Our Lord asks us to follow him not only in word and promise, but in deed and action, even when that action requires heroic courage. In this regard I would like to speak about a hero of mine: Michael Cardinal von Faulhaber, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Munich from 1917 to his death in 1952. (As an interesting side note, the last man Faulhaber was to ordain to the priesthood was one Joseph Ratzinger, our present Holy Father.)
As you might imagine, the years between 1933 and 1945, marked by the reign of Hitler, were especially difficult for Faulhaber. However, rather than choose to remain quiet out of fear of the Nazis, Faulhaber instead chose courage. At every opportunity, he spoke out against the crimes of the Nazis, on occasion risking his own life to do so.
His Advent sermons of 1933, delivered in the vast Munich Cathedral, the Frauenkirche, drew thousands of Munich citizens—standing room only—who came to listen to the Cardinal fearlessly challenge National Socialism, to assert the rights and freedoms of the Catholic Church, and to call for the protection of the Jewish People.
By the 1940s when Hitler’s final solution became clear to all, Faulhaber ordered yellow armbands with the Star of David to be placed on the statues of Christ and Mary throughout his archdiocese, in specific response to the Nazi treatment of Jews. Faulhaber’s courage made the Nazis cower. No one in the Gestapo dare take these yellow arm bands down. So, Munich, the birthplace of the Nazi movement, became the center of Nazi resistance. And although Dachau was located just ten miles outside Munich’s city limits, within Munich Hitler and his policies were weakened severely by the courage of a single man.
It remains one of the perplexing questions of history, how it could be that a great people such as the Germans could have been fooled by a man with such a diabolical political agenda. Especially Germany, the country of the Frederick the Great the philosopher-king, which was arguably the most enlightened and free nation in Europe. Because of reparations which Germany had to repay as a result of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany’s economy was in freefall. (If you think the current crisis in the Unites States is a problem, what we are enduing is nothing by comparison.). The German currency of the time, the Reichsmark which was introduced in 1924, was worth less than the paper it was printed on. Hyperinflation was so pronounced that it was cheaper to burn money than firewood.
So when Hitler came to power he fulfilled much of his agenda. He did revive the German economy, almost miraculously. Hitler also reestablished the order to a society falling into disarray, and he grave Germans a new sense of pride. So, in a sense, Hitler “saved” Germany—or so it seemed to many in 1934.
But Hitler’s plan to "save" Germany was founded upon of principles of utmost evil: The killing of the innocent; genocide of neighboring peoples and the plundering of nations; eugenic activity on handicapped, the infirm and the aged, all in the name of progress toward a "master race"—a utopian ideal to create a society which would last not for 1000 but for 10,000 years.
Hitler wanted the Church to remain quiet in the face of all this, and to ultimately replace the Church with what amounted to a new religion based on German identity. Hitler’s desire for the Church was a cry many of us hear today: The Church should not interfere with policies of the state.
We see through the lens of history, that there are times when the Church must speak out against the state to defend the rights of those who have no voice. When the matter at hand is the killing of the innocent, or the manipulation of human life for the purpose of a national agenda to create a master race of people who will never succumb to sickness and be as beautiful as the models and stars on the television and internet, or the objectification of women—the Church must speak out.
History has not looked with any kindness on members of the Catholic clergy or hierarchy which, during Nazi domination, did little or nothing to help the plight of the Jewish people. History has condemned them, and rightly so.
We as members of the Church are the hands of Jesus, our mouths are the instruments of his voice. Jesus, who always spoke out against injustice and oppression, asks and requires us to be agents of change in the world, to bring about policies in our own nation and in the world that will defend human life, most especially for the innocent and weak who have no one to speak for them.
As a Jew who became Catholic in my early 20s, one of the most painful issues I have had to deal with in my own soul and with speaking with my own family is how to answer the question: Why didn’t the Church do more to stop Hitler and to help the Jews? Frankly, we know the Church did a great deal, probably more than any other institution in the world to help the Jewish people.
But questions remain. How could so many German Christians at the time have supported Hitler? How could they have viewed their economic prosperity, the strengthening of their public institutions and army, and the pride of their own nation as being of greater value than the killing of the innocent? Is there any way to defend that? Is economic prosperity more important that life? Is the right to a particular quality of life more important than the right to life itself? Who will define that quality? Is mass murder allowable if the state is feeding the hungry?
