Blessed Titus Brandsma, O. Carm.
Titus Brandsma (1881-1942) earned his doctorate in philosophy at the Gregorian University of Rome in 1909. On his return to his province in the Netherlands, he taught his specialty to the Carmelite students at Oss. When the Catholic University of Nijmegen was founded in 1923, Titus was invited to join the faculty. Besides teaching his subject, he also lectured on mysticism,
especially of the Low Countries. He initiated a photographic collection of manuscripts of medieval mystics which today constitutes a precious aid to students in the Titus Brandsma Institute of the University of Nijmegen. In 1932 Titus was elected rector magnificus of the University. His inaugural address, "Godsbegrip" (the concept of God), struck his audience as an experienced insight rather than a mere academic exercise and continues to appeal today.
Brandsma wrote extensively in newspapers and popular magazines as well as in learned journals, but produced no comprehensive works of organized reasoning. A lecture tour in the United States, in 1935, resulted in this modest volume of no scholarly pretensions. Nevertheless, it was the first attempt at an historical synthesis of Carmelite spirituality. Titus' interests were many and included Marian devotion, ecumenism, Frisian culture, education, and journalism. The last preoccupation was to prove the occasion of his death.
Of the attitude of the Dutch Carmelites to Nazism and its local variety, the Dutch Nazi party, there remains no doubt. All equally rejected the political tenets of the oppressors and some paid for their convictions with imprisonment and death.
The Dutch Carmelites in general reacted to the rigors of the occupation and war with humor and courage. In Titus Brandsma suffering blossomed into the perfection of Christian love. Among his Carmelite brothers Titus was universally admired for his tireless and varied activities, but even more he was loved for his cheerful spirit, willing helpfulness, and unassuming charity. That these qualities were evidence of a profound
Christian maturity was proven by the dramatic ending of his life.
After the invasion of the Netherlands by the Germans on May 10, 1940, the Dutch hierarchy under Archbishop John de Jong soon came into open conflict with National Socialism. Catholics were forbidden under pain of excommunication to participate in party activities which violated Catholic principles. When the Catholic press was ordered to publish news releases and advertisements emanating from the Nazi public relations bureau, de Jong moved to counteract the directive. He asked Titus as spiritual director of the Catholic press to visit editors with instructions to resist Nazi propaganda. In making his request, the archbishop made no secret of the danger of the mission, which Titus equally understood. Shadowed by the Gestapo, he had visited fourteen newspapers before he was taken into custody on January 19, 1942. In prison at Scheveningen he replied to questioning candidly and calmly, openly admitting that he opposed National Socialism because it was irreconcilable with his Catholic faith. At the request of Captain Paul Hardegen, in charge of his interrogation, Brandsma put into writing why the Dutch people, and specifically Catholics, objected to Nazism. As a result of his questioning Hardegen reported to his superiors that Brandsma was dangerous to the cause and should be confined for the duration of the war.
At Scheveningen Brandsma's contemplative spirit turned his solitary cell into a haven of peace and joy. Happy to be alone with Christ, he spent the time praying and writing. To the long tradition of prison literature he contributed <Mim Gel en dagorde van een gengene> (My Cell), and he even began a biography of St. Teresa of Avila, writing between the lines of a book. His often printed and translated "Prayer Before a Picture of Christ" [which] speaks the simple and humble language of a lover:
<O Jesus, when I look on you My love for you starts up anew, And tells me that your heart loves me And you my special friend would be.
More courage I will need for sure, But any pain I will endure, Because it makes me like to you And leads unto your kingdom too.
In sorrow do I find my bliss, For sorrow now no more is this: Rather the path that must be trod, That makes me one with you, my God.
Oh, leave me here alone and still, And all around the cold and chill. To enter here I will have none; I weary not when I'm alone. For, Jesus you are at my side; Never so close did we abide. Stay with me, Jesus, my delight, Your presence near makes all things right>.
On March 12, 1942, Titus was transferred out of Scheveningen, ending on June 19 in the dreaded concentration camp of Dachau. In that hell the frail sixty-one year old Carmelite lasted little more than a month, being dispatched with a lethal injection on July 26. This is not the place to describe his heroic suffering; suffice to record his prayerful calm, his cheerful optimism, his support of his fellow sufferers, his genuine love of his hateful tormentors.
Survivors of those brutal years would become witnesses of Titus Brandsma's heroic virtue. On November 3, 1985, in the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome, the Church honored Titus Brandsma with the titles of Blessed and Martyr. Joachim Smet, O. Carm.