This evening I was privileged to preach to the Knights of Malta for their annual Advent Mass and Dinner. I offered the following reflections on the Season of Advent.
I’m not sure how old I was, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I’d press my little kid’s nose to the cold window pain in the front of the house and stare up the street as the shadows began to lengthen and I began to hope.
I was waiting for my father to come home from work, so I could show him what I had done in school that day. An A with a little superscript of a plus hovering over it’s right side told me and my classmates and my mom and my dad that I had done good. And I don’t know if I’ve ever known such joy or such a sense of accomplishment as when I heard the sound of his truck pulling over the graveled driveway and ran out to meet him, with my yellow-lined pride waving above my head.
He swept me up into his arms and cherished me, and carried me into the house as my mother enshrined the sacred text with a bright yellow refrigerator magnet.
That’s what it could be like, as the ancient collect of today’s Advent liturgy reminds us, when we “run forth to meet the Christ with righteous deeds at his coming...”
Imagine! Our arms so brimming with righteous deeds, that we run forth to meet our judge with joy!
There were almost 3,000 Priests in Dachau who knew that feeling. Almost three thousand Priests, almost half of whom died of disease, starvation, and hate.
Forbidden to celebrate Mass, the Priests received particular abuseduring Holy Week. One Good Friday, their wrists bound with chains, sixty of them were hoisted on gibbets where they hung until they expired or until their arms were wrenched from their sockets. On another occasion, a Polish priest working in the field, pretended he was pulling weeds, while he actually celebrated Mass on a small board he had taken as an Altar. He was arrested, crowned with barbed wire, and set on a small stage until he died.
The first time I visited Dachau as a seminarian, I remember I cried. Especially when I saw a long case filled with roughly wrought episcopal paraphanelia. There was a Bishop’s ring smelted together from brass plumbing fixtures, and an oak crozier hacked from the branch of a tree, and a chasuble and dalmatic and stole and even gloves and a mitre in purple, all stitched from prisoners’ uniforms.
I cried because the display case told the story of the young seminarian with tuberculosis whom Bishop Piquet decided to ordain before he died. So for months these Priests worked secretly to make everything they would need for an ordination, and on a Gaudete Sunday sixty five years ago, they risked their lives to celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Orders in an unholy place.
If they’d been caught, any one of them, they would have been tortured and killed. But those Priests loved three things more than life itself: the poor young seminarian who would soon die, the Truth that burned in their hearts despite the surrounding darkness, and the Church, whose light could not be quenched even in the stinking dark Evil of Dachau.
Despite the darkness, they loved the seminarian in his brokenness. And Christ will judge them well.
But what of us, when he returns? Will the poor, the forgotten, and the wretched ones whom we have known speak well of us? What of the drunk by the side of the road, or the relative that no one talks to, or the sick old lady whom no one ever visits, or the kid in prison whose parents have disowned him, or the crazy guy who never shuts up. Will we run out to meet Christ when he comes, our hearts over-brimming with the love we have shown to his little ones?
Despite the dark lies that surrounded them, they loved the truth in Dachau. And Christ will judge them well.
But what of us, when he returns? Will the days we spent on our knees seeking God’s wisdom and trying to let go of our own foolish preoccupations have formed the choices and the plans of our lives into the image and likeness of him who is the way, the truth, and the life? Will the words we placed before our eyes, the websites we surfed, the books we bought, and the thoughts which preoccupied our waking hours have so conformed our thoughts to his, that we might run out to meet Christ when he comes, our minds over-brimming with the wisdom he has taught us and the knowledge which has guided each moment of each day?
Despite the evil that enveloped them, the Priests of Dachau loved the Church. And Christ will judge them well.
But what of us, when he returns? Will the fervor with which we celebrated the Sacraments and the devotion with which we ate his Body and drank his Blood have so detached us from the darkness of this world, that we will glow with the bright sanctity of the redeemed? Will our love of the Priesthood prepare us to welcome Christ, our great High Priest? Will we run out to meet Christ when he comes, so clothed in the ways of this Mystical Body that they will call us “a man of the Church, a true woman of the Church”?
What will Christ do, when we run out to meet him, our arms embracing all the righteous deeds of our lives? The ancient collect give us the answer. He will gather us to his right hand, sweep us up into his arms, recognize us as his obedient children, and carry us into his heavenly kingdom, where we will sit with him and all his children at the Heavenly Banquet in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Such was the case with the young seminarian with TB, I am sure. Father Karl lived for one more year, and saw the death camp liberated. And just before he died, less than a year after his ordination, he wrote these final words in his diary: ‘O God, bless my enemies!’
He was beatified by John Paul II on in 1996 in the Stadium built by Hitler for the 1938 Olympics. And the Pope used the same rough hewn crozier at the beatification Mass that had been used at Karl’s ordination, with the words roughly inscribed on its side: ‘Triumphant in Chains.’
With Father Karl, may we run out to meet the Lord, and may Christ embrace us both, and cherish us, and lead us home to heaven.
Monsignor James P. Moroney