A striking aspect of today’s gospel is the strong words that we hear placed on the lips of Jesus:
Again, you have learnt how it was said to your ancestors: You must not break your oath but must fulfil your oath to the Lord. But I say this to you: do not swear at all, either by heaven, since this God’s throne; or by the earth, since that is God’s footstool… Do not swear by your own head either… All you need say is “Yes” if you mean yes, “No” if you mean no; anything more than this comes from the evil one.
We live in confusing times where many competing agendas vie for supremacy in the fickle and fluctuating arena of public opinion. During World War II an Austrian farmer faced much tougher decisions about the consequences of going against the prevailing tide of conformity. Franz Jägerstätter (1907-1943), by all accounts, had matured out of a rather wild young adulthood into a contemplative and committed Christian, and was married with small children. He was deeply disturbed by the Nazi propaganda infecting his country and by the Catholic Church’s compromised response. Finally, unable to avoid conscription any longer and called up for military service, he refused to take the Hilter Oath or to do active service, knowing full well that this would have dire consequences. Following a trial, he was executed in August 1943. In 2007, the late Pope Benedict XVI, who was born in German Bavaria not far from Jägerstätter’s home – the village of Saint Radegund – and had visited there often as a child, declared him a martyr and Franz was beatified in Linz in October of that year. He has become an icon to many contemporary peace activists.
We sometimes hear people being described as “seeing everything in black and white”. Generally, this is not meant as a compliment and suggests that they have definite ideas about the way things should be; perhaps they are somewhat inflexible or narrow-minded even and difficult to find compromise with on certain issues. No doubt Jägerstätter faced all of these accusations.
- How do we discern where our “Yeses” and “Nos” lie?
- Where do we find our convictions tested?