Bl. Maria Restituta Kafka: A martyr for the Faith

Today is the feast day of Blessed Maria Restituta Kafka. She was born Helena Kafka on May 1,1894 in Hosvice, Austria-Hungary, now Brno in the Czech Republic. She was the daughter of Anton and Maria Kafka, Czech immigrants. In 1913, she became a nurse at the Lainz municipal hospital in Vienna. It was there while she was working that she met members of the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity and entered their congregation in 1914, at the age of 20. She was given the name of Maria Resituta, the name of a 4th Century Martyr. After taking her vows, she continued to work at Lainz hospital until 1919 and was transferred to a hospital in Mödling becoming its surgical nurse. After the Nazi takeover of Austria in 1938 through the Anschluss in which Germany annexed Austria to the Third Reich, the hospital she worked at was not spared. She was a vocal critic of the National Socialist regime, when the Nazis implement the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws in Austria. When a new hospital wing was constructed, Kafka wanted keep to traditional Catholic practice and hung a crucifix in every room. This angered the Nazi authorities who demanded that the crucifixes be taken down, to which she refused, and even threaten her with dismissal. The crucifixes weren’t removed and Kafka was not removed, because the Franciscan community could not replace her. She continued her opposition to National Socialism and several years later was denounced by a Nazi supporting doctor which resulted in her arrest on Ash Wednesday, 1942 by the Gestapo as she leaved an operating theater. She was accused of not removing crucifixes and dictating a poem mocking Adolf Hitler. She was tried by a Nazi court and on October 29,1942, she was sentenced to death by guillotine for committing high treason. She was offered clemency if she left the Franciscan Order to which she refused. A request of clemency was appealed to Hitler’s secretary Martin Bormann which was turned down. Sister Kafka spent her last days in prison caring and helping the other prisoners as noted. She wrote a letter from prison:

“It does not matter how far we are separated from everything, no matter what is taken from us: the faith that we carry in our hearts is something no one can take from us. In this way we build an altar in our own hearts”.

On March 30,1943, Sister Kafka was guillotined at at the age of 48. She was martyr for the Faith. On June 21,1998, She was beatified by Pope John Paul II during his visit to Vienna. She became the first female martyr of Austria. On March 4,2013, she was commemorated in Rome, Italy at the Basilica of San Bartolomeo on Tiber Island, with Christoph Cardinal Schönborn presiding a liturgy. During the service, the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity presented a small cross that Kafka wore on the belt of her religious habit to the basilica. The relic was placed in the chapel in remembrance of victims of the Nazis. In her honor, a lane was named after her in the western half of Weyprechtgasse, where the hospital she worked and a park was named after her in Husovice. Her feast day is commemorated on October 29, which happens to be the day she was sentenced to death in 1942.

Reflecting on Silence (with John Paul 2)

“We must confess that we all have need of this silence, filled with the presence of him who is adored: in theology, so as to exploit fully its own sapiential and spiritual soul; in prayer, so that we may never forget that seeing God means coming down the mountain with a face so radiant that we are obliged to cover it with a veil (cf. Ex 34:33), and that our gatherings may make room for God’s presence and avoid self – celebration; in preaching, so as not to delude ourselves that it is enough to heap word upon word to attract people to the experience of God; in commitment, so that we will refuse to be locked in a struggle without love and forgiveness. This is what man needs today; he is often unable to be silent for fear of meeting himself, of feeling the emptiness that asks itself about meaning; man who deafens himself with noise. All, believers and non – believers alike, need to learn a silence that allows the Other to speak when and how he wishes, and allows us to understand his words.” From Orientale Lumen written by St John Paul II.

Poland is filled with episodes that occurred the way they had occurred, because the people were strong in their faith. A clear example of this was when Pope John Paul 2’s efforts lead to the fall of communism and to destruction of such an oppressive tyranny, which worked tirelessly against the fundamental rights of the people, to end in Poland. This did not happen only through speeches and mass meetings, the fall of communism brought about by prayer. The revolution occurred not only by the cries and road noise but also took place in silence, in chapels and churches in Poland and the Polish Pope’s private chapel, in Rome.

