In March 1938, Hitler’s armies marched into Austria. The following month they held a referendum in which, under duress, 99.7 percent of Austrians voted in support of the Nazi takeover. One person who voted against it was Franz Jaegerstaetter.
Franz had enjoyed a wild youth and spent a brief spell in prison for his involvement in gang fighting. In his late twenties, he underwent a religious conversion. He married and settled down as a farmer in his home village of Saint Radegund. He would rise at 5:30 each morning for prayer, attend daily Mass, and fast until noon.
In 1943 Franz was drafted. He was 36 and had three daughters under seven. The Bishop of Linz, several priests, and Franz’s own wife and mother, urged him to take the oath of loyalty to Hitler and serve in the army. Franz refused. They took to Berlin and beheaded him.
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus talks about hating our families. What he means is that we should not allow the natural affection we have for them draw us away from our main mission.
Jesus’ own family generally failed to understand what he was all about. Early in his mission, the gospels tell us that large crowds gathered around him that he didn’t have time to eat. “When his family heard this,” Saint Mark tells us, “they set out to take charge of him, saying, ‘He is out of his mind.’”
Jesus never spares his family’s feelings, and in the end exposes his mother to a great depth of grief, a kind reflected in Franz Jaegerstaetter’s last letter to his wife. “It was not possible for me to free you from the pain that you must now suffer on my account,” he writes. “How hard it must have been for our dear Savior when, through his sufferings and death, he had to prepare a great sorrow for his mother.”
Yet even from the cross Jesus takes responsibility for his mother, entrusting her to the care of his young disciple John. Again there is a parallel with Franz, who abandoned the idea of a religious vocation so that he could look after his elderly mother and stepfather.
Franz Jaegerstaetter eventually had to relinquish the care of his family. From prison he contacted Father Karobath, the parish priest who had been in trouble for speaking out against the Nazis. “God and the Blessed Virgin will surely not abandon my family when I can no longer protect them myself,” wrote Franz.
Jesus tells us that we must count the cost. He says that no one would build a tower or march into battle without first estimating the full cost and the same is true for discipleship. What does it mean to pay full price as we follow Christ?
In a statement designed to shock, Jesus demands that disciples hate their fathers, mothers, wives, children, brothers, sisters and even life itself. He is telling us to cut back on our family ties, and focus on strengthening our faith-ties. The Greek work for hate does not mean anger or hostility. It suggests that a true disciple should value their relation with Christ over their relationship with family members. We are not to despise our relatives but we are not to worship them either.
A follower who pays full price knows their mission in life. Motivational speaker Tony Robbins encountered St. Mother Teresa in Mexico and asked her, “What gives you total ecstasy?” She answered, “It is to see people die with smiles on their faces.” The lesson is: You have to know what drives you.
What is your purpose in life? Disciples with faith-ties have a purpose in life and they follow the call of Christ despite what family members think of them. We all can choose to follow Christ or not.
Posted on Fri, September 16, 2016
by The Lafourche Gazette