From the Pen of Brother Robert Chiulli, O.Carm.

Bother Bob Chiulli, O.Carm.

On May 15, 2022, Carmelites around the world rejoiced as one of our own, Fr. Titus Brandsma, O.Carm., was canonized by Pope Francis in Rome. For those who may not have ever heard of St. Titus Brandsma, he was a Dutch Carmelite who used his position as a prominent journalist and scholar to denounce Nazi ideology in Catholic publications, and demand that Catholic newspapers refuse to publish their hateful propaganda. Because of his outspokenness, he was eventually arrested in 1942 by the Gestapo and sent to a state prison. While detained, Fr. Titus still held fast to his belief that National Socialism was based on dangerous pagan philosophy and completely contrary to Christian values. His persistence in his convictions kept him from being released, and he was eventually sent to the notorious Nazi work camp, Dachau. Though St. Titus was only in Dachau for five weeks, he quickly gained a reputation among the other prisoners for being a generous, hope-filled man who, despite being in poor health, was more concerned for others than himself. He ultimately met his end when he was given an injection of carbolic acid by a camp nurse as part of the Nazi’s “experiments” on prisoners.  As a testament to God’s grace, the nurse who gave Fr. Titus the lethal injection – and eventually converted to Catholicism- testified as to his holiness at his beatification ceremony.

Fr. Titus’s powerful witness was rooted in his deep prayer life and his embodiment of the Carmelite mystical tradition. He believed that one did not have to escape the world to find God. Rather God was found by looking deeply, from the heart, at life all around us, and he once wrote, “Prayer is not an oasis in the desert of life; it is the whole of life.” Prayer allows us to see as God’s sees, in all the varied circumstances that come our way, and be open to the subtle, but powerful way, that grace operates in our lives. While Fr. Titus did not seek out suffering, he knew that suffering was part of every person’s journey in life, and when joined to the suffering of Christ on the cross, it could be a profound way of experiencing God’s love for us. So even in the horrors of the Dachau death camp, St. Titus radiated peace since he knew that God was with him amid the beatings, daily deprivations and humiliations.

Mother Angeline, almost a contemporary of Fr. Titus as she was born 12 years after him, also knew the transformative power of suffering.  She once wrote to her sisters, “Let us cheerfully, generously, and wholeheartedly take up the cross given to us and, with it, let us purchase Heaven and an eternity of bliss. Is any price to high to pay for the eternal possession of Him for whom we have given up so much?” She wanted her sisters to know that in their work with the elderly and in the daily struggles that they will face, they should pattern their lives on their Master, who was not afraid to embrace his Passion and death. And like Jesus, they should avoid the temptation to bitterness, resentment, and despair and always remain hopeful and faithful.

 Fr. Titus paid the ultimate price with the willing surrender of his own life, and thankfully most of us will be spared this kind of martyrdom. But none of us can escape the trials and difficulties that are a part of any life. But what our Christian faith tells us is that suffering is not the end of the story, and that it is Easter Sunday, not Good Friday, where our destiny lies. While there is no crown of glory without the cross, we can trust, as Fr. Titus did, when he said while in prison, “We are in God’s hands. We are in good hands.”

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