HUMILITY

Lent 24 ~ An Angel Among Men

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Hours after St. Conrad of Parzham’s quote was laid before my eyes, my thoughts often strayed back to him. I kept thinking of the person behind that simple warning and reminder to stay away from the cliff’s edge of sin. So, I sought to get to know the saint and I’m sure glad I did, for that voice from beyond that held me back from sin came from the most gentle, humble, simple and quiet of souls. More importantly, St. Conrad’s life seems to be the one Jesus, through the In Sinu Jesu writings, seems to be calling me to – to be lost in Him in order that Christ’s Light shine unhindered through me.

 

Saint Konrad of Parzham

Based on the original German of Rector Georg Albrechtskirchinger

http://www.salvemariaregina.info/Martyrologies/Konrad.html


A New Gift from God

In the little known village of Parzham, Germany, around the year 1800, there lived and worked a farmer – Bartholomew Birndorfer. The tiny village lay in the valley of the Rott (Rottal), a stream that flows into the torrential river Inn, whose waters flow, in turn, into the river Danube. “Bartl” was a wealthy farmer. The old saying fit him well: “In Rottal dwells the pride of the farmer – his beautiful horses – his field – his timber.” Bartl had twenty-two cows, ten horses and one hundred twenty-five acres of fertile soil all around his comfortable log cabin with its flat shingle roof. But hard times came when a devastating and unruly Freemasonic revolution swept over the land. The government siezed the monasteries and confiscated their goods. The so-called “Freethinking Enlightenment” spread doubts against the Faith, mocked piety and, in many families, lessened the bond of good morals and holy virtues. The wars of the tyrant Napoleon raged in Europe; in 1809 Rottal, too, was laid waste. Continual torrential rains in 1816 and 1817 caused a painful famine. Not until 1818 was there a turn for the better – a real year of plenty. As often as a full cartload of crops arrived at the barn, the farmer with his wife and children would kneel down, pray three Our Father’s and thank God for His gifts with tears of joy.

The graces of this year were not to come to an end until another child was born to the Birndorfer family. It was the 22nd of December, shortly after midnight. Later that same day the baby boy was taken by horse-drawn sleigh through deep snow to the parish church and was baptized with the name Johannes Evangelist. Arriving again at home, his mother clasped her “Hansel” in her arms and thanked the Lord of life and death affectionately for this child of God, which the Lord had given her. She was happy about the beautiful name. Would it have some mysterious significance? At any rate, year after year and day after day, through vivid stories of the Boy Jesus, she would make that Holy Life come alive for her little boy, so that he would imitate the example held out to him and taste the delights of divine love.

Pious Childhood

The blonde-haired, blue-eyed Hansel was thriving visibly. After his cradling, he began making expeditions across the floor. He soon found his way everywhere. In the kitchen he would play with fir-cones and sticks. He waddled through every room. He got acquainted with the chickens, the dog and cat, the cattle and horses. The household brought up Hansel as it had brought up the other children. He enjoyed the best visual instructions. Farm life and Christian example were both placed before his senses. When poor people or hired hands came, tired and worn, to ask a night’s lodging, Hansel would fetch milk and bread for them. He took his place with the house occupants for daily prayers and the Rosary. Often he was found praying in a quiet nook. No one disturbed him there, neither the farm-hands nor the maids. He had no patience for any indecency in the children at the village square. All the adults were amazed how recollected Hansel was at prayer and that his intense devotion was so obvious on his countenance. No wonder everyone was so fond of him and called him a little angel!

At age six Hansel became a student. He learned reading, writing and arithmetic, Bible History and the “Canisi” – as this little catechism was called – in which St. Peter Canisius had condensed the truths of the Catholic Religion into short and clear lessons. Attentive and diligent, Hansel took in every subject with a laudable persistence. Once he brought home an award for receiving a high grade on a test. During this school year, Hansel also distinguished himself as quite a special person. On the half-hour’s journey to the school in Weng, he would sometimes go apart from his noisy comrades and would silently and secretly pray several Our Father’s. Sometimes he would induce a fellow-student to offer Our Heavenly Mother a Rosary. When a quarrel and fight broke out, Hansel would intervene and make peace. When he did not succeed, he regarded it as better to just be on his way. Children acting rowdy with each other or speaking in a shameful manner would call out when they saw little Johannes, “Quiet! Quiet! Hansel Birndorfer is coming!” Their bad words would stick in their throats. Cursing gave pain to his soul. Should he hear any blasphemy, he would fall to his knees, weep and beg the Lord God for mercy on the blasphemer. Whoever saw this was deeply moved. Gradually such blasphemies were held back in his presence. Throughout the parish and school, people would ask, “What kind of boy is this?” And they would receive the answer, “He is an angel among men.”

After finishing school, Hans advanced step-by-step in the hard work of farming. He worked in the stable; he mowed the meadows; he drew the plow. Although still young in years, he already viewed his life and his world as a bridge over the river of time to God, the Eternal. So he never forgot throughout all his occupations, to maintain his union with the Lord of Heaven and Earth. Good intention and the worship of God ennobled his work. Under the hottest sunshine, Hans wore nothing on his head. One day, his father feared he would suffer a heat-stroke. So, a few days later, he admonished him to wear a hat. The boy answered, “Father, shouldn’t someone take his hat off when he is going to pray?” His father replied, after a short consideration, “Yes, of course. But tell me, do you pray the whole time you are working?” As Hansel answered this question in the affirmative, his father was astonished, but said nothing to dissuade him from this. He saw that work in union with God made his son happy.

Grief and pain soon associate themselves with happiness. Hans was fourteen years old when death took away from him his exemplary, quiet mother. Only two years later, his good father also was carried away from the farm to the cemetery in Weng. His mother dead! His father dead! What great, bitter sorrow! Hans wept pitiably.

