The martyrdom of Titus Brandsma


 When you are beaten up everyday, humiliated and your humanity taken away from you, would you still be able to smile at the perpetrator and give him or her a blessing?

When you have not eaten for days and worked your bones for the most part of the day, and you are so hungry and so weak, could you afford to share even a small piece of that small bread given to you?

When you have been robbed of your freedom and humanity, when you have been stripped naked removed of all worldly source of self respect, would you still be able to stand with dignity?

In the concentration camps of the Nazis – the prisoners are treated not as human beings but as the lowliest of creatures ever created by God.

They were nothing, useless, worthless, they have been reduced to nothing. Nada, nada, nada.

But perhaps in this time of nothingness, we can only imagine a man whose whole life has been inspired by one of the great mystics of the church - Teresa of Avila, whose poem resonates in such a place of nothingness.

Teresa writes:
Nada te turbe;
nada te espante;
todo se pasa;
Dios no se muda,
la paciencia
todo lo alcanza.
Quien a Dios tiene,
nada le falta.
Solo Dios basta.
Which would translate:
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.
While most of those who experienced the horrors of the Nazi camp that is Dachau lose their humanity, there are those like the Carmelite Fr. Titus Brandsma who became the light that guided many along this dark path.

Dachau has been described as a "school of violence" where Nazi officers were trained on how to break a man; where the loss of humanity is celebrated. As such it is no wonder when prisoners and guards alike would start to act so violently even without provocation, or for the sheer fun of it, as with the case of the officers.

But for Titus, Dachau was his Calvary leading to Golgotha, and his cross he carried with joyfulness that struck even the prison guards whose cruelty knew no bounds. 

This calvary, however, he did not ask, and his martyrdom, he did not desire. 

In his Garden of Gethsemane that is Kleve, he asked that this cup of sacrifice be taken away from him, but his obedience to the Father was so sure that he never wavered on his principle that was founded on the basic teachings of Christ.

On May 28, 1942, he writes:
The Provincial could attempt to have it commuted to a transfer to a German monastery (Mainz, Vienna, Bamberg, Straubing), with eventual extensive restriction of freedom and of permission to work, with the obligation of remaining in that city or perhaps in the convent and of reporting in on a regular basis, of having no correspondence with Holland, etc.

The cup was not taken from him and so he journeyed to Dachau where he carried his cross along the path of martyrdom for roughly 37 days, from June 19, when he was admitted in Dachau, to July 26 1942. 

But his cross, he carried even longer than that, for from the time he was arrested on January 19, 1942, he was already subjected to psychological torture and physical abuse.

In his talk, Fr. Fernando pointed out that in his martyrdom, Titus was witness to three important things.

First, he was a witness of humanity. Despite the cruelty that he had to endure, he never lost his humanity and was able to afford to show his fellow inmates and the guards the love that would radiate in his smile and in his daily greetings. Fr. Fernando said that he was constantly gentle, kind, and thankful even to the guards or the doctor who approved for the lethal injection to be administered.

Second, he was a witness of reconciliation. He was a man of forgiveness, according to Fr. Fernando. When he was the spiritual director for the Catholic journalists in the Netherlands, he was instrumental in reconciling the journalists and the union with the Dutch bishops. 

When he was arrested, he was asked by his interrogator, Captain Paul Hardegen to write a statement that would retract his statements against the Nazis, but he stood by it and in explaining his stand, in the end of his statement he wrote:
God bless the Netherlands. God bless Germany. May God grant that both nations will soon be standing side by side in full peace and harmony.
Fr. Fernando revealed that this statement made such a great impact on the German people after the war, most especially the German Carmelites who may have felt the heavy weight of the sin of their country.

Lastly, Fr. Fernando pointed out that Titus was a witness to the presence of God. He was a witness to the strong faith in God who shares in our suffering, in our life, and who is working with us.

Titus, truly, is an inspiration for all Carmelites in truly living a life in the footsteps of Christ. His passion, death, and his resurrection, that is the memory that lives with us, is indeed a life that followed the footsteps of Christ.


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