Last week a friend invited me to a movie called “The Hidden Life.” It’s about an Austrian named Franz Jägerstätter who refused to take the oath of fidelity to Hitler during World War II. Many tried to talk him out of his stance knowing it would mean death for the married father of four. But he didn’t waiver. He was put to death August 9, 1943 at the age of thirty-six. He was declared a martyr and beatified in 2007.
Three aspects of Franz Jägerstätter’s life give me hope.
One is how he handled his personal life, which had some bumps. For instance, he had a wild reputation as a younger adult, there was a time he did not practice his faith, and he also sired a child out of wedlock. Rather than get down on himself, he got up “again and again and again” as my friend says all the saints do. He returned to his faith with vigor. He took responsibility for the pregnancy by apologizing to the mother and providing for his daughter. And he moved forward in his relationship with God and others.
The second source of hope for me is what he did to move forward. It is well known that he was a different man after meeting and marrying his wife in 1936. He prayed more, read the Bible with her, and received communion more often. But his conversion did not happen completely in one instant; it came gradually. He practiced something he called “self-improvement.” This involved awareness of sin, repentance, and working to change. “When faith lacks an awareness of sin, no true repentance can come about and there can be no resolve to improve oneself.”
The third source of hope is the fruit of his labors. Clearly, he was strengthened to form (properly inform/educate/train) and follow his conscience according to the Gospel at heroic levels. But also, he developed deep union with God. When offered a Bible to read when he was about to be put to death, he declined and responded, “I am completely bound in inner union with the Lord, and any reading would only interrupt my communication with my God.”
May the human and gutsy path of this sinner turned saint inspire us as we enter this time of year where we strive to become a better version of ourselves. God bless your 2020 with much resilience and courage on God’s path for you!