The Young Man

An orphaned farm, an estate being inherited, in Bavarian villages puts the whole community in turmoil. Everyone asks, “What will happen to the farm now?”

The brothers and sisters took over the inheritance together. For the time being, Hans, the youngest of them, eagerly and willingly looked after the work of the two hired hands. No one was more punctual, conscientious and dutiful. He worked from early morning until late evening. He also brightened every workday through the thought that all work must be a divine service and tend to God’s greater glory. He strove continually to give more time to interior recollection, contemplation and prayer. Sometimes one might have seen him in a cart, the reins in his right hand and an open prayer book in his left. Once, while he was absorbed in spiritual reading, the reins lay limp. The horses went off the road and the wagon tipped over, spilling the whole load. In complete tranquility he loaded it up again. At home he spoke of his accident. His brothers and sisters were of the opinion that “…prayer is certainly good; but it is not necessary to pray all the time!” Hans only answered, “But it’s not forbidden either.” They were astonished at his intense conviction and were silent; they knew that, in fact, many a cart had tipped over when no one was praying.

When there was a break in the farm work, Hans liked to withdraw back into the hay barn. On its door he had hung pictures of the Savior and his patron Saints. Before them he used to thank the Creator who provided the grass for fodder and cattle, and he would say a little prayer of petition.

On the eve of Holydays he would sit, now and then, on the bench in front of the house and just meditate there. He would think about the numberless creatures of the earth and gigantic forms in the heavens, about the sun, moon and stars, about the great Almighty God. One evening an old maid-servant sat down nearby. She tried to coax him to come and have a talk with her. Hans, distracted from his contemplation, nodded his head, mumbled a little and let her talk. But as soon as she began to gossip about people and slander them, he cut her off: “It’s not good to gossip about people. It is wiser to pray the Rosary. May God preserve you.” He got up and went to his room.

There stood his home altar. It was simply arranged. On the table was a small case with a picture of the Mother of God; above it was a crucifix; in front a flickering oil lamp; on either side candlesticks with white candles, besides several paper flowers and little fir boughs. Here he lay the offering of his bodily fatigue and his self-discipline. Here he examined his conscience every evening. Here he gazed at the picture of the Throne of God before him and held conversation with the Lord God. Here he read, in the still of the night, the Holy Scriptures. Sometimes a rooster would crow, the sun would rise up and break through the clouds of night with its beams of light, and the man of prayer would go to his day’s work as fresh and strong as if he had slept the entire night. And his sister Therese would find his bed still made.

Almost every morning, Hans went to church. Whether it snowed or rained, whether a gale blew or the stream through which he had to wade swelled and overflowed its banks – nothing could hinder him from attending Mass in Weng or St. Wolfgang. Sometimes he stood from 3:30 a.m. in the church courtyard, or, in really bad weather, in the little vestibule in the front of the church and waited until the sacristan came and unlocked it.

The first day of the Christian week was for Hans fully and completely the day of the Lord and of the victory of Christ. Just at the crack of dawn, he would make a holy hour at the church in Griesbach. There he would go to confession and, at the quiet early morning Mass, would receive the Body of the Lord. Then he would go to Weng for the Parish High Mass, and then back home. In the afternoon he liked to go to the Devotions at Birnbach, although it was an hour’s journey from Parzham. He was always the first to arrive at the church. He took his place in the front pew of the Gospel side, next to the wall, and prayed with intense attention. After the Devotions, when all the people were gone, he conversed with the Savior. He knelt before the altar and remained up to two hours before the Blessed Sacrament. And thus on Sundays, streams of divine grace would flow into his heart and assist his work throughout the week.

Other young men sought their Sunday relaxation in the public houses. Only once did Hans attend a theater performance by the Birnbach Youth Union, of which he was a member. It so happened that right in the middle of the play, he let out a hearty laugh. The sound grated on the ears of the audience and seemed to echo, as the embarassing event stuck in his memory.

The most beautiful leisure time Hans experienced was when he went on pilgrimage, alone or with like-minded persons, to the Mother of God at the beloved Shrine of Altötting or to the Church of Maria Hilf, situated in the countryside high above the city of Passau and the river Inn. Such pilgrimages were physically very fatiguing. Between 1:00 and 2:00 a.m. they would get up and walk six hours, fasting and praying all the way until the journey’s end. When they were not actually praying, they would speak of life’s struggles on the side of God. Hans, usually so quiet, found words to edify his companions with the Mysteries of Redemption. After visiting the miraculous image, they would go to confession and receive Holy Communion, and give thanks to God for temporal blessings and spiritual graces. For a mid-day rest, they would sit on the bank of a stream near the church and eat whatever they had brought with them. Afterwards, they would visit the church again, pray until the departure time and then again walk six hours back, with joyful hearts, until they had their home soil under their feet.

On St. Leonhard’s day, Hans went every year to the Solemn Blessing of Horses at Aigen am Inn. At this pilgrimage church there labored a Father Dullinger. Hans chose this priest to be his spiritual director. Through him, he got to know better about the various Religious Orders. One by one, he examined their particular obligations: perpetual adoration, celebration of daily Mass, sacrifice for the conversion of sinners, prayer to assist and console the faithful departed, assistance for those struggling to preserve purity and virginity, intimate devotion to Mary, as well as worship of the Most Holy Trinity. As a member of the Third Order which St. Francis had founded for lay people, the Franciscan spirit grew in him. For nine years Hans went every fourteen days over the hills to his confessor, and back again. Each time it was a march of ten hours, and on the whole it required a determined step to advance on the mysterious path to this destination, which God had determined, but which Hans did not yet clearly see.