Looking back at the Third Reich, I think all of us in this church today, and probably everyone in the United States of America would agree that there is no excuse for what happened in Germany.
But then I ask you: When we go to the polls on November 4, why will so many Catholics not support the overturn of Roe vs. Wade? Yes, there are many issues facing our country, many of them serious. War is serious, and so is the matter of immigration, economic reform, taxation, the need for health care, and so on. But we must keep in mind that since 1973 when the Supreme Court decided that a human being in the womb was not protected because of property and privacy rights implied in the 14th amendment, we have as a nation aborted nearly 50 million people.
Let us also not forget the 30-40 million women whose lives have been scarred because they were told that this procedure would be good for them and help them, and who day after day have to convince themselves somehow that they are forgiven.
Before I conclude this long homily—and I thank you for your attention today—I want to say to anyone here affected by abortion that Jesus has the power to make all things new: It is Jesus’ job to forgive sinners. God understands the pain of loss and human frailty, which is why his forgiveness and mercy towards those who have suffered through abortion is so abundant. The Father forgives as soon as you ask. But emotional healing takes many, many years, and it hurts terribly. Thank God that today, the pro-life movement has greatest love and sympathy for women and those who have gone through abortion. Project Rachel here in St. Louis is a place of tremendous comfort and peace. Thank God also that the pro-life movement and the Catholic Church has in place real programs to help women who choose not to have an abortion, so that they can survive financially and medically through such difficult times. We must never forget that our goal to stop abortion, while necessary, is only the first part of our call. The second part is for us to support with love and financial assistance the women and families who will struggle to raise their children in the face of seemingly insurmountable struggles. It takes strength to choose life in our world today, and for us to be effective ministers of the love of Jesus, not only must we protect life, we must be present and willing to help nurture that new life into adulthood; we must be there especially for the poor and for single mothers.
Moreover, the Church does not condemn those who have suffered through the abortion experience. Rather, the Church stands by such people to offer them forgiveness, compassion to know their sins are forgiven, and that God loves them dearly. The Church, however, does condemn those who willfully have made abortion the law of the land, who support its spread, and who propagate this terrible lie—this "big lie"—that causes death and personal loss.
I pray that, when historians looks back at the late 20th and early 21st century and the Catholic Church, they will be able to say that it was our Church that stopped the brutal killing of the innocent; that it was our Church that was the true voice of women’s rights; that it was our Church that never abandoned young mothers and young children; that it was our Church that shone the light of Jesus’ love in the world’s darkness.
You and I have the obligation, therefore, to speak out against the lie that abortion is not killing; the lie that abortion is good for women.
We do this primarily by praying to end abortion; we do this by supporting women who have endured abortions; we do this by assisting women who courageously choose to endure difficult pregnancies; we do this by refraining from investing in companies that promote abortion and human manipulation; we do this by abstaining and opposing anything in the entertainment industry that treats women as objects whose feelings and personal worth are disregarded; and, finally, we do this according to our votes.
I will close this long homily now with two questions. First: If every Catholic in Germany had opposed Hitler, would have been a Holocaust? The answer requires some nuance. Many Christians were under compulsion to join the Nazi Party, lest they experience utter loss of livelihood, and often the abduction and murder of family remembers. However, Cardinal Faulhaber’s courage and the example of Munich demonstrates the triumph of human dignity in the face of tyranny: If every diocese in Germany had a man as brave as Cardinal Faulhaber, I do not think the Holocaust could have happened. No tyrant, however brutal, can carry out any program without the consent of the governed; the power of a leader is proportionate to people’s willingness to be led.
The second and final question, therefore, is this: If every Catholic in the United States showed the courage of Cardinal Faulhaber, and voted only pro-life, what do you think would happen?
Given Sts. Joachim and Ann Church, St. Charles,
Saturday, Sept 27, 5:00 pm Mass, and
Sunday Sept 28 7:15 am and 10:30 am Mass
(This homily, with few alterations, was also delivered
at St. Clement of Rome, Des Peres, Respect Life Sunday 2007).