Category Archives: stories

Franz Jägerstätter – Courage to Resist Nonviolently

Today is the feast day of Franz Jägerstätter who was beatified by the Catholic Church in 2007. I learned a bit about his life, witness, and sacrifice for peace during my graduate studies as part of my research into nonviolent resistance. Here is an excerpt of a paper I wrote about nonviolent resistance to the Holocaust:

FranzAlthough one might consider his 2007 beatification to have shifted his “ordinary” status, Franz Jägerstätter lived a rather ordinary and simple life. His primary occupations were husband, father, and farmer.  His marriage to Franziska, a very devout Christian, was happy and deepened his own commitment to his Catholic faith. He was a volunteer parish sacristan and later became a lay tertiary Franciscan. Equipped with only a seventh-grade education, he was nevertheless widely read—periodicals, devotionals, papal encyclicals, lives of the saints, and scripture.

Jägerstätter had a vivid dream in 1938, two months prior to the arrival of Hitler’s army in his native Austria. It was a dream upon which he later reflected and acted.

“Suddenly, I saw a beautiful train, which was going around a mountain. Grown-ups and children were streaming toward it and could hardly be held back. I would rather not say how few adults did not get on the train. Then suddenly a voice said to me: ‘This train is going to Hell’ … And now I realize that it embodies National Socialism, as it descends upon us with all its many organizations.”

“From the very beginning,” notes his biographer Erna Putz, Jägerstätter “refused all cooperation” with the Nazi regime, even refusing government payments for raising children or crop damage.  He was the only person in his village to vote “No” to the April 1938 German annexation of Austria, even though the annexation vote had been endorsed by Austrian Cardinal Innitzer. Conscription soon became the fate of able bodied Austrian men, now German citizens.

Jägerstätter was no exception.  He received six months of army training in 1941, during which time he realized that he could not in good conscience serve in the Nazi military. As a devout Catholic, he discussed his decision with his priest, who told him in confession that such a decision would be akin to suicide, and even with his local Bishop, who advised him to think of his duty to his family. His resolve was unchanged. He wrote: “Does it still bear witness to Christian love of the neighbor if I commit an act, which I truly regard as evil and very unjust, and yet I continue to commit the act because otherwise I would suffer either physical or economic harm?”

When Jägerstätter was called to active duty in 1943, he declared his refusal to participate. He was beheaded on August 9, 1943. Faced with evil, and commanded to participate in that evil, he responded by seizing the moral initiative, refusing to submit, and being willing both to suffer rather than retaliate and to undergo the penalty of breaking an unjust law.

Meeting Jesus Again: Thank You Marcus Borg

meeting jesus again for the first timeI read this morning that Marcus Borg has passed away. Theologian, Author, Historical Jesus Scholar, Biblical Scholar, Lutheran turned Episcopalian, Oregonian, Professor, Husband, Friend … surely he was many things to many people and will be deeply missed.

When I heard the news of his death, I immediately said a prayer of thanks for him, and especially for the role his book, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, played in my own faith journey.

While I was raised Catholic and went to 12 years of Catholic School, from my late teens to my late 20s I essentially rejected it all as entirely irrelevant–organized religion, spirituality, God, Jesus, you name it.  But then something happened and somehow God broke through. It’s a long story, but the 2 second version is that a friend invited me to her Catholic church and I weirdly and unexpectedly felt at home. The next Sunday and each week after I woke up with a deep desire to return.  So I kept going, but all of my doubts and questions and blanket rejection remained and led to a whole lot of confusion.

One day, a few weeks after I inexplicably became a doubting weekly church goer, I remember riding in my friend Kim’s pick up truck down 39th Avenue in Southeast Portland as she gave me a ride home after mass. I was trying to articulate to her my mixed up feelings around the pull to return to my Catholic roots. I remember saying that I didn’t know if I could do it because I was not quite sure what I thought about “that Jesus guy.” I’m pretty sure those were my exact words.  Kim suggested I read Borg’s book.