At the Crossroads

All at once the news broke into his quiet, hardworking, interior life. Two sisters and a brother had left and married. The others still cultivated the farm together. Nothing had changed much. But a sadness set in, invisible yet palpable. The farm was still a bachelor home. A bachelor home is unnatural for a farmer. An unmarried farmer lives only for himself. A real farm is anchored in the family. Only through marriage does the family live on, the farm prosper and farm life remain worth enduring and happy.

One evening, this sadness burst out around the farm house. His brothers and sisters demanded that Hans get married and take over the farm. Hans laid his elbows on the table, closed his eyes, clasped his hands in front of his face and thought over the situation. He looked back on days gone by, when his father and mother were keeping house at the farm and the children, quiet and happy, were unconcerned about the future. When his parents were alive, they had often said, “Son, we are leaving the farm to you. The future heir is soon liable to be unsettled. You can change that by marriage. The Birndorder Family must continue to live on this farm.” The demand had surprised Hans. He knew that, having grown up with animals, crops and soil, he had become a good farmer, that he had received a great talent for farming and that he truly had enjoyed it. On the other hand, he found in himself another talent: the beautiful life of union with God, with Christ and with Mary. In worth and rank it was higher than the stars. And thus Hans stood at the crossroads: the cloister or the farm. He made the most important decision of his life. Slowly he let his arms sink to the table, opened his eyes, raised his head high and spoke in a firm voice, “The family can live on in another line. The house and farm will still stand. My life should be to listen to God and Him alone. I am going into a cloister. Now you know. The good God has not forgotten me. He has already prepared a place for me.” The die was cast. His brothers and sisters quietly surrendered to their fate.

Shortly thereafter a letter arrived. It announced that the Capuchins in Altötting were willing to accept Hans Birndorfer into the Order. Hans was overjoyed. He recalled the words of Christ: “If thou wouldst be perfect, go, sell all thou hast and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in Heaven. And come, follow Me.” According to this request, his family paid him for his portion of the property. Thereafter he gave one portion of the money to the poor of the neighborhood and the other he donated for the expansion of the cemetery in Weng. Now he was stripped of all possessions, like St. Francis of Assisi. The way to his new goal was free. He bid farewell to his home and his parents’ graves and began his journey to Altötting.

Time of Probation

With his entrance into the Capuchin family, Hans Birndorfer received a new name – Konrad. The coming months would show whether he had really turned his back on the world and whether he could endure being totally dependent on the charity and mercy of other men.

For a good year and a half, he was given to the Porter of St. Anne’s Cloister as an assistant. He overcame the difficulties that arose with patience and humility. In the meantime, he wrote to his family: “When I first came it was somewhat difficult to be among so many Brothers. It was a long time before I could call them all by name. Now, thanks be to God, I can not only remember their names but also where their cells are, in case I have to fetch them.” Suddenly, to his regret, he was transferred to Burghausen on the Salzach. Here he had to care for a sick priest. Here also he encountered the elderly Tirolian, Gabriel Engel. This Father had, in fifteen tireless years, re-established the Capuchin Order in Bavaria, where it had withered up after the decade-long troubles of the “Cloister Storm” of the “Enlightenment”. This genuine reformer became for Konrad at that time a tremendous example of manly virtue and Religious observance.

The two year pre-school was soon at an end. Konrad had been observed long enough for it to be known that he was fit for the Religious Life. Now he would be sent to the little Cloister at Laufen on the Salzach. At that time the Novitiate for lay brothers was there. Konrad was solemnly clothed with the brown cowl and the long hood. It was September 17, 1851. With the clothing began the decisive year of probation for the new Religious – the Novitiate. There he would learn to know exactly the obligations of the Order and how to fulfill them. And the community would examine him – whether he was really suited for the Religious life in general, and for the Capuchin Order in particular. Konrad wrote his former home: “Pray very hard for me, that I may get through this year successfully; that I may not just wear the habit, but rather obtain the spirit of a true Capuchin brother.”

He himself prayed and worked untiringly for this goal. This meant: to learn to embrace the Holy Rule with the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience; to make diligent progress in Christian doctrine and in contemplative prayer; to root out weaknesses and faults and to cultivate virtues, and in particular to obey without any interior resistance. There was manual labor in addition. Konrad worked as an assistant to the gardener. Much of his new way of life came easy to him. It was harder to always deny his own will, even to the point of abandoning well-cultivated good habits, if the Novice-Master demanded it. Often it cost him a struggle, which brought humiliations and penances with it.

At the end of the year of probation, Konrad wrote down together his experiences and reflections. He set up a plan of life for himself with eleven headings:

  1. I will really accustom myself to live always in the presence of God and ask myself often, would I do this or that if my confessor or superior saw me? How much more so in the presence of God and my guardian angel.

  2. I will often ask myself when crosses and sorrows come: Konrad, why are you here?

  3. I will avoid leaving the cloister as much as I can, except when charity towards neighbor demands it, or on account of obedience or health, or on pilgrimage or some good purpose.

  4. I will truly strive to preserve fraternal charity in myself and others. I will thus watch over myself, that I may utter no word that would be contrary to charity. Their faults, failings and weaknesses I will patiently endure; and I will, as far as is possible, cover them with the mantle of charity, when it is not otherwise a duty to disclose them to my superior, in order to put an end to them.

  5. I will observe silence exactly and perpetually as far as is possible. I well be very sparse in speech, and this in order to avoid many faults and that I may be able to converse with God so much the better.

  6. At meals I will always, as much as possible, remain in the presence of God, always keep myself in check and deny myself those foods which I desire the most; rather I will take that especially which I like the least in order to practice mortification. And I will always avoid eating anything outside meal times.

