Second Thought for the Day – 28 January – The Memorial of St Joseph Freinademetz SVD (1852-1908) “Fu Shenfu” – Lucky Priest
Man of Prayer
Freinademetz was what one would call a ‘great man of prayer’ and a ‘spiritual’ person. In his preparatory work for the first diocesan synod of South Shandong, his fundamental attitude became clear in the synod paper on “The Clergy.” “Do you imagine you can become holy without meditation, something no saint was able to do? Meditation is a waste of time? The very opposite is true. Without meditation life is lost. Furthermore, set aside one day a month for prayer and meditation. Such days, are among life’s most beautiful and enriching. On such days the Holy Spirit has promised to speak to our hearts.”
Just to see him at prayer was edifying for many – “Mostly he knelt in the sanctuary of the church and for us, it was an extraordinary experience, to see him at prayer. The image of that kneeling priest is indelibly impressed in my memory. You got the impression that nothing could disturb him . He was a great man of prayer. His piety was open and aroused fervour” (Cardinal Tien).
Henninghaus states straight out, that “Prayer” was his “life element and life’s joy,” it was the “source from which he lived.” Even when he had to work until late at night, he still took time for prayer and spiritual reading. In summer, Freinademetz often began his working day at 3 a.m., with prayer and meditation. He preferred to pray the breviary kneeling, mainly very erect without any support. He may often have recalled his childhood when the whole family knelt every day on the hard boards of the living room, praying the rosary before the house altar.
He celebrated holy Mass “in a dignified and devout manner, without haste but without irritating slowness” (Henninghaus). The man from Tyrol obviously did not wish to be importunate in these things either.
The official name of the Steyl missionaries, ‘Society of the Divine Word’, fitted as if tailored made for him: “Daily spiritual reading. Do not let even a single day pass without meditating on sacred scripture which has been called the Priest’s Book. Woe to you if the well-springs of devotion in you run dry!” he exhorted in one of the synod papers.
He himself knew the Bible inside out. He frequently quoted scripture, mostly in Latin, and above all he was always able to find suitable comparisons for current situations – i.e. he had truly internalised the Bible. It was not a dead letter for him, not ‘dry’ but full of life, a well from which he knew how to draw water.
With the same intensity he challenged his confreres to continue to update themselves – “Cultivate serious study! Sacred scripture says, ‘Because you have despised wisdom, I will despise you’.” That, too, is an example of the way in which he could quote the Bible.
The cross of Christ, the Eucharist and contemplation of God’s Word were the central pillars of the missionary life of Joseph Freinademetz, may they be our central pillars too!