Summary: In the witness of the martyrs we see the Word of God made visible and effective in the world; the martyrs give the ultimate testimony to the Truth.

August 13, 2012

Blessed Jakob Gapp

Verbum Domini

“The interpretation of sacred Scripture would remain incomplete were it not to include listening to those who have truly lived the word of God: namely, the saints. Indeed, viva lectio est vita bonorum. The most profound interpretation of Scripture comes precisely from those who let themselves be shaped by the word of God through listening, reading and assiduous meditation.

It is certainly not by chance that the great currents of spirituality in the Church’s history originated with an explicit reference to Scripture.”

As we consider the interaction of the Word of God with our own pursuit of holiness, and our own life lived to build up the Church, we need particularly to focus on the lives of those we call martyr. The word martyrum is used in Scripture to refer to anyone who witnesses to the faith. The ultimate witness is one we cannot retract, one that we have on our lips at the moment of death. The ones who are so imbued with faith that they are willing to suffer torture and death rather than abjure their testimony are the greatest witnesses. They are, in fact, one of the primary reasons we know Jesus rose from the dead, established a Church, is alive in the sacrament of the altar. Men and women died rather than recant. And August is Martyrmass, the time we celebrate martyrs in every category. Last week, for instance, the only martyr-deacon who is given a real feast in the new calendar, St. Lawrence.

The Holy Father gives a whole list of witnesses, saints for all time, and he caps it off with “the martyrs of Nazism and Communism, represented by Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), a Carmelite nun, and by Blessed Aloysius Stepinac, the Cardinal Archbishop of Zagreb. To that list we can add two saints of this week–St. Maximilian Kolbe, tomorrow’s saint, and today’s, Blessed Jakob Gapp, not yet on the universal calendar. In his life we can see how the Word of God directly energized and underlays a mission and a testimony. As you listen, remember these words of Pope Benedict: “Holiness inspired by the word of God thus belongs in a way to the prophetic tradition, wherein the word of God sets the prophet’s very life at its service. In this sense, holiness in the Church constitutes an interpretation of Scripture which cannot be overlooked. The Holy Spirit who inspired the sacred authors is the same Spirit who impels the saints to offer their lives for the Gospel. In striving to learn from their example, we set out on the sure way towards a living and effective hermeneutic of the word of God.”

An Austrian veteran of WW I, Gapp entered the Marianists in 1920, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1930. His concern for true justice and the unemployed, and his through understanding of the Church’s teachings, showed him that Nazi ideology was radically incompatible with following Christ. In his school, he taught and preached the equality of humans and respect for human dignity. His concern for those Jews under Nazi persecution put him in the crosshairs of the Gestapo. In 1939 he was transferred to France, and, after the war began, to Spain. In both countries he preached about the persecution of the Church by the fascists of Germany. He heard from two catechumens about some folks near the French-Spanish border who wanted to convert, so he crossed back into France. The catechumens were Nazi agents; he was captured, arrested and transferred to Berlin, where he was interrogated and tortured. He refused to renounce his faith or his vows, and so, sixty-nine years ago today, he was beheaded. Nobody heard about him for years; the Nazis destroyed his body so it would not become a place of pilgrimage; his final letters to his superiors were hidden away. But, by chance, less than a quarter century ago, a priest researcher found his letters, and by the strength of his witness, he was beatified in 1996.

Sometimes the word of the Lord comes, as to Ezekiel, in stormy lightning and a bow in the clouds. Sometimes it is a still, almost inaudible sound. Sometimes it is instantly available to all; sometimes the authorities try to suppress and destroy it. But the truth, the witness to the divine love and power, will always be in this world. It cannot be subdued, or ever conquered. So do not be afraid, and do not hesitate to share it with everyone you encounter. It is the word of life that animates us as it animated the martyrs.

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