nazi authority in Tirol.  Immediately, Father Neururer was arrested on the charge of “slander to the detriment of German marriage” and sent off to the concentration camp of Buchenwald.  The sadistic tortures he was subjected to caused incredible suffering, but he still shared his scarce food rations with other prisoners.  In Buchenwald, he was approached by a prisoner who asked to be baptized.  He suspected that the request was a trap, but his sense of duty did not allow him to refuse.  Two days later, he was transferred to the much feared “bunker”.  There he was hung upside down until he died.

Fr. Otto Neururer was the first priest killed in a concentration camp.
 
Here is my favorite.
 

Fr. Jakob Gapp.  Austrian Father Jakob Gapp saw things in terms of either/or.  Either you were for the truth or you were against it.  His extremism for justice tolerated no accommodation with evil.  So when Hitler annexed Austriain 1938, Father Gapp publicly condemned the Nazis.  From that moment on the Nazis were out to get him.

Youthful hardships molded Fr. Gapp’s steely character.  He came from a poor family.  He Served in World War I, was wounded and was a POW for nearly a year.  Later, he entered the seminary and was ordained a priest.
One Sunday afternoon a couple posing as Jews interested in converting invited him for a picnic near the French boarder.  There the Gestapo arrested him.  He was tried and condemned to death for treason.  On August 13th, 1943 he was executed.  John Paul II declared him Blessed on the same day fifty years later. 
On the day of his execution, he wrote the following in a moving letter to his relatives.  This is what Jacob Gapp wrote. 
 
Here I am, at the end of my battle, arrested eight months ago for defending my Christian faith. Today, they have announced my condemnation to death.

I’ve been fighting for a single cause: that all men may achieve eternal salvation.

I’ve defended the faith with my actions and my words. Now the moment has arrived to do it one last time for eternal life.

Today, the sentence will be carried out.

At seven o’clock tonight I will meet my Redeemer to whom I have always passionately loved.  Don’t be sad for me, all things pass away, only Heaven remains.

I confess, that after the annexation of Austria to the third Reich, I, in good conscience, and as a Catholic priest, felt it was my unconditional duty to teach the truth and fight against the errors of the national socialistic government.

Examining the testimony of the first Christians, I understood that the faith had to be defended by the people, but much more by the priests.

It is worthwhile to defend the Church’s rights, which in reality are the rights of God, even if it means losing my own life.

Without doubt I’ve lived bitter moments during my detention, I’ve sunk down to the most dark sadness.

But this has helped me to prepare myself better for my death.

To spill my blood for Christ and His Church has become for me my greatest desire.

After having fought against myself, I now consider this day to be the most beautiful in my life.  Today, the priesthood, appears clearer and more attractive to me and I can but only repeat: When you have left all the things that entrap and embrace the human heart and no human hope attracts you, and you have forgotten yourself, saying goodbye to your own name;When you reject all the things in this world and say goodbye to your own existence and look only for Him and have Him at your side from morning till evening;When the different paths in which Christ directs you have aimed you to his heart; When in all things you are just in Him and for Him:then you can say to yourself: 

I AM A PRIEST.

 

 
 
 
 

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