  7. I will always go promptly to choir, as soon as I hear the bell, when I am not otherwise hindered.

  8. I will avoid the opposite sex as much as possible, unless obedience imposes a duty in which I must deal with women. I will be rather serious and keep custody of my eyes.

  9. I will always fulfill obediences exactly and promptly and especially I will make every possible effort to seek to deny my own will in all things.

  10. I will truly strive both to observe minor points of the Rule as well as to overcome as much as possible every deliberate imperfection. I will never deviate from the Holy Rule even so much as an inch, come what may!

  11. I will always strive to have a truly intense devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and will truly strive to imitate her virtues.

These resolutions, composed with deliberation and full trust in the assistance of Jesus and Mary, contained nothing too ponderous to fulfill. No heroism was promised. With caution, in view of human weakness and external circumstances, sensible limits were established – such as with the words: “I will make every possible effort…”; “…as much as I can.” Good intentions! Is not the road to Hell paved with them? Resolutions must be firm. Let us see what Konrad really accomplished and what virtues he developed – as much as he could!

The 4th of October, 1852, the Feast of St. Francis, was Konrad’s Profession Day. He knelt on the step of the altar, placed his hands in those of his superior and spoke the solemn oath of his irrevocable dedication to God: “I vow and promise Almighty God, the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Francis, all the Saints and you, Father, for the rest of my life to observe the Rule of the Friars Minor, living in obedience, without possessions, and in chastity.” The Novitiate was completed.

The New Occupation

A few days later, the Father Guardian from Laufen spoke after the morning Mass, “Konrad, God calls you! You are to go at once to Altötting to the Cloister of St. Anne. There you will take over the office of Porter.” Konrad knelt down, begged a blessing for the journey and set off across the countryside through Shusters Rappen. When he arrived at the pilgrimage town, he was assailed by a great fear. He had hoped to be permitted to live in silent solitude behind cloister walls. So many people, of different rank and station, of different character and intention, asked here for information and help. Would he not from one fault, slip and fall into many others? In his distress, Konrad went first to the church and begged Christ for His grace. Then he rang the bell and thus announced the commencement of his service.

The beginning was hard. The office of Porter at Altötting proved to be the most difficult and troublesome in all Bavaria. And so it was the greatest responsibility that an Order could give to a Brother. That a man with only one year’s membership in the Order was chosen for the office, was taken by some of the older Brothers as a personal insult. Envy worked through their hearts. As soon as Konrad arrived, they were really nasty towards him. They weren’t going to tolerate him in the cloister. For several days they would not even give him a cell. Truly he had become the least and poorest of all. At first they considered his piety and eagerness to serve as acts of hypocrisy. Their malevolent speech reached the ears of the Father Guardian. He tested him before everyone, when he said sharply, “Brother Konrad is about to find out that he is just a charity-case for us.” These words must have been a slap in the face to a man of honor, who had left a beautiful farm to serve God alone. But, contrary to expectations, Konrad did not stomp out. He accepted the humiliation with a bow of the head. He didn’t even bat an eye. A more cheerful glimmer shone on his countenance. This noble self-control convinced his superiors and reconciled him with his brethren. He had left on all a lasting good impression.

A great deal of work was packed into the course of a day for the Porter, which for him consisted of twelve to sixteen working hours. Konrad received the mail and carried it to Father Guardian. He administered the donations for the House and recorded the Mass stipends with the requested intention.

Merchants brought to him their wares and bills. Pilgrims left with him their religious items – such as candles, Rosaries and Happy Death Crucifixes – to be blessed, and beseeched him to fetch a priest for confession. Visitors would ask him to bring one of the Capuchins – a relative or friend – to the parlor to speak with them. He would offer hospitality to benefactors and clerics.

The poor of the village, children and vagrants who came begging were given bread and soup or beer. And all these tasks Konrad performed without resentment or complaint, without agitation or anger. He worked ever with an unalterable patience, with a joyful countenance, with a friendly tone of voice. There were days when the bell summoned the porter to the cloister door two hundred times! And how Konrad obeyed it! When it rang, he would break off from praying or speaking, or even set the mouthful of food back on to his plate, just as he was bringing it to his mouth. Yes, it was the same when he had to go and fetch one of the Fathers – he would hasten instantly back to the porter’s station, even two or three times, as often as the bell was rung. The sound of the bell was for him the voice of God.

It was astonishing, with what love Konrad cared for the poor. To the Brothers who baked the bread, he often made the request, “I beseech you, put something together wherewith the poor can really have something good.” As soon as the cloister family had finished a meal, Konrad would go to the kitchen and take whatever he could find that was still edible to the porter’s station, to give to the hungry. If someone would reproach him on this account, he would answer with an intimate and full trust in God, “What a man gives to the poor is all returned to him.” Sometimes the cook had nothing more to give, or he kept back some available sausage, fearing that some of the Brothers would not have enough at the next meal. When this happened, Konrad would say, “Then I’ll eat nothing,” take his portion and give it away. No one knows how many baskets of bread, pitchers of beer and bowls of soup Konrad carried away and distributed in the course of his religious life. But the people gave him forever the characteristic name – Father of the Poor.

All the poor children of Altötting knew Brother Konrad very well. Day after day they would run to the monastery portal, and impetuously ring the bell. As soon as they saw Brother Konrad standing in the cloister entrance, they would hush their chatter, fold their hands and pray with him the Hail Mary devoutly. He became stern if any of them rushed through it. He would warn them with the saying, “Above all else, we Capuchins must pray!” After the prayer the little ones would call out cheerfully, “Please, Brother Konrad!” Then he would give each child a loaf of bread. One or the other would receive some good counsel along with it. Then they would run off with a happy, “God bless you!” Everyone in the pilgrimage town acknowledged him to be the Children’s Friend. And the little boys and girls continued to love him long after their childhood years.

