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Blessed Franz Jägerstätter  
John Imler  
Lord Jesus Christ,
You filled your servant Franz Jägerstätter with a deep love for you, his family and all people. During a time of contempt for God and humankind you bestowed on him unerring discernment and integrity. . . .
We pray that you may glorify your servant Franz, so that many people may be encouraged by him and grow in love for you and all people. . . .
For yours is the glory and honor with the Father and the Holy Spirit now and forever. Amen.
(Diocese of Linz, Austria)

Franz Jägerstätter
Born: May 20, 1907
Died: August 9, 1943
Feast Day: May 21 (baptismal day)
Beatification: October 26, 2007, by Pope Benedict XVI

When Austrian Franz Jägerstätter willingly went to the guillotine in a Nazi prison, he did so with faith that God would provide for his wife, Franziska, and their daughters, Maria, 2, Aloisia, 4, and Rosalia, 6. While struggling with his decision, he wrote, "I have faith that God will still give me a sign if some other course would be better."

Jägerstätter was born May 20, 1907, to an unmarried peasant, Rosalia Huber. His father, Franz Bachmeier, was killed during World War I. After the war, Rosalia married Heinrich Jägerstätter, who adopted Franz and reared him in the farming community of St. Radegund.

As a youth, Franz had a reputation for being wild—he owned the neighborhood's first motorcycle and fathered an out-of-wedlock child—but otherwise lived the life of an average, rural young man.

In 1936 he married Franziska Schwaniger. She further deepened his religiosity, as evidenced by the pilgrimage to Rome the couple made for their honeymoon. Two years later, their world was turned upside down by Nazi Germany's annexation of Austria.

In the summer of 1940, Franz was called up and received military training; however, through the influence of his mayor, he was declared "indispensable" and allowed to return to farm and family. Regardless, the young man made it known that he would not comply if conscripted, viewing the war with Bolshevik Russia as unjustifiable. "If one were merely fighting Bolshevism," he wrote, "these other things—minerals, oil wells, or good farmland—would not be a factor."

When called to the military on March 1, 1943, he told authorities that, because of his religious views he refused to participate in armed military service. As an act of Christian charity, he was willing to serve as a medical orderly.

However, he was arrested, tried, and "condemned to death for sedition." At 4 pm August 9, he was beheaded at the guillotine.

In his final letter to Franziska, he speaks beyond both those issues: "May God accept my life as expiation, not just for my sins but also for the sins of others" and, "Just as those who believe in National Socialism tell themselves that their struggle is for survival, so must we, too, convince ourselves that our struggle is for the Eternal Kingdom."

Beyond a farmer's love for the land, beyond a citizen's love for country, beyond a husband's love for wife, a father's love for his children, Franz's final thoughts testified to what Saint John Vianney remarked, "Our home is—Heaven."

At the head of Franz Jägerstätter's grave and resting on the wall of his parish church is an Austrian, roadside shrine crucifix and the inscription: "Whoever wishes to save his life must lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

John Imler
has taught theology in Catholic high schools and parishes. His MTh is from the University of Notre Dame.
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