Thought for the Day – 22 March – Friday of the Second week of Lent, Year C and the Memorial of Blessed Clemens August Count von Galen (1878-1946) “The Lion of Munster”
MASS OF BEATIFICATION OF THE SERVANT OF GOD
CLEMENS AUGUST GRAF VON GALEN
EXCERPT from the HOMILY OF CARD. JOSÉ SARAIVA MARTINS
Sunday, 9 October 2005
The tomb of the Supreme Pontiff Hadrian VI, well known for many centuries as the last non-Italian Pope, is located in the Church of Santa Maria dell’Anima, the national church of Germany in Rome. The following epitaph is engraved on his sepulchral monument: “Unfortunately, the conditions of the times strongly dissipate the effectiveness of the virtues of even the best of men”.
This epitaph is a negative reference to the conditions of the times in which Hadrian VI lived, but it also contains a very positive appreciation of the outstanding virtues that he practised precisely in the adverse conditions of his time.
Indeed, a characteristic feature of the famous Cardinal Clemens August von Galen, Bishop of Münster, whose beatification today fills our hearts with joy, is that he eminently and heroically practised the virtues of a Christian and a Pastor in a period so fraught with difficulties for the Church and for the German Nation.
Germany was then dominated by National Socialism. The Diocese of Münster can boast of having had as Bishop, on the Chair of St Ludger, a Pastor who boldly opposed the ideology that despised humanity and the death mechanism of the National Socialist State. This earned him the well-deserved nickname, “Lion of Münster”.
Bishop Clemens August Count von Galen, was one of the best known champions of the Church’s resistance to the unjust National Socialist regime. If we wonder where he found his daring to reprimand the Nazis publicly and with very clear arguments, since they were violating fundamental human rights and how he managed to persevere in this denunciation, we must turn to three important factors that built up his strong personality as a man, a believer, first and subsequently, Bishop.
These were: Family, Faith, and Politics. However, we must never lose sight of the fact that the Blessed’s attitude stemmed from his deeply-rooted Christian virtues.
Clemens August came from a family bound by a long tradition both to the Church and to public life. His father was involved in public affairs and his mother kept the family united – these factors gave Clemens August and his siblings a sense of security and a basis for life that later and rather unexpectedly enabled him to surpass himself and the tradition of the milieu into which he was born.
Traditionally, the life of the von Galen family was strongly oriented to a sense of public responsibility with regard to all the people in the Church and in society. At the family table in Dinklage Castle, in addition to family conversation and the prayer of the Rosary, the father’s position as a deputy of the Reichstag in Berlin often gave rise to political topics.
Without any doubt he was able to do what he did only thanks to a deep but at the same time very simple spirituality, founded both on the Eucharist and on devotion to the Mother of God.
He countered the deafening martial music and the empty phrases blaring from the amplifiers of the speakers’ platforms with the veneration of the Blessed Eucharist, the silence of contemplative adoration of the Lord who made himself Bread. Before the Lord present in the Sacrament of the Eucharistic Bread, apparently defenceless and thus not easy to recognise, he found the strength and nourishment that alone could permanently satisfy the human desire for life.
The unifying force of the new Blessed’s spiritual life was his profound and dynamic faith, enlivened by his active charity towards everyone, especially the suffering. Von Galen’s spirituality, inspired by the Gospel, allowed him to be transparent in his public role. All his actions and virtues flowed from his lived faith.
At the very outset of his pastoral work in Münster, Bishop von Galen unmasked the ideology of National Socialism and its contempt for human beings. In the middle of the war in the summer of 1941, he criticised it even more harshly in the three homilies he gave in the months of July and August that year, which have become famous.
In them he targeted the obligatory closure of convents and the arrest of Religious. He spoke vigorously against the deportation and destruction of those human lives that the regime deemed unworthy to be lived, that is, the mentally disabled. The Bishop’s fiery words dealt fatal blows to the Nazi’s systematic extermination policy.
His clear arguments infuriated the Nazi leaders who were at a loss as to what to do next, because they did not have the nerve to arrest or kill him due to Bishop von Galen’s extraordinary authority.
It was neither innate courage nor excessive temerity. Only a deep sense of responsibility and a clear vision of what was right and what was wrong could have induced Bishop Clemens August to speak these words. They invite us to reflect on the brilliance of his witness to faith, in times that may seem less threatening but are just as problematic with regard to human life, they invite us to imitate his example.
Thus, in March 1946, reflecting on what happened at that time, Cardinal von Galen summarised all this. He said: “The good Lord gave me a position that obliged me to call what was black, black, and what was white, white, as outlined in episcopal ordination. I knew that I could speak on behalf of thousands of people who, like me, were convinced, that only on the basis of Christianity, could our German People truly be united and attain a blessed future”.
Dear German pilgrims, we can look full of gratitude at this great personality from your Homeland. Bl. Bishop Clemens August realised who our God is and placed all his hope in Him (cf. Is 25: 9). When he was first a parish priest and later a Bishop, he spared no efforts in his pastoral ministry, he had learned how to do without (cf. Phil 4: 12) and was prepared to give his life in the service of human beings. Indeed, he was fully aware of his responsibility to God.
Therefore, the Lord has made him worthy of his magnificent riches (cf. Phil 4: 19), of which St Paul spoke in his Letter to the Philippians that we have just heard. In faith, we are convinced that he was called, that he was chosen to take part in the wedding banquet in the perfection of divine glory – the wonderful parable of Jesus, presented to us by the Gospel of today’s liturgy, prompts us to meditate on this wedding banquet (cf. Mt 22: 1-14).
I would like to congratulate the Diocese of Münster on the fact that precisely in the year in which its establishment, at least 12 centuries ago, is being commemorated, it can celebrate with joy and pride this Beatification here at the Tomb of the Apostle Peter, as if to strengthen its own apostolic roots, anchoring them even more firmly to the Magisterium of the Vicar of Christ who today, through God’s grace, is Benedict XVI. May the new Blessed be an encouragement to the Diocese of Münster to keep its rich and ever-timely heritage constantly alive, making it fruitful for the people of our times.
May the Lord, through the intercession of the new Blessed, bless the beloved and venerable Diocese of Münster and the entire Church in Germany…Vatican.va