Immersed in God

As porter, Konrad demonstrated a heroic devotion and loyalty. At all times and until his last days, he was at the service of everyone who claimed his attention, with a constantly steady willingness and love. This virtue sprang from his religious spirit, from his intense union with God.

Where did his heart dwell? Nearby the porter station, under a stairway, is the tiny, dark Alexius Cell, barely large enough for a kneeler. A narrow crack in the wall afforded a view of the tabernacle in the monastery chapel. In this stairway cell, Konrad knelt before his Beloved and adored the Son of God, hidden and ignored in the Blessed Sacrament. There one would find him in the free minutes between the business of the day. There he would make his first holy hour, every day at 3:30 in the morning. And when everyone else had gone to their evening’s rest, he would speak yet longer with God by the dim light of a candle. Nevertheless he would go punctually at midnight to the communal chanting of Matins in Choir, the daily morning offering of the Capuchins.

The same love he had toward the Blessed Sacrament, we find in Konrad also toward our Crucified Redeemer. Out of his deep devotion to the Passion and Death of Christ, Brother Konrad drew strength and salvation. Compelled by this love for the Cross, he daily made at midday the holy Way of the Cross. In his cell hung a crucifix with a painful countenance. Before this image he was accustomed, especially in the evening, to contemplate and meditate in silence. He often took it down from the wall and held it in his hands, whispering fervent prayers to his beloved Savior, and perceiving what He would answer. In a letter to his sister, Resl, Konrad wrote, “The Cross is my book. One glance at the Cross teaches me how I ought to act in every circumstance. There I learn patience and humility and meekness and to carry every cross; yes, to me the cross is sweet and light.”

The disciple of Christ and friend of the Cross at the cloister door in Altötting was also a Marian Knight – a tender devotee of the Blessed Virgin Mary. How often and with what recollection he recited daily the beautiful Ave Maria! The Little Rosary of the Immaculate Conception was always hanging from the middle finger of his left hand. As a rule he prayed daily the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary. What a grace-filled experience it was for him to daily serve Mass at 4:30 a.m. in the Chapel of Grace (Gnadenkapelle). And at midday he would go regularly to the Gnadenkapelle, kneel motionless and pray before the miraculous image (Gnadenbild) of Our Lady of Altötting in deep recollection of soul. What a beautiful scene before God and man! Many people saw Konrad’s prayers to the Mother of God like fiery spheres issuing out of his mouth.

A sense of piety and of continual worship of God shown forth on Konrad’s countenance. It indicated a constant, steady expression of cheerfulness; it gave continuous testimony of the peace and joy of his soul, which he found in God.

To His Dying Breath

Certainly, the course of years takes its toll on the body. The innumerable privations and overburdenings that he had demanded from his body had left scars. Furrows had burrowed across his face; his hair had turned white; he was tormented by aches and pains; his back was hunched over. Konrad was becoming weak. Everything he did was painful. He was always cold. His limbs grew stiff. His knees shook. 75 winters lay behind him.

On April 18, 1894, Brother Konrad tapped along, supported by a strong cane, on his way to the Gnadenkapelle. It was the last time he would ever serve Mass beneath the statue of Our Lady of Altötting. On returning to the monastery, he managed to drag himself around for a few more hours. But in the afternoon he had to tell his superior, “Father Guardian, it’s the end!” The doctor came and said to Konrad, “That’s just too hard a job for you at your age, down there in that cold hallway. You’re completely worn out.” Without a complaint the dying man endured his pain and weakness. On the third day, Saturday, April 21, he received Extreme Unction. In the evening the infirmarian gave him another spoonful of medicine and said, “Now I have to go and check on our sick Brother Benjamin.” Konrad replied, “Of course, you may go. I won’t be needing you any more.” At 7:00 p.m. the cloister family assembled together for Night Prayers. Someone knocked at the main door. Shortly thereafter the porter’s bell rang. Konrad thought the assistant porter had not been able to hear the metallic voice. In obedience to the bell, the dutiful old man lifted himself with his last ounce of strength. He took the candlestick with the burning candle in his trembling hand, staggered and tottered to the door of his cell and altogether collapsed. A novice coming that way and finding him, called immediately for help. Capuchins came hurrying to the spot. They carried the dying man to his cot. A Father recited the prayers for the dying. The Ave bell rang peacefully from the bell-tower of Altötting. Konrad smiled, looked heavenward with joyful eyes and departed this life. It was between 7:00 and 8:00 in the evening, the time when he had always prayed to Our Lady as the “Help and Consolation of the Dying”.

“Take thy rest now, thou tireless hero of charity, of fortitude and of faith! True, thou hast never crossed the Alps, nor sailed across the sea. Rather, thou wert for more than forty years a continuous watchman out of obedience; but with this obedience, thou didst elevate the lowest of offices to serve as a knight of Christ, and it was on this account the equal of the noblest of undertakings!” (Pope Pius XII)

The Dead Lives!

In the Imitation of Christ, we read: “He is truly great, who has great love.” He is great, who always fulfills his duties perfectly out of love for God. This was fully and completely valid in the case of the Capuchin Brother Konrad of Parzham. The Church therefore, on Pentecost Sunday, 1934, after due deliberation and much prayer, proclaimed and declared that he is a Saint.

