Follow by Email

Thursday, 7 August 2008

A solitary witness?

On 9 August I want to remember the witness of Franz Jagerstatter, an Austrian peasant who was executed for his refusal to perform military service for the German Reich. His story is an amazing account of the achievement of moral clarity in judgement about the essential character of the Htler regime and a steadfast opposition to the regime based on that assessment.

Jagerstatter's "solitary" witness was not so solitary, though it was not a journey shared by many of his fellow Catcholics. He was sustained by his church, almost despite itself, through its practice of pastoral care and his commitment to the disciplines of his faith, most notably through his reception of communion. The church who formed his “reference group” was the church of the prophets and the martyrs. The delight with which he heard the story of Franz Reinisch, a priest who had previously trodden the same path he was treading, is poignant testimony to his desire to be in communion with the wider church, to not be alone.

Michael Baxter provides us with a theological account of the relationship between the individual and the church in a way that highlights the communal dimension of Jägerstätter’s witness despite its apparent solitary character.

No one receives the gift of peace as an individual, any more that they receive the Body of Christ as an individual. Rather, we receive the gift of peace as members of a body (ICor 12: 12-30, Romans 12: 4-5). In this sense, Francis of Assisi was not “an individual”; he was a saint, a member within a communion, who took into his body the marks of Christ, and was thus shown to be a sharer in the body of Christ. …

Jägerstätter is often depicted as an individual, as a “solitary witness”…. But in fact, he himself was a member of the body of Christ, one who, daily ate the body of Christ and felt called to be a saint …

‘Just War and Pacifism: a “Pacifist” Perspective in Seven Points’ Houston Catholic Worker Vol.XXIV, No.3, May-June 2004 p.2

No comments: