The most important part of a ship is its rudder. Without it the ship could not be properly steered and would run amuck. The most precious gift that we human beings possess is our conscience. Without our conscience we would be unable to steer our lives towards the truth. It is easy for a person to “sell out” one’s conscience when tempted by something that seems like a greater good in life. However, for those who bear the name Christian, God must always have the first claim on our conscience.
Franz Jaggerstatter was born in Austria and was raised in the Catholic Faith. He was an ordinary person with only a grade school education and became a casual worker. There was nothing about him to suggest that he had in him the “stuff” that makes one a martyr.
However, at some point in his life he dramatically matured, became very responsible, and took his Catholic Faith very seriously. He was not, however, fanatical about it. Franz married a woman named Anna, and their marriage brought forth three children.
By this time World War II was raging and at the age of 36 Franz was called up to serve in Hitler’s army. However, he refused to join up. Such a refusal was tantamount to suicide. His friends tried to talk him into joining but he refused.
“I cannot join,” he simply said. “Why not?” they asked. “Because I believe that this war is not a just war. Therefore, it would be wrong for me to join up. It would be against my conscience.”
“But many others have joined up. So why can’t you?” they persisted. Franz answered, “What others do is their business. I have to answer for my own conscience.” “But where’s your loyalty to your people, to your country, to your flag?” they asked. To that, Franz replied, “I love my people, and I love my country. But there is a higher law —God’s Law. And God’s Law tells me that this war is wrong.”
Franz did not want to die as he had so much to live for. He was arrested, put in prison, and further efforts were made to get him to change his mind. Even his wife pleaded with him to do so. But all to no avail. Franz was beheaded on August 9, 1943. He firmly believed that he was being obedient to his Lord, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.” Truly the words of St. Thomas More could be applied to Franz, “I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”
Today, Caesar’s place is taken by the secular government. The government no longer bases its laws on God’s Law and this poses a serious dilemma for Christians. Every Christian living in the world today is faced with making difficult decisions. There are so many “Caesar’s” clamoring for our attention. Franz Jaggerstatter shows us that we must give God the first and utmost claim on our loyalty.
“Yes,” give to Caesar what is due to Caesar, but, let us make sure that we do not give Caesar our conscience!
— Fr. Dennis, October 22, 2017