Brandsma: “Love will regain the hearts of the pagans.”

An Irish Carmelite priest was a guest at my student residence this evening.

Over dinner, he mentioned the recent announcement that Titus Brandsma will be canonized.

Not knowing anything of this story, my friends and I asked the priest to tell us the story.

Fr. Brandsma was a Dutch Carmelite priest who worked as a philosophy professor and journalist.

His campaign for the freedom of the Catholic press to refuse to print Nazi propaganda led to his arrest and eventual martyrdom by lethal injection at Dachau.

John Paul II canonized Fr. Brandsma in 1985 saying, “Of course, such heroism cannot be improvised” in attesting to Brandsma’s authentic Catholic upbringing and formation throughout his life.

“Although neo-paganism no longer wants love, love will regain the hearts of the pagans,” Brandsma had said.

John Paul II even recounted that the “nurse” who murdered Brandsma with the lethal injection could not resist acknowledging that Brandsma’s look toward her was one of compassion.

How much are we seized by the conviction that “love will regain the hearts of the pagans”, that death and evil will never have the last word?

My Best Historical Friend

On November 30th, my best historical friend, Etty Hillesum, perished in Auschwitz.

If you have never made friends with someone in a book, your life is incomplete.

Etty used to say this of Rilke and now I say it of her: “[S]he inhabits my life.”

Between the ages of 27-29, Etty, a Dutch Jew, kept a diary through which she demonstrated her incredible openness to reality and profound spiritual audacity.

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“He died in the fullness of years.”

Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, has recognized 27,921 Righteous Among the Nations. That’s the number of non-Jews who risked their lives to help and save Jews during the Holocaust that Yad Vashem has been able to ascertain with evidence.

These are remarkable stories of personal risk, self-sacrifice, living in truth, fidelity to conscience, charity toward neighbour, and the unshakable determination to live honourably in the sight of God.

Consider that number: 27,921. If you learned the story of one Righteous Among the Nations each day, it would take you 76 years.

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