carmelitecuria logo en

  • image
  • image
  • image
  • image
  • image
  • image
  • image
  • image
  • image
  • image
  • image
  • image
  • image
  • image
  • image
  • image
  • image
  • image

His Spiritual Journey

titusbrandsma 450x300

Titus Brandsma’s Spiritual Journey: 

  • From Brandsma, others learn to entrust themselves to God in circumstances they do not understand but which shape their spiritual journey.

  • His upbringing was stable; this was the way of life he experienced both in his family and in the Church; stability was a focus and ideal.

  • After minor seminary, Brandsma opted for the Carmelites, having developed a strong interest in Carmelite spirituality. He was powerfully drawn to the mystical side of life in the monastery at Boxmeer, where he undertook his initial formation. He was struck by the sign “Silentium perpetuum,” which he regarded as a personal invitation into a process.

  • “He described his cell in detail; he is obviously at home in it. It is his inner world. He will be at home everywhere. “My cell” can be understood as the key phrase for Titus’ experience of God’s nearness. In the final phase of his life it returns – in a poem which became widely known in the post-war years. In his first letter he wrote about his cell and his fellow brothers; in his last writings what is left is only his cell; but again he writes that his is happy there. His cell is his mighty fortress, the ever-living wellspring of life. There he became familiar with God’s nearness.”

  • As a student, Brandsma began publishing, his first work being a translation of select works of Teresa of Avila.

In Teresa, he recognized something of himself. She could be restlessly at work without losing herself. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the challenges she faced, she decided to do whatever she was capable of.

  • Brandma’s motto: Take the days as they come. It indicates his being in touch with reality, but wanting to do things that are important. His realism creates balance in his life.

  • During difficult times in his studies, he immersed himself in the experiences of mystical writers with which he could identify. He turned his gaze inwards: he was in “his cell.”

  • Activity alternated with silence throughout his life.

  • He understood Carmelite life as having a two-fold goal:

    1. “To meet our obligations”

    2. “Already in this life to some extent taste in our heart and experience in our spirit the gracious impact of the divine presence and the sweetness of the heavenly glory”.

  • Brandsma’s life coincided with a period of restoration of the Church in Holland. There was a focus on externals and a wariness of the mystical dimension of faith. Titus, however, believed that this was the foundation of the true recovery of the Church and it motivated him, no matter how busy he was.

  • He was very involved in the advancement of Frisian culture and the development of the Frisian people. However, the renewal of the spiritual life of Dutch Catholics was his primary objective. He believed/demonstrated that persons touched by an abundance of grace will also be caught up in an abundance of activity in their life.

  • Brandsma was an eclectic philosopher, but the mystical life was his strong suit. He immersed himself in the experiences of the mystical authors. He was conscious of the inexhaustible mystery of life’s connectedness (past and present). His central idea was that God is inexpressibly near to us in this world: To believe in God is to live in God.

  • The theme of “balance” or “equilibrium” frequently surfaces in his writing.

  • His teaching that the mystical person continually lets go of him/herself was Brandsma’s secret for being able to do so many things.

  • When Brandsma spoke of mysticism, Godfried Bomans, a student of Brandsma’s at Nijmegen, “infallibly sensed that Titus’ words did not proceed from academic theories but had to do with his own experiences”.

  • In spiritual talks, Brandsma used the image of the “enclosed garden,” a metaphor for the ideal world (paradise) at the beginning of creation. He wrote: We must turn our heart into a garden and we must make our hearts into a Carmel.

  • The God about whom Brandsma speaks is a God who wants to be near, uniquely present to people. This same idea is present in Teresa of Avila’s poem:

 And if, by chance, you do not know

where you will find Me,

do not wander to and fro,

for if you want to find Me,

you must find Me in you.

Because you are My dwelling place,

you are My house and home,

and so I call out at any time,

whenever in your thoughts

I find the door closed.

  • Brandsma’s refusal to place ads in the Catholic papers as directed by the government in 1941 led to his arrest and detention. He entered a cell in which the hours no longer held sway over the person, where there is a timeless silence and where God’s world totally enveloped him … a mystic’s view.

  • Brandsma detached himself inwardly from the grip the Nazis had on him – and turned a disadvantage into an advantage … I am happy in my cell - “A cell becomes sweeter to the degree it is more faithfully inhabited” (Thomas á Kempis, Imitation of Christ)

  • The way in which Brandsma reacted to his imprisonment is characteristic of people with a strong will to live. He did not allow himself to be overpowered by the space in which he was confined.

  • Like Teresa of Avila (writing about the castle of the soul), Brandsma – both in his 1st letter home after entering the monastery as a boy and in writing about his prison cell, writes about the room at the center of the building.

  • Brandsma could be “in his cell” everywhere. To “stay in one’s cell” means to seek out the silence, to be by yourself.

  • Brandsma lived in his own inner world – not a separate world – but in the world in which he lived.

  • “In the greatest desolation, Titus Brandsma could be happy” – he had joy from within.

