Saints of Lent: The Lion of Munster

Sunday, March 26, AD 2017

Lent is a grand time to confront evil, both that evil which stains our souls, and the evil external to us.  Throughout the history of the Church there have been saints who risked all to bravely confront the popular evils of their time.  This Lent on each Sunday we will be looking at some of those saints.  We began with Saint Athanasius.  Go here to read about him.  Next we looked at Saint John Fisher.  Go here to read about him. Last week we looked at the life of Saint Oliver Plunket.  Go here to read about him.  This week we turn to the Lion of Munster.

The Nazis hated and feared Clemens August Graf von Galen in life and no doubt they still hate and fear him, at least those now enjoying the amenities of some of the less fashionable pits of Hell.  This Lent, I am strongly encouraged by the story of Blessed von Galen.  I guess one could come up with a worse situation than being a Roman Catholic bishop in Nazi Germany in 1941, and confronting a merciless anti-Christian dictatorship that was diametrically opposed to the Truth of Christ, but that would certainly do for enough of a challenge for one lifetime for anyone.  (Hitler privately denounced Christianity as a Jewish superstition and looked forward after the War to “settling accounts”, as he put it, with Christianity in general and Roman Catholicism in particular.)

Priests who spoke out against the Third Reich were being rounded up and shipped off to concentration camps.  What was a bishop to do in the face of such massive evil?  Well, for the Bishop of Munster, Clemens von Galen, there could be only one answer.

A German Count, von Galen was from one of the oldest aristocratic families in Westphalia.  Always a German patriot, the political views of von Galen would have made my own conservatism seem a pale shade of pink in comparison.  Prior to becoming a bishop, he was sometimes criticized for a haughty attitude and being unbending.  He was chosen Bishop of Munster in 1933 only after other candidates, no doubt recognizing what a dangerous position it would be with the Nazis now in power, had turned it down.  I am certain  it did not hurt that he was an old friend of Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII.

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Von Galen on Martyrdom

Sunday, March 13, AD 2016

The Lion of Munster

Neither praise nor threats will distance me from God.

Blessed Clemens von Galen

(I ran this series originally back in 2011.  I am rerunning it now, because the contemporary Church is greatly harmed by the unwillingness of so many clerics to confront evil forthrightly.  In this year of Mercy we must not forget the need to cry out for Justice, and that is precisely what the Lion of Munster did.)

In my first post on Blessed Clemens August Graf von Galen, which may be read here, we examined the life of this remarkable German bishop who heroically stood up to the Third Reich.  Today we examine the third of three sermons that he preached in 1941 which made him famous around the globe.  One week after his first breathtaking sermon against the Gestapo, my examination of which may be read here, he preached on July 20, 1941 a blistering sermon against the Nazis and their war on Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, which may be read here.   On August 3, 1941 at Saint Lambert’s in Munich he then took on the Nazi program of euthanasia, the precursor to the Holocaust, which may be read here.  Today we examine a sermon that he preached at the Cathedral of Saint Victor’s in Xanten, Germany on February 9, 1936, long before the three sermons that he preached in 1941 which made him famous around the globe.

I have just consecrated a new altar in your venerable and splendid cathedral,in a small space deep beneath the choir. But why? Your church is already so richly endowed with altars.

Beginning a sermon with a question is an approach that I wish more priests and bishops would use.  It engages the minds of the listeners from the outset.

You know the answer. The researches of the past few years have given proof that there below us lies a holy and particularly venerable place. Not only has the tradition been substantiated, according to which several previous churches were said to stand on the site of this present church, the oldest of them dating back to the time of the martyrs, to the fourth century A.D. We are also provided with fresh evidence that holy martyrs, who with their blood bore witness to Christ, were interred here, to await the resurrection. We believe in the resurrection of the body. Christ’s words have given us this promise: The hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God. Whosoever does not
believe in the independent life of the individual soul, in its continued existence after the death of the body, in its reunification with the bodyand in life everlasting, this man is no true Christian. We hold these beliefs, because we believe in Christ, who is the truth. Because we hold fast to the beliefs of the Apostles and of our Christian forebears. The entire history of your city, speaking to you through the its towering churches, which are monuments in stone, proclaiming itself in the stones found lying beneath them, is evidence of our faith.

The martyrs have always been the human bedrock for Catholicism, from Saint Stephen, the first of the ever glorious martyrs, to our own day with the recent martyrdom of the brave Shahbaz Bhatti.

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3 Responses to Von Galen on Martyrdom

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  • Thanks Donald. The day is coming when our Bishops can go from gaining inspiration from Von Galen to having the opportunity for imitation. Let us pray they are up to the task.