I was intrigued by the title. I read the book. And something shifted within me even as I read the opening words of Chapter One of Meeting Jesus Again:

We have all met Jesus before. Most of us first met him when we were children. This is most obviously true for those of us raised in the church, but also for anybody who grew up in Western culture. We all received some impression of Jesus, some image of him, however vague or specific.

For many, the childhood image of Jesus remains intact into adulthood. For some, that image is held with deep conviction, sometimes linked with warm personal devotion and sometimes tied to rigid doctrinal positions.  For others, both within and outside of the church, the childhood image of Jesus can become a problem, producing perplexity and doubt, often leading to indifference toward or rejection of the religion of their childhood.

Indeed, for many Christians, especially in mainline churches, there came a time when their childhood image of Jesus no longer made a great deal of sense. And for many of them, no persuasive alternative has replaced it. It is for these people especially that this book is written. For them, meeting Jesus again will be–as it has been for me–like meeting him for the first time. It will involve a new image of Jesus. 

His book did not take away all of my questions or doubts or lead to instant conversion. Instead, I think what it did for me was give me freedom to not know what I thought or felt. It gave me a way to reconsider Jesus, to meet him again as if for the first time, to start afresh in building a relationship that continues to grow and deepen with twists and turns and meaning and surprise, comfort and challenge.

It was from that fresh reset of my feelings about Jesus that I started on the path that led me to the corner of Susan and St. Joseph.  Having met Jesus again, I was ready and able to then meet him through our CSJP Charism of peace through justice.  As our CSJP Constitutions so beautifully put it:

“Christ is our peace, the source of our power. United with him we engage in the struggle against the reality of evil and continue the work of establishing God’s reign of justice and peace.”

Thank you Marcus for sharing your gifts with the Church and the people of God. If my own story is any indication, I suspect you have had a profound influence in many people’s lives.

The photo

At the corner of Susan and St. Joseph
At the corner of Susan and St. Joseph

A few folks have asked about the photo that inspired the name for my new blog.  I’ve discussed this a bit in the “about” section, but given that most folks won’t spend a lot of time poking around my new blog, I thought I might as well make the photo the topic of today’s blog post.  The short answer is, yes it is an actual photo that I took a few years ago on a trip to the town of Wenatchee, Washington which is east of the Cascades in the central part of the state.

I had never been to Wenatchee before, a town with a rich history that includes the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. In 1916 the Sisters were invited by Bishop O’Dea of Seattle to take over the Wenatchee General Hospital, which they ran as St. Anthony’s Hospital until the 1970s. Many of my favorite CSJP Sisters ministered at the hospital, including my friend Sister Monica who started there as a young Sister in the 1950s as a bookkeeper before becoming and RN, a hospital administrator, and eventually CEO of our health system.

Given our rich history there, I took the opportunity of giving a presentation at a parish in Central Washington as an opportunity to make a sort of pilgrimage. I visited the site of the original hospital (now a home for disabled adults).  I also visited St. Joseph School, which was started by our Sisters in the 1950s. The last CSJP left the school in the 1980s, but my friend Sister Tonia stayed on in Wenatchee working with the diocese until a few years ago.

Now we get to the part of the story you have been waiting for … the discovery of the corner of Susan Place and St. Joseph Place. After parking near St. Joseph’s school and walking around, I returned to my car and discovered that this was where I had parked!  The synchronicity of the moment struck me then, and the picture I took that day has given me many opportunities to contemplate in deep gratitude this wonderful adventure God has invited me to participate in.

When I was thinking of a name for this new blog to mark the beginning of a new adventure, the picture naturally came to me as perfectly capturing this moment and the many blessings in my life as Sister Susan, a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace.

Really, I can’t think of a better place to be than at the corner of Susan and St. Joseph, pursuing social justice as a path to peace.