At the beginning of this reflection we have read part of the apostolic letter the Pope wrote on 2 May, 1995 which bears the name of the Orientale Lumen. The Polish Pope begins his message on silence by mentioning how crucial silence is in Christian theology. A theologian who always struck me with his intelligence is Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who is known as the Pope who loved silence, so much so that he often said how much he loves walking in silence within the Vatican Gardens. Once the much loved Pope Emeritus said this on silence: “In silence, we will be able to better hear and understand ourselves; ideas take life and acquire more depths ….. profound reflection help us to find out the connection between events to seemingly unconnected. This requires that we develop a suitable environment, a kind of eco-system which manages to maintain the balance between silence, words and sounds.”

As the Pope Emeritus said we must successfully strike a balance. For any balance to occur, there must be two forces who from both sides help to create a balance via the forces they exert. In Christian life, both forces are the work which is done by every man; be it at school, university, job etc. and on the other hand there should be silence. Some of you might ask then who is keeping the measurement scale sound? The scale is held firmly by man, who aided by God, recognizes that there needs to be a balance between them.

In the second part of his message the Pope writes about silence and prayer; for this part I would like to share with you a reflection made by Blessed Colomba Marmion: “Once you feel the attraction to remain in the silence of adoration in God’s presence, you must give yourself entirely to the Holy Spirit and remain there in pure faith. If God gives you no feeling, no sentiment, no distinct thought, just be there before Him in silent love. During such moments He operates insensibly in the soul and does more for her perfection than she could in a lifetime by her own thoughts.”

The society of today needs to hear words like: “we need to keep silent so that we let the other speak like He wants and let us understand his words.” Let us together acknowledge that God will not come to the world with force in a word of noise, on the contrary God knocks in silence, so let us let him call us. May we never forget that in the desert of silence humanity finds the oasis of faith so that we can be sustained for the rest of our lives.

United with the Rosary

The ancient prayer of the rosary is deeply embedded in the history and tradition of the Catholic Church. In this article I would like to examine; via spiritual and historical means, the importance of such a prayer.

In Battle

The Church from its conception was and will continue to be in a spiritual battle against the forces of Hell. Ask any exorcist or look at the lives of the saints and one can see that this battle is real, not just some myth invented by fools. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states clearly that prayer is of utmost importance in this crucial battle; so much so that it states that: “Prayer is both a gift of grace and a determined response on our part. It always presupposes effort. The great figures of prayer of the Old Covenant before Christ, as well as the Mother of God, the saints, and he himself, all teach us this: prayer is a battle. Against whom? Against ourselves and against the wiles of the tempter who does all he can to turn man away from prayer, away from union with God. We pray as we live, because we live as we pray. If we do not want to act habitually according to the Spirit of Christ, neither can we pray habitually in his name. The “spiritual battle” of the Christian’s new life is inseparable from the battle of prayer.” Thus the Rosary is not some unnecessary repetition to a dead end on the contrary it is our armor and shield given by our Lady to St Dominic to fight against the snares of the Devil and his evil ways.

Loving Our Mother

The Rosary is the best way to show our Holy Mother that we love her, that she is never forgotten, on the contrary she is engraved in our hearts and memories forever. The Hail Mary is an integral part of the rosary, in this prayer, we are reciting what St Elizabeth said when she was pregnant with St John the Baptist and Mary visited her. For 10 times for each of the 5 Mysteries we wholeheartedly say: “Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death, Amen.” Yes, we hail Mary for she is our Queen, she is a true example of how a woman ought to be, accepting the Lord’s mission even when the call is difficult to answer, even when the road is hard to climb we continue climbing holding steadfast to our faith and love for our Lord.

Historically

The Battle of Lepanto was a crucial naval battle which took place in the year 1571. The Ottoman forces outnumbered the Christian forces, all the odds were in favor of the Muslims but at one point in time miraculously the Christian forces began to win the battle, sinking galleon after galleon. In Rome, the Dominican pope, St Pope Pius V, prayed tirelessly the Rosary together with the faithful, and once again Our Lady won against the forces of evil, against those who had persecuted her children from the beginning of their existence, I’m referring of coarse to the Muslims.

Thus as we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, may we never forget what Pope Pius XI said: “The Rosary is a powerful weapon to put the demons to flight and to keep oneself from sin…If you desire peace in your hearts, in your homes, and in your country, assemble each evening to recite the Rosary. Let not even one day pass without saying it, no matter how burdened you may be with many cares and labors.”