  • As an ethnic German-American, I am pleased to see this reminder that not all Germans followed the Nazi propaganda line. My family, both mother and father’s side, left Germany during kulturkampf. The family left behind had to endure the militaristic Prussian incompetence of WW I and the insane Austrian usurper of WW II. We all hope that the present difficulties in Germany and Europe will be addressed in manner that befits the religious history of the area.

Von Galen Contra Euthanasia

Sunday, March 6, AD 2016

The Lion of Munster

Neither praise nor threats will distance me from God.

Blessed Clemens von Galen

(I ran this series originally back in 2011.  I am rerunning it now, because the contemporary Church is greatly harmed by the unwillingness of so many clerics to confront evil forthrightly.  In this year of Mercy we must not forget the need to cry out for Justice, and that is precisely what the Lion of Munster did.)

 

In my first post on Blessed Clemens August Graf von Galen, which may be read here, we examined the life of this remarkable German bishop who heroically stood up to the Third Reich.  Today we examine the third of three sermons that he preached in 1941 which made him famous around the globe.  One week after his first breathtaking sermon against the Gestapo, my examination of which may be read here, he preached on July 20, 1941 a blistering sermon against the Nazis and their war on Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, which may be read here.  On August 3, 1941 at Saint Lambert’s in Munster, he preached a third sermon which, along with an overall attack on the Nazi regime, attacked an evil that, alas, unlike the Nazis, remains with us today.

My Beloved Brethren,

In today’s Gospel we read of an unusual event: Our Saviour weeps. Yes, the Son of God sheds tears. Whoever weeps must be either in physical or mental anguish. At that time Jesus was not yet in bodily pain and yet here were tears. What depth of torment He must have felt in His heart and Soul, if He, the bravest of men, was reduced to tears. Why is He weeping? He is lamenting over Jerusalem, the holy city He loved so tenderly, the capital of His race. He is weeping over her inhabitants, over His own compatriots because they cannot foresee the judgment that is to overtake them, the punishment which His divine prescience and justice have pronounced. ‘Ah, if thou too couldst understand, above all in this day that is granted thee, the ways that can bring thee peace!’ Why did the people of Jerusalem not know it? Jesus had given them the reason a short time before. ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . how often have I been ready to gather thy children together, as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings; and thou didst refuse it! I your God and your King wished it, but you would have none of Me. . . .’ This is the reason for the tears of Jesus, for the tears of God. . . . Tears for the misrule, the injustice and man’s willful refusal of Him and the resulting evils, which, in His divine omniscience, He foresees and which in His justice He must decree. . . . It is a fearful thing when man sets his will against the will of God, and it is because of this that Our Lord is lamenting over Jerusalem.

“the capital of His race.”  What courage it took in Nazi Germany to remind people of the fact that Jesus was a Jew!  Von Galen had always been a friend to Jews, and would hide a Jewish boy, with the help of a Protestant pastor, at an institute Von Galen controlled, from the Nazis.  After his death he would be highly praised by the Munster Jewish community for the care and assistance he had shown them.  Would that all Germans had acted the same way.  It is a canard to say that all Germans hated Jews:  even with the Nazis pumping out the vilest anti-semitism imaginable 24-7 since they took power that was not the case.  However, it is fair to say that a majority of Germans were indifferent to the fate of the Jews and were unwilling to raise their voices against the Nazi persecution of the Jews.  This attitude of most of the German people is well described in the film Judgment at Nuremberg where Burt Lancaster, as German judge Ernst Janning, gives riveting testimony:

Von Galen I think realized this indifference and his sermons were meant to show Germans that the evil of the Nazis was not restricted only to people they were shamefully indifferent to.

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11 Responses to Von Galen Contra Euthanasia

  • “If all unproductive people may thus be violently eliminated, then woe betide our brave soldiers who return home, wounded, maimed or sick.”

    This was the sentence that the Nazis most feared. Bishop von Galen came very close to advocating a military mutiny. A major reason he was not arrested was that the Nazis did not want to be seen as giving credence to this allegation.

  • Incredible window to history we all need to look into, which we don’t because we are consumed with our own comfort and ease! Lord God have mercy on me a sinner. Thank you so much for this.

  • Excellent post!

    This should be required reading in every stage of learning.

    “Life unworthy of life!”
    The Liberal mantra.

    God bless your heroic efforts to teach, TAC contributors.

  • I’ll never forget the heroic efforts of Jeb Bush to save the life of Terri Shiavo. Sadly, he ultimately succumbed to the power of the state. Another religious man during the war worth mentioning is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a man of immense courage who refused to come to terms with Nazi power. Eric Metaxas has authored a book about him that is worth reading.

