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Letter of the Carmelite Prior General on the Canonization of Titus Brandsma
From Centrum Informationis Totius Ordinis Carmelitarum
The Cross for Me is Joy
A Letter of the Prior General to the Carmelite Family
Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Carmelite Family: His Holiness, Pope Francis, presiding at the ordinary consistory of cardinals, gave his approval to the canonisation of Blessed Titus Brandsma, O. Carm., a cause of enormous joy to the whole Carmelite Family. In the same act he announced the date on which Blessed Titus would be inscribed among the saints as the 15th of May, 2022. With enormous satisfaction, I take this opportunity to address the Carmelite Family around the world.
The witness of Fr. Titus is one that inspires and enlightens, not only members of the Carmelite Order, but the society in which we live. We find in him in these times so troubled by the threat and existence of war, a prophet of hope and a champion of peace. We are troubled by the millions of people forced to flee from their homes in the Ukraine as the devastation continues in their country. Events in the Ukraine make us think of other parts of the planet too where we can see the wounds of many other conflicts that appear to be forgotten, or treated with indifference. In these situations the Church has the opportunity to make a real contribution, by taking up the teaching of Fratelli tutti, and by placing its trust in the hope of a God who created and will always support the universal brotherhood and sisterhood of his own children. Let us unite our voices with the men and women of good will who in the face of the suffering of the innocent, stand for peace, freedom and the defence of the dignity of every human being. Titus, a true expert of humanity, by shedding his blood out of love (cf. Mk 14,24) taught us that to be a disciple of Jesus Christ means not only that we look up to him and know all that we can about him, but also that we are called to share in the destiny of love that fell to him.
1. A witness to the truth.
The world and the Church itself demands of us today a clear witness and an authentic life. Our desire is that the people might see what Carmelites are called to be.1 “¿What is it that we are to be?2 Our saints asked. “Who am I?” is the defining question, the most important spiritual question. I am what God has made me. I am the combination of charisms that God placed in me. What I do comes from who I am. The very intense life of Blessed Titus Brandsma helps us to understand that when identity is understood as defined by activity, we run the risk of losing ourselves, choosing the wrong pathways. Charism is a living thing, beyond speculation. There has to be an interaction between identity and mission, in which what we do helps us to define who we are and who we are helps us to determine what we do.3Blessed Titus helps us to realise that our life becomes a valuable witness when it is adorned by our works. In addressing his Carmelite Brothers in the Netherlands he once said: “It is better not to know anything, and believe fully, than to know everything and have no feeling … Only the one who is closely united to God can be truly close to his neighbour. Only the one who takes his nourishment from God can give witness to God by his works.” On another occasion he said, “What makes our life lived in common beautiful is not so much our rights or our duties as much as the way we help one another and our mercy”. The Church needs the everyday saints, the saints whose lives are coherent, the “saints from next door”, as Pope Francis likes to say.4 The Church also needs saints who have the courage to accept the grace to be witnesses to the end, even unto death. All of them, including our brother, Titus, are the life blood of the Church.
2. I was enthralled by Carmel
Pope Francis in his address to the 2019 General Chapter of the Friars, made the connection between authenticity and the faithful living of the vocation that each one has received. Referring to Blessed Titus on that occasion, he said, “Something that belongs to the Carmelite Order, even though it is a Order of mendicants, living and working in the midst of the people, is to maintain a great respect for solitude and for detachment from the things of the world, seeing in solitude and contemplation the best part of their spiritual lives.” Titus Brandsma entered the Carmelite Order because he was drawn by its charism: “The spirituality of Carmel, that is a life of prayer and of tender devotion to Mary, led me to the very happy decision to take on that life. I was enthralled by the spirit of Carmel.” Fr. Titus is not someone who was lost in the past, but rather one who looked to the history of Carmel, its mystics and models of holiness, to find prophetic figures who have something to say to the present moment. To this effect, he set up the Institute of Mysticism in the University of Nijmegen, which would lead in time to the Institute that was to bear his name.
Titus, friend of God, forms a bridge among the great “throng of witnesses” (cf. Hb 12,1) in Carmel’s spiritual tradition. He knew how to bring together tradition and modernity in a way that was authoritative and integrated. He was open and flexible, with an enormous capacity for work to which he gave his all with great passion and generosity. There was balance and harmony in the way that he lived his Carmelite contemplative life. He was the prayerful, prophet and fraternal one, living in the midst of the people. Perhaps that is the key to understanding his versatile personality shown in the variety of jobs and duties that he took on: Rector of the Catholic University, professor, lecturer, translator, scholar, founder of schools, promoter of the ecumenical movement, professional journalist, the Dutch bishops’ representative with the press, as well as all he did by way of apostolate (looking after migrants, writing letters for an illiterate child to send to her family).When commenting on the translation with his great friend and mentor Hubertus Driessen, they surmised how much the translation of the works of Teresa, that they had published at that time, had “given again to the name of Carmel in Holland a good reputation as an Order of prayer and mysticism”2.