  • Brandsma drew on Carmelite spirituality – a bridge between Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, drawing on the inspiration of Elijah. Its deepest ground is the search for the living God.

  • In prison in Scheveningen, Brandsma was realistic about the consequences of his statements and actions; the poem he wrote there expresses his acceptance of the consequences of his behavior:

    • This poem is a form of dialogue, expressing powerlessness and emptiness on the one hand and a deep desire to somehow reach the ears of God who is silent.

    • Brandsma felt himself being absorbed into the sacred.

    • It follows a previous time of emptiness and dread.

    • His call now is to a place of quiet encounter.

    • He returned to himself and to Him who sustained his life: he experiences peace and being loved by God.

    • He is opening to God as one renouncing one’s self-centredness.

    • He expresses an “I – Thou” relationship with God: wonder, emotion, fear, gratitude.

    • His use of “friend” indicates intimacy.

    • He reveals an eye for the person behind every façade.

    • He reveals a challenge for which he draws strength in his inner life.

    • He shows resignation in a time of suffering and disaster.

    • He demonstrates the Mystics belief that suffering has a positive meaning … one becomes transformed in God – a source of power and hope.

    • He is freed from attachment to self-preservation; he worked for the liberation of people.

    • Amid all the violence, he encounters the love of God … his life is rooted in God, not himself.

  • Brandsma inhabits the mystical space of solitude in which one experiences freedom

    • Silence and solitude took him into the space of his own heart;

    • Within the clear, plain walls, in the intimate light of his cell, he finds the inner silence and refined attention which makes him sensitive to the friendly presence of God;

    • He is always, wherever he is, in the inner silence of his cell.

  • Increasingly, Brandsma became the Carmelite that the Carmelite Rule envisages.

    • A contemplative encounter with God: God is near.

  • Brandsma retained a sense of humor in his predicament: the fact that in my old age I ended up in a jail cell, tended more to make me laugh than that the tragedy of it could depress me …

  • Brandsma witnessed that we see God when we allow ourselves to be transformed in his infinite silence.

    • Over many years, Brandsma had practised silence as a way of life.

    • His favourite text from Teresa of Avila: Let nothing disturb you; let nothing alarm you. All things pass, only God never changes. Patience conquers all. Those who hold onto God lack nothing.

  • Throughout a month and a half in Sheveningen he wrote seven chapters of a biography on Teresa of Avila for which he had been commissioned. He wrote this text in the margins of another book he had because he had no other writing materials.

  • Brandsma experienced a personally testing time at Amersfoort, as expressed in the poem:

Grief would come and lay me low,

No chance to make it go away,

Nor with any tears allay,

Else had I done it long ago.

Then it came and on me weighed,

Till I lay still and no more wept,

Learned to watch and patience kept;

Thereafter it no longer stayed.

All that is passed and set aside’ from far away I still recall

And cannot understand at all

That ancient grief nor why I cried.

  • “What comes across in this poem is not the language of power. It is the language of a person who has been sidelined, who is no longer a factor to be reckoned with, but who has nevertheless positioned himself in reality in a way that is entirely his own, which, consequently, is still there. He has his memories of past years, memories of a well-ordered life of praying and working, and the security he found there. Now he has found a new security which no one can take from him because they themselves do not know this security”.

  • Brandsma achieved an inner security in which he knew his cries of anguish were being heard; a security embedded in the all-embracing presence of God, a security found in waiting and being patient.

  • “A person who has thus experienced this acceptance as a favor and himself as altogether open and desirous of this favour can say of himself that he is happy in his cell”.

  • “We do not belong to ourselves – both our origin and our destiny is given to us”.

  • On May 16 1942, Brandsma arrived in Kleve, a transit station on the way to Dachau.

    • In this prison, fear destroyed his inner peace; his cell was no longer a place in which he could be alone and find rest. God seemed far away and silent.

    • Brandsma had to go through a “dark night” of solitude and helplessness:

      • No other comfort than inner capacity for listening (cf. John of the Cross: O guiding night! O night more lovely than the dawn.

    • Brandsma reached a point of “relinquishment” (leaving events to themselves), meaning he had to relinquish himself. “Those who relinquish themselves to God find themselves again as they have never been before, but do not recognize themselves. They find the most essential nature of their existence that lies deeply concealed in the unknown depths of their life”.

    • He adjusts to “take the days as they come”: in a new and purified way, this gave him rest.

    • For Titus, “relinquishment” meant surrendering everything to him who is greater than we and will not drop us.

    • At the end of his life, Titus relinquished the desire to be at home in his cell. He was at home nowhere. In this respect he was walking in the footsteps of the first Carmelites who relinquished Mount Carmel, not knowing where that might lead.

Cookie Notice

This website uses cookies to perform some required functions and to analyse our website traffic. We will only collect your information if you complete our contact or prayer request forms so that we can respond to your email or include your intentions/request in prayer. We do not use cookies to personalise content and ads. We will not share any details submitted via our contact email forms to any third party.