  • It bears repeating…..Jozef Pilsudski was the premier, or President, of Poland in 1933, when the Nazi Party seized power in Germany. Pilsudski knew that the Nazis would drag up the “humiliation” that Germany “suffered” at Versailles (never mind that Germany was not laid waste to, unlike a big part of France, or Belgium, or the Balkans, but, anyway) and that Germany would be reminded by the Nazis that Poland took back the land (Greater Poland) seized by the Prussians in the Partition.
    Pilsudski wanted French help to invade Germany, which had little military strength in 1933, to embarrass the Nazis and force them from power.

    France didn’t want to do it. The rest is history.

    As Blessed von Galen so eloquently put it, the Nazis had no right to do what they were doing to anyone, be it disabled, ill, Jew, Pole, anyone at all.

  • The phrase “Life unworthy of life!” Is from a book published in democratic Weimar Germany in the 1920s entitled “The Justification of the Destruction of Life Devoid of Value”. It’s authors were Karl Binding, a distinguished judge, and Alfred Hoche, a prominent psychiatrist. This was pre-Nazi Germany, the Germany portrayed in “Cabaret”– scientific, gay and carefree, happily post-Christian. The book gave voice and credence to an impulse, never far from the surface of human thought, that anything that doesn’t look, or act, or think “like me”, isn’t really “fully human”, and therefore those who are “fully human” should be able to decide whether “it” lives or dies.
    Understand–Hoche and Binding were NOT Nazis. They were scientific, caring, liberal Germans. But the ideas they gave credibility to led to the gas chambers.

  • Blessed Von Galen, pray for us!

  • BPS is quite correct.

    Stephen Jay Gould, the agnostic biologist, once wrote an essay where he (at least partially) defended William Jennings Bryan’s role in the Scopes ‘Monkey’ Trial. Gould wrote that Bryan had become convinced before WW1 that Germany was being morally polluted by Social Darwinism. As we now know, Bryan was a prophet in this regard. The wiki article mentions some of this, though not the full timeline that Gould cited.

  • Ginny, that bio of Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxis has a few historical inaccuracies or omissions, but yes, it is a good read. Open Library has a good list of the table of contents at https://openlibrary.org/books/OL25892903M/Bonhoeffer

    BTW, the recent Church of Spies makes a nice complement to the Bonhoeffer book. Again, it is not perfect. You can see the table of contents at https://openlibrary.org/works/OL17318218W/Church_of_Spies

  • Thanks, TomD. I’m going to put your recommendation on my “to read” list.

  • The United States has allowed roughly 60 million unborn babies to be sacrificed on the altar of convenience. Now states are going for the elderly and those ‘terminally ill’ with a so called ‘death with dignity’ BS. If things remain the same, I would expect euthanasia to be the law of the land one day with mobile death units as in Europe. It goes from voluntary self killing to involuntary murder where someone else decides your life is no longer worth living. The dignity of a human being made in the image of God is under attack especially by those who have turned from God but also among deceived people.

    There are few shepherds of the magnitude of B. Von Galen….neither then nor now. But there are a few who come to mind. But for the most part our bishops, like the bishops in Nazi Germany or in a Europe embracing Protestantism, will most likely capitulate or remain silence in cowardice.

The Lion of Munster

Sunday, March 6, AD 2011

Neither praise nor threats will distance me from God.

Blessed Clemens von Galen

The Nazis hated and feared Clemens August Graf von Galen in life and no doubt they still hate and fear him, at least those now enjoying the amenities of some of the less fashionable pits of Hell.  Going into Lent, I am strongly encouraged by the story of Blessed von Galen.  I guess one could come up with a worse situation than being a Roman Catholic bishop in Nazi Germany in 1941, and confronting a merciless anti-Christian dictatorship that was diametrically opposed to the Truth of Christ, but that would certainly do for enough of a challenge for one lifetime for anyone.  (Hitler privately denounced Christianity as a Jewish superstition and looked forward after the War to “settling accounts”, as he put it, with Christianity in general and Roman Catholicism in particular.)

Priests who spoke out against the Third Reich were being rounded up and shipped off to concentration camps.  What was a bishop to do in the face of such massive evil?  Well, for the Bishop of Munster, Clemens von Galen, there could be only one answer.

A German Count, von Galen was from one of the oldest aristocratic families in Westphalia.  Always a German patriot, the political views of von Galen would have made my own conservatism seem a pale shade of pink in comparison.  Prior to becoming a bishop, he was sometimes criticized for a haughty attitude and being unbending.  He was chosen Bishop of Munster in 1933 only after other candidates, no doubt recognizing what a dangerous position it would be with the Nazis now in power, had turned it down.  I am certain  it did not hurt that he was an old friend of Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII.

