Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Thoughts from the Chaplain - Blessed Titus Brandsma

Last week on the 27th July we celebrated the feast of Blessed Titus Brandsma, a Carmelite Friar from Holland who died in Dachau.  Titus is an important 20th Century saint for the Universal Church but also for the Carmelite Order.

Titus was born Anno Sjoerd Brandsma on 23rd February 1881 in the province of Friesland; the son of Titus and Tjitsje who ran a small dairy farm.  The area where he was born and raised was a mainly Calvinist region although his family were devout Catholics.

Anno became a Carmelite and took the name Titus in honour of his father.  He studied and was ordain a priest in 1905 and after his doctorate in Philosophy was appointed professor of Philosophy at the Nijmegen Catholic University where he later served as Rector.

Brandsma was well known through his writings and lectures and in 1935 he was invited to take a lecture tour in the United States and the same year he became ecclesiastical adviser to the Catholic journalists of Holland and this brought him into confrontation with the rising Nazi government of the third Reich.  In 1940 the Nazis invaded the Netherlands and because of his outspoken writings and his campaigning for freedom of the press he came to their attention. This led to him being arrested and imprisoned in Scheveningen and then he was moved to Dachau arriving there on the 19th June. Titus Brandsma died in Dachau on 26th July 1942 from a lethal injection.

As Carmelites we can see many aspects of our charism in the life and death of Titus Brandsma:    

a)    we are called to be contemplatives, leading a life in the presence of God and in the footsteps of Jesus.  It was this following of Jesus and his grounding in prayer which led Titus to stand up for truth, freedom and the church.  This courage was to bring him to Dachau where he underwent his passion; deteriorating health, cruelty from the regime and finally a lethal injection

b)    Carmelites are to have the Eucharist at the centre of their lives and as proof of this Titus continued to celebrate the sacraments during his imprisonment, obtaining bread and wine for his offering.  But this offering was not just for him but for all those in need of it.

c)     Part of our life is to care for the marginalized and those in despair; what better place to find these than in the brutality of a Nazi death camp.  Titus was well known for his smile and welcome to all those who needed him, even to the nurse who came to administer his lethal injection.  It is said that she accepted his rosary and was at his beatification in Rome.

d)   Our rule tells us to ‘study the law of the Lord day and night’.  Titus fulfilled this exaltation and published the fruits of this in a number of writings. He wrote in one of a set of small booklets “Do not yield to hatred. We are here in a dark tunnel, but we have to go on. At the end, an eternal light is shining for us.”  This quote sums up the end of his journey especially in Dachau.

While he was in Scheveningen he scratched on the wall of his cell a poem called "Before an Image of Jesus Crucified" which I would like to share with you:

Dear Lord, when looking up to thee,I see thy loving eyes on me;love overflows my humble heart, knowing what faithful friend thou art.
A cup of sorrow I foresee, which I accept for love of thee. Thy painful way I wish to go;
the only way to God I know.
My soul is full of peace and light, although in pain, this light shines bright.For here thou keepest to thy breast my longing heart, to find there rest.
Leave me here freely all alone, in cell where never sunlight shone. Should no one ever speak to me, this golden silence makes me free!
For though alone, I have no fear; never wert thou, O Lord, so near. Sweet Jesus, please abide with me; my deepest peace I find in thee.

Blessed Titus Brandsma, Pray for us

Icon of Bl. Titus Brandsma (left) and St. Edith Stein (right) in the National Shrine of Saint Jude