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The Life & Thought of Titus Brandsma

ANTI-NAZI PRIEST

By Donald J. D’Elia | December 1986
Donald J. D’Elia is Professor of History at the State University of New York at New Paltz.

“Among the many questions which disturb me,” wrote the Dutch Carmelite Titus Brandsma in 1932, “nothing worries me more than the enigma of why today when mankind has come so far and is so proud of its progress, so many people have set themselves apart from God. Is it entirely their fault? Or is something required of us too, so that the image of God may shine out again in the world with a brighter light?”

As we now know from his Beatification in November 1985, Fr. Brandsma answered his own question with his life and death in the service of mankind, allowing Christ to shine forth even in the darkest hell of Dachau, where he was martyred for the faith. His teaching and his life were one: the Carmelite friar’s doctrine of the “mysticism of suf­fering” was inspired by his own interior life, but its ultimate source lay in the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Titus Brandsma was born in Friesland, an overwhelmingly Protestant province of the Nether­lands, on February 23, 1881, one of six children of devout Catholic parents. His brother and three of his sisters also chose the religious life. Titus’s moth­er was devoted to Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St. Teresa of Ávila, and it was the family belief that he and his brother, later a Franciscan priest, had recovered from grave childhood illnesses only because of the Virgin’s miraculous intervention. Titus’s own life and his teaching of the “mysticism of suffering” were fashioned from a deep study of Marian and Teresan spirituality. His favorite words, discovered in his grandfather’s prayerbook, were from St. Teresa: “Let nothing disturb you, nothing cause you fear. All things pass. God is unchanging. Patience obtains all. Whoever has God needs noth­ing else; God alone suffices.” He kept these words close to his heart, even to the day of his murder by the Nazis in the camp infirmary at Dachau.

Titus enrolled in the minor Franciscan semi­nary at Megen, but his frailty and poor health led to his dismissal. In particular, he suffered a chronic stomach disorder that in later years required con­stant medical attention and would have probably rendered any other man an invalid. On September 17, 1898, his health under control, Titus was ad­mitted to the novitiate of the Carmelite Order at Boxmeer; six years later he was ordained a priest. His seminary thesis, published soon after as a book, was an anthology of the writings of St. Teresa of Ávila. Characteristically enough, Blessed Titus’s last book, written clandestinely in a Nazi prison after his arrest as an “enemy of the German na­tion,” was a full-length biography of the Carmelite mystic.

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