Von Galen immediately demonstrated that he had not agreed to become Bishop of Munster in order to avoid danger.  He successfully led a fight against the Nazi attempt to take over Catholic schools, citing article 21 of the Concordat between the Vatican and Nazi Germany.  He then began a campaign, often using humor and ridicule, against the Aryan racial doctrines proposed by Alfred Rosenberg, chief Nazi race theorist, and a man even some high level Nazis thought was little better than a crank.  Von Galen argued that Christianity totally rejected racial differences as determining how groups should be treated, and that all men and women were children of God and brothers and sisters in Christ.  The Bishop spoke out against Nazi attacks on the “Jewish Old Testament” stating that Holy Writ was Holy Writ and that the Bible could not be altered to suit current prejudices.

In early 1937 he was summoned by Pope Pius XI to confer with him on an encyclical in German, highly unusual for an encyclical not to be written in Latin as the primary language, that the Pope was in the process of drafting.  The encyclical was the blistering Mit Brennender Sorge (With Burning Heart) that the Pope ordered be read out in every parish in Germany on Palm Sunday 1937.  A head long assault on almost every aspect of National Socialism, it may be read here.

The language in the encyclical was blunt, direct and no doubt benefited from von Galen’s input and his experience from the battles he was waging with the Nazis.

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13 Responses to The Lion of Munster

  • Thank you.

    Lion of Munster, pray for us timid mice.

  • Don’t you just love to read the Gospels and the inspiring lives of those who truly love the word of God and live by its message for humanity?

    These divinely ordained chapters captured God’s plan of redemption and allow us a deep insight into the spiritual life of “the people of god” and their interaction with the creator as Jesus moved among them gathering His “disciples” and establishing His “church” on earth.
    The painful history along with jubilant triumphs and hopeful anticipations of the people of the Old Testament are combined, enriched, and bought forth into the life and light of Jesus Christ in these revealing gospel narratives. These, along with the other books of the New Testament, literally gave us the building blocks for the foundation of our Christian faith. For his people the Creator’s true and loving nature along with our path to him is now clarified and openly revealed when with and by the Holy Spirit His “Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. We believe and accept Jesus as The truth, The light, and The way for man’s salvation and eternal life with our triune God.

  • ion of Munster, pray for us timid mice.

    I’ll say. Last week, at a department meeting, a co-worker (who falls into the bitter and hateful ex-Catholic category) made the ridiculous claim that there were ATM’s in Catholic churches and Catholics are required to withdraw and dump a certain amount into the collection plate. My other co-workers are mainly (non-practicing) Protestants and said “Oh, really? I didn’t know that.” I restrained myself from jumping up and shouting “That’s an idiotic lie!” I said, trying to sound as mild as possible, that I had been to many Catholic churches and had never, ever seen an ATM in one. She took great offense. “Are you saying I’m a liar?” “I am saying I have never seen what you say you have seen. Please let me know where you have seen an ATM in a Catholic church so I can notify the Archbishop. I’m positive he will be appalled by such a thing.”

    She started out by being huffy to me afterward , but I killed with kindness. The thing is, this stupid little incident bothers me greatly. It’s a burr under my saddle. And I think, good Lord, if this silly little confrontation bothers me so much, how would I fare in situations like Blessed von Galen or the martyrs faced. I fear that I am not very brave.

  • I am glad you spoke up against the lying bigot, Donna. Too many Catholics would have just sat there silently, and the laity, no less than the clergy, have a duty to defend the Church from calumnies.

    As for courage under persecution Donna, no one can truly predict how they would react. I think I would be afraid also, but I also think I would be ablaze with anger and contempt against the persecutors, and sooner or later I think that would cause me to speak out, hang the consequences.

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  • I truly admire Blessed Clemens August Graf von Galen. A true hero.

  • We need to remember that courage is not fearlessness; courage is doing what we ought despite being possessed by fear. It is perfectly normal to be afraid in confrontational situations – thank God for that. If we were simply absent fear, can you imagine what chaos we’d inflict on others.

    Sadly, the socialist impulse is rising, perhaps now more than ever, slowly, gradually, almost imperceptibly, which makes it more dangerous. We all need to pray for courage, for when socialism rises the Church is attacked.

    I look forward to these posts through Lent. Thank you.

    On into the desert. . .

  • What a man to glorify God! Thanks for this blog, and thanks to the National Catholic Register for pointing it out to me.

    God, please raise up more leaders for the world in the mold of this great LION of Munster. Lion of Judah, please hear us!

  • Thank you for your comment Liseux. Men and women like Blessed von Galen are torches God in His mercy send to us to light our way in a frequently dark world.

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