“Brother Konrad’s tomb, truly a tomb of the living! It teaches and admonishes, consoles and heals, and leaves a life that had withered in full bloom again! This tomb is adorned with an altar full of glory; hymns of praise and thanksgiving are sung before it; all around it shine burning lights, and a jubilant festive joy fills the Christian people who find in Brother Konrad a new, powerful patron Saint – Konrad is the shining ornament of Bavaria and all the German people, as well as for the universal Church of Christ!” (Pope Pius XII)

Holiness consists in forming our day out of the love for Christ. Holiness is our life’s work, our contribution to society, the necessary step we take towards achieving eternal salvation. The saintly life is for us an example and a mirror, light and help.

Saint Konrad of Parzham, pray for us!

 

 

 

 

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Lent 21 ~ Enter the Cell

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Let us enter into our cell, and sitting there, remember our sins, and the Lord will come and help us in everything.   ~   St. Poemen

 

          Yesterday was a day that took far out of me than I had to give. I returned home very tired from a late afternoon meeting but in relatively good cheer. Yet, the day chose to sulk. Hot breezes blew about distractedly and couldn’t seem to settle in peace into their wind~nooks. It was a day that didn’t wound or tear into you, but like dry branches against a window pane, scratched your spirit at random. I had overslept that morning, thus missing my morning Adoration. In the evening, after cooking dinner and not much else done, I was too exhausted to call the family together for Family Rosary.

          This morning, still feeling the effects of the previous day’s strain, I was nonetheless determined to return to prayer. I went before Jesus in Adoration but in the ensuing minutes, caught myself wandering off several times. I didn’t seem to be doing much by way of consoling Jesus. It was one of those days where no storm troubles, yet the spirit cannot settle into peaceful deeps.

          And so, there I was, before the Lord, but wriggling and fidgeting. I certainly wasn’t getting much done.

          Adoration ended and I went to the Bible. The day’s Readings and Responsorial psalm were about the stiff-necked and all manner of stubbornness.

Oh, that today you would hear His voice:
Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
as in the day of Massah in the desert   ~   Psalm 95: 7 – 8

I resolved to harden not my heart, but to live out this new day better than yesterday.

          Yet, even to my ears, I sounded weak and not fully committed to what my lips proclaimed.

          But the very second I prayed that prayer, a strange disquiet entered my spirit.

          I saw before me an instance at work the previous day, at the end of that dissatisfying meeting, where I almost spoke ill of my superior by revealing his failings to another colleague. We were interrupted by someone, but had that not happened, I would have certainly vented my frustration to the fullest.

          Yesterday, I was not in the least troubled by that almost-disclosure at work. But today, after my pathetic attempt to console my Lord in Adoration and a weak offer to listen to His voice, there came this sudden and strong disturbance. This deep troubling of spirit that I should not have done what I did, that I should not have ventured to speak ill of my superior even if it was the absolute  truth.

          The unpleasant feeling in my heart caused by a disturbed conscience deepened and worsened. I grew restless and desperate to pull the thorn out. But no church did I have nearby, no priest to hear my confession either.

Let us enter into our cell, and sitting there, remember our sins, and the Lord will come and help us in everything.   ~   St. Poemen

          I read the quote twice. Enter the cell. Sit there. Recall my sins. It felt far short of what I wanted desperately then – Confession. Then, I saw the words,

the Lord will come and help us in everything

          It still didn’t seem like much. I wasn’t sure if that would help. Then, I recalled another breath of words,

There is nothing I will not do for the soul who abandons herself to Me in a simple act of trust.   ~   Anonymous, In Sinu Jesu

          Still, believe or not, I dithered. In asking me to abandon myself to Him, Jesus was asking for a level of trust, which in all honesty, was not that high, but for me it was.

          At that moment, my angel gently pushed towards me a tiny stream of pearls,

This is really all I ask of souls – that you come to Me. And I will do the rest.

          At these words, I finally turned to Jesus. Kneeling before Him, I gave Him everything – my sin against my superior, my lack of faith, my doubts now. I didn’t feel a miraculous lifting, but with more conviction than before, I resolved to go to Jesus every single time I felt the thorn prick my conscience, every single time I doubted He could help me.

          My vow sent to its rightful place, I went to the day and the work that awaited me.

          Within the hour, my heart was troubled no more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lent 17 ~ A Single Wave

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We must be continually upon our guard, for we are engaged in a perpetual war; unless we take care, the enemy will surprise us, when we are least aware of him. A ship sometimes passes safe through hurricanes and tempests, yet, if the pilot, even in a calm, has not a great care of it, a single wave, raised by a sudden gust, may sink her. It does not signify whether the enemy clambers in by the window, or whether all at once he shakes the foundation, if at last he destroys the house. In this life we sail, as it were, in an unknown sea. We meet with rocks, shelves, and sands; sometimes we are becalmed, and at other times we find ourselves tossed and buffeted by a storm. Thus we are never secure, never out of danger; and, if we fall asleep, are sure to perish.   ~   St. Syncletica

 

          Growing up with a mother who suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder, I learned the lesson of a single deadly wave from early childhood. I lived and breathed in singular fear of someone so consumed by herself and her wants, because all it would take for my day to go from gold to black would be a single wave.

          But while I am no longer called to this fear, I am called to vigilance against the thieves of faith. I need to be vigilant with myself, with my family.

          And with all those who come to our gates. For the thief never announces his arrival nor his tools. He strikes at will.

          The eyes in my head can only do so much. The vigilance needed for the times we are in is different, far deeper than ever known. I cannot be sure that I have all the gates covered, I cannot be sure that I know the shape and form a thief may take. To possess confidence in my abilities to guard and detect danger – even while I proclaim otherwise – is to be surely struck down by that single wave because pride makes for a weak gate-lock.

          The calls to Adoration, to rest, that I have been hearing this Lent, are the bells that chime telling me to seek humility through the resting of my will – because it is humility that will make me seek the Supreme Guard of Gates – Jesus. It is humility that will allow me to let down my guard and let Jesus in. It is only humility that will allow me to allow Jesus to guard my gates.