There are two lectures of Titus Brandsma that might help us in a particular way to see the link between him and Teresa of Jesus. In the lecture that he delivered to the University of Nijmegen, under the title Godsbegrip (The Idea of God)3 we find that the idea of God that most appeals to him is the idea of God who enters the life of every human being and will enter more and more into the person who by their way of living and believing make space for him to enter. In his words: What I thus defend and consider to be indispensable for our time is the contemplation of all being in its dependence on God and its emergence from God whose work we have to see in everything and whose being we have to discern in everything. We also have to recognise and venerate God in all things, and first of all in ourselves. God is revealed to us in the depths of all things and in our own depths. God wishes to be seen and to be known. Nowhere is God to be known better than in the very depth of our being. If the thought about God’s indwelling, about the total dependence of all human nature on God, on God’s guidance and revelation was alive in everything, we would act quite differently and would adjust our behaviour to be in tune with God’s revelation.4 As he pronounced these words, it is possible that Titus was thinking about Teresa, from whom he learned about the union of the soul with God and the all-pervading nature of God in the life of the human person. Among the series of ten lectures that Titus Brandsma gave in his tour of the United States of America in 1935, one was dedicated entirely to Teresa of Jesus. In this lecture, in line with his understanding of the idea of God, he showed, relying mostly on the Interior Castle, how Teresa supported the idea of God entering more and more into the lives of people who know about God, accept God and seek to know his love more and more. In the words of Titus:
St. Teresa paints the mystical life as something which develops in the soul, according to the soul’s natural ability, as the ultimate realisation of human powers.
There have been implanted by God in human nature and will be realised when the soul is aware of its possibility to reach that highest degree of perfection and therefore gives up itself wholly into the hands of the Lord who alone is able to carry it to the highest of elevations. For all this, nothing else is asked of the soul than that it accomplish God’s wishes and desires, put its trust in Him, and in Him only finds its happiness. God likes to have an ordered love and he himself will order that love in the soul.5
He stood out for his sense of fraternity, unfailing humanity, and tenderness towards all who surrounded him (students, colleagues, friends and many others). He made dialogue the new name for charity. In Titus, as Pope Francis reminded us, contemplation and compassion were never far apart. Here there is no pseudo mysticism or weekend solidarity, no attempt to make the poor invisible lest they question us in any way. Titus’ commitment both to God and to people had no pretence.
Is for me a sign that monastic life and work can reach far beyond its walls and that mysticism and knowledge (science) do not contradict each other but can cross-fertilize each other. Both are for me the basis for acting sincerely according to my conscience, following the example of Titus Brandsma.
Titus Brandsma had been active far and wide as a Carmelite, scientist, writer and journalist in the Netherlands. I see in his work a lived mysticism until his death in Dachau. We Carmelites strive to live the rich tradition and spirituality of our religious saints. The union with God and the proclamation of peace and love was realized by Fr. Titus in his life. We too can proclaim the Kingdom of God, especially through our presence here at the concentration camp memorial. We want to be open to the needs in the world and the concerns of the people. Titus Brandsma encourages us to do so.
Titus Brandsma ended his last report on the responsibility of his resistance against National Socialism with the wish for peace: "God bless the Netherlands, God bless Germany. God grant that both peoples may soon again stand side by side in full peace and freedom, in the recognition of God and for His glory, for the salvation and welfare of both so closely related peoples." That's all it takes to see how relevant Titus Brandsma is to my praying and working in this place, as brother nations are once again at war with each other.
For me, in this time of crisis, Titus Brandsma has become a patron of independent and honest journalists in Russia. Despite persecution and death threats, he stood up for the freedom of expression of the press and gave his life for it. He is a sign of hope and a role model. We will call on him for guidance for all journalists who act according to their conscience despite repression.
His courage is a question to me whether I also follow my conscience.
I see Titus Brandsma as a role model. He encourages me to speak out my requests before God and to include in my prayers precisely those people whom I most desire God's closeness and help. To accept everything unpleasant in everyday life, to deal sincerely with myself and others, to live consciously in this place of Dachau, to remember the innocently maltreated. That is important to me.
What had a lasting influence on my encounter with Titus Brandsma was his beatification in Rome on November 3, 1985. On Nov. 5, we experienced a large group of pilgrims from Holland who, on their way back, prayed and celebrated the Eucharist in Dachau at the place of his suffering and death. Among the pilgrims was also his niece, with whom I was able to speak for a longer time. Suddenly Blessed Titus was one of us, it was felt very clearly. Friendships were formed between our brothers and sisters OCarm. Since then I have read to know him more.
The friendship with and through Fr. Titus, which unites us with our sisters and brothers worldwide, makes me happy and grateful.
For all of us, the annual meetings with the Dutch Carmel Family remain in vivid memory. Besides the meetings, it was standing together in front of Block 26 that became a place of remembrance of Titus, where he was so close to us. We heard the prayers and songs in his language, we were one in thanksgiving and in remembering him as sisters and brothers in his spirit. Whenever there is an occasion for us to gather in front of Block 26, Titus is there.
When I re-meditate the life of Fr.Titus Brandsma, it always gathers me in my daily prayer and work.
He has united the spirituality of the Carmelite parent order with the Teresian, the confessions of the different Christian churches in ecumenism and God with the world.He has pointed out that mysticism is a viable path for all people in all places in everyday life because "the presence of God is always present within. "He has been able to respond to the hatred of his tormentors with love because he said, "They, too, are children of the kind God, and who knows if something won't stick to them?" (Sources: Titus Brandsma, O. Carm, Martyrs at Dachau, Georg Geisbauer. Fiery Arrow, Encountering God in the Abyss).
The Discalced Carmelite Nuns of the Monastery of Helig Blut