          We have a most intelligent and experienced pilot at the helm of our vessel even Jesus Christ himself, who will conduct us safe into the haven of salvation if, by our supineness, we cause not our own perdition.   ~   St. Syncletica

 

 

Close to the Ground

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……let simplicity and humility be the characteristic traits of your soul. Go through life like a little child, always trusting, always full of simplicity and humility, content with everything, happy in every circumstance. There, where others fear, you will pass calmly along, thanks to this simplicity and humility. Remember this, …. for your whole life: as waters flow from the mountains down into the valleys, so, too, do God’s graces flow only into humble souls.   ~ Entry 55, Diary, Divine Mercy in My Soul, St Maria Faustina Kowalska

          Humility has never been my strong point. I don’t know if having been put down so severely so often in more than thirty years of my early life with my birth family has anything to do with it.

          But whatever my old sorrows, God never allows a tearing unless it is willed for some reason.

          And what if, this reason was for humility?

          Although I expand great efforts to soar the skies, even I must admit that humility is often comforting. For one, it takes away from me the stress of having to burnish myself and my efforts with some form of allure. I do not need to care about what others think of me; I can leave them to their thoughts in peace.

          Humility takes away the many ruts and tangles that come with the seeking of respect, recognition and adulation. It smoothens out the many wrinkles and ripples that mark any life of worldly seeking.

          The view from the ground is different from any other. The times I have been here, I’ve seen life in a way I couldn’t from high up some perch. I saw the poor and the forgotten. I saw the broken and the wounded. I saw beauty in what the world scoffs at.

          Humility removes the inner mountains which obscure our view of God. It is the water from Heaven that cleanses our soul because it rids the spirit of strongholds that do us no good. 

          It has the subtle power to draw us away from the squalor of worldly dictates towards simple joys and an unfettered spirit.

          Because humility helps us to see what really matters and what doesn’t.

         

 

 

Loader of the Prayer~Cart

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          My weekend began with an examination of my conscience, and a doubting of the path I was now on – to empty my prayer~will. To empty it (of petitions) – for God to fill it. Off and on, through the weekend hours, I kept going back to this – Was it the right thing to do?

          Then, my mind wandered over the changes and happenings that had ensued from the new prayer.

          There had been power. Strength. There had been joyous, unexpected  happenings.

          And yet, I continued to nibble at the certainty, slowly ragged-ing its smooth edges. What if I was wrong? In these days of fake news and lies and distortion and illusions, had I veered off the True Path? What if I was wrong to empty my prayer~will?

          On the Feast of the Divine Mercy, I went before God. You have to answer me, I insisted.

          The first reply came through Susan Skinner’s post, If You Seek Healing. Of the many things that lit up in her piece, this caught me firmly – once you have emptied all of you, you can be filled up with God.

          And I learned yet again that the emptying of my prayer~will was the Will of God Himself. It was not a hardening of my heart, as I feared. It was not a callous disregard of the entreaties of others.

          It was another step in the journey of Surrender that I first began almost ten years ago. One I veered off many, many times, and returned to as often. And now, with the emptying of my prayer~will, I was tentatively opening myself up even further, laying everything of me at His Feet, to be used as He pleased. During Lent this year, my spirit got caught in the Call of the little Consoler, the Fatima seer, Francisco Marto. As I began to try to offer up little beads of Chaplets and Rosaries, solely to console the Wounded Heart of Jesus, like the little Shepherd had done, I learned of this little by-path the  emptying of the prayer~will was leading me to.

          But my learning was in no way over. Something else of Susan Skinner’s post remained in me: humility. When the eyes of my heart turned to it, I found it in a little pouch, its strings fastened such that I could not undo them to understand what deepened meaning Humility held now for me.

          But meaning came soon enough. That night, I read the words of a niece of the soon to be canonized little shepherd-seers. Jacinta Pereiro Marto said, “God chose my uncle and aunt because this is what He wanted, so much that my grandfather used to say that the Virgin wanted to come to Fatima and she chose his children, but that we didn’t deserve anything.” Because of this attitude instilled in the family by her grandfather – father to Blessed Francisco and Jacinta Marto – “we always lived very simply because God chose, and He chooses who He wants. We don’t deserve anything.”

          Her humility, the humility of that entire family despite understanding the import of the apparitions in Fatima all those years ago, was like a flower bursting into bloom for me. I realized that the erasing of my will in my prayers was a deepening of humility. To understand that it was not for me to ever occupy the driver’s seat of prayers. And not even to decide for myself which prayers to load onto my cart to take to Heaven.

          For the God who chooses me to drive the cart, is the same one Who will decide whose need gets onto mine and whose goes to another prayer~cart.

          Although I still do not understand why I have been brought to this point of placing even this freedom to pray for others in His Divine Will, for now, I feel a deep security in the Marto wisdom, God chose, and He chooses who He wants.

          The same God who chose my prayer~cart, will fill it with the needs He chooses.

 

LENT 35 ~ Jesus Fought My Battle

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          Yesterday, the Lord called me to a fast from anger.

          Never before have I felt such tenderness in a call. Never before have I found the firmness of will to obey. 

          The moment I sensed the call, there arose like mushrooms after the rain, endless pops of situations that tested my patience, and tempted me to anger. Seeing the end of Lent in sight, and not wanting to gift my Lord on Easter with the usual mess of red darts, I willfully chose to rest my heart and will in Jesus.

          And He fought my battles for me.

          I came to evening weary and listless from physical tiredness, but also with a relief that no one did I maim with my anger. Neither did it find a refuge within my soul in the sultry hours of yesterday.

          Because, for once, I fasted from myself and let my Jesus fight for me.

I lead, not you

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          Someone I love is in a dark place, bereft of hope, sodden with a grief that wounds and wounds with every resurrection. Every lift and turn of head brings into focus the loss that cuts deep. There is no escaping it. No forgetting, no momentary relief. Strength has gone to the grave, hearts weep and chafe for a light now gone.

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          At the first stain of pain, we both prayed our hearts out, joined by other loving souls from across the world. There was hope and light and a future. But then, something changed overnight.

           Something’s not right, my prayers are not being received, I realize.

          I plough on. She has fallen. Pray to St Joseph, invoke him, I tug her to her feet insistently. And I share a lot about St Joseph after that, so she seeks him as I did and do. But the resistance strangely deepens. I ache with a frustration which I hide – to not add another cross to the grief. I want nothing more than to reach out and press the balm of healing into a wound that bleeds. To stretch out my hand, and light up every darkness, banish each shadow to its lair of lament.

          Yet, no power do I have. There is little I can say or give that will turn sorrow into joy. I am no replacement for what has left never to return. I am unable to bud and bloom the rose of hope for her.

          No power do I have, no power do I have.

          And we both slump, tired.

women%20sad%20window%20panes%201920x1080%20wallpaper_www.wallpaperfo.com_39[1]          I see the darkness of despondency encroach quickly in the wounded heart of my loved one, shores and waters away. The prayers continue to fall into a vacuum, novenas bounce off invisible walls. My loved one screams for reprieve, for a glimmer of hope that lets one put one foot in front of the other. Yet, unexpectedly, no hand from Heaven reaches out. A wall of silence meets each weeping entreaty.

          I worry. I can sense her giving up, the tenuous grip on life and hope, loosening. I pray to compensate for her. But when I battle on, I sense I’m being restrained. Doors being closed. I fret because I think I prayed all the right prayers – to restore hope, to heal the wounds, dry the tears, light the path ahead. Yet, they’re not being received.

          Why, why, why?

          Why has Heaven suddenly put a Hand up against my sincere prayers?

          I want answers. I turn to St Joseph – the saint of interpretationof not only dreams, but of every manner of twist and turn of path. I beg his discernment. Why, why, why? I ask him. Why did you not help her as you helped me?

          And it comes, on a lily-breath:

          I am your journey, not hers, he presses on my heart.

          And there it was, laid out plainly and directly.

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          I am your journey, not hers. No two journeys are the same, however similar they may seem.  No two valleys, no two peaks will ever be the mirror image of the other. And it is not my call to make it thus. I cannot play God. I cannot take His place, and commandeer the path others must take – be it a course of action, or a saint to invoke, or a novena to say – even if it worked for me. God must be allowed to lead unhindered, each pilgrim soul through the valley of grief. I cannot, should never, take the lead, even if it seems so right.

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          And when the arrow of humility finally finds its mark in my bowed soul, a sudden power of strength and hope surges through me. Gone are the muddy shadows and lethargy. Gone is the wall, the resistance. I see my failing in my pride that I knew it all, but I see too Heaven’s mercy extended in the fresh blossoming of hope come alive in my soul.

          My tread is more contrite now. It is learning to follow the Light ahead. It understands it should never lead.

MERCY MERCY MERCY

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          An odd stilling within me. Something has changed. No Word, no sensing, no wisp of old hymn flitting by. All of a sudden, unable to discern the signposts that mark the way ahead. Days and days go by. The inner hush remains.

Where do I go?

What do I do?

Silence in reply.

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          Then, after ever so long, from deep within I hear a line from an old hymn. I cannot recall much of the hymn but one word quietly pulses with life:

MERCY

          A common enough word these days. The Jubilee Year of Mercy. Mercy for the Holy Souls in November. Reminders of mercy from the pulpits around the world.

          And yet, this morning, borne on unseen wings, it came to me with a new firmness that could not be shrugged off. It brought with it a frisson of unease. After long days of not sensing anything, I felt something gathering on the horizon. Not here yet, but coming. Coming with a certainty. Mercy. I turned it over in my head. Then, it became clear.

Seek My Mercy

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          I was stunned. I thought I had that covered – in my daily prayers, my sins were never hidden. In recent trials, my weaknesses were highlighted anew, but hadn’t I fought with the breastplate and armour of God? Had I not plunged myself and my failings into the depth of His Wounds? Did He not answer my brokenness in the calm and miracle that ensued? Seek Mercy? So soon?

          A heaviness and a sense of urgency descended.  A growing wordless clamour beat against my heart. Now. Seek My Mercy Now. I went out into the cold, gray morning to gather the jasmine blooms from the laden bush for the altar bowl. As I picked a tiny flower, I clumsily launched into prayer. I beg Your Mercy for all my sins…. The next white bloom…My quickness to anger… the readiness to fume… Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.

          A heaven-willed prayer gently slipped into place.

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          For every sin I mentioned, Mercy, Mercy, Mercy. Standing upright, yet, my whole being bent into a repentance bow.

My reluctance to yield….Mercy, Mercy, Mercy….

          Bloom after dew wet bloom tumbled into the clear bowl…sin after sin, Mercy, Mercy, Mercy...

faded-flower-colors1[1]          In the deep wet grass, filling my flower bowl, seen to no one, I slipped into the past. Days of youth long gone by. Transgressions from a time almost misted over in memory. Stony faced but grieving inside, one by one I named my sins. Bloom after bloom. Mercy….Mercy….Mercy.

          All the pearls picked, the clock beckoned.

          No answering peace, no pat on the head.

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          Something in the distance. Not here yet, but coming. Coming with a certainty.