Blessed Rupert Mayer: Spiritual Son of Ignatius of Loyola

MayerPope Francis spoke poignantly last Holy Week of priests needing to have the smell of their flock. The life witness of Rupert Mayer, SJ, whose feast day we celebrate today, speaks to this evocative plea.

One finds in Mayer a priest who was literally with his shell-shocked troops in the trenches of World War I as a military chaplain; a priest who started and celebrated early morning Masses for travellers, restaurant workers, and railway workers in Munich’s main railway station; a priest who traveled throughout Bavaria begging for alms, food and clothes for the poor during the depression; a priest who organized Catholic groups to help ease the struggles of immigrants, who came into the city looking for work; and a priest who was an opponent of the Nazis as early as 1923.

Introduction to Rupert Mayer’s life    

The sum total of Rupert Mayer’s writings during his lifetime amounted to two sermons in a spiritual magazine. He was not a gifted writer; described to be somewhat slow, direct, and simple. Yet he saw himself as someone who is a ‘fanatic for the truth.’  And he never lost contact with the ordinary Catholic. He was well beloved by them and achieved much among them because he was with them.

Mayer was born in Stuttgart in January 1876 to a middle class family. He was one of six children born to his parents. He was a mediocre student. His parents made sure his education was complete by teaching him to play the violin. The young Rupert Mayer picked up the violin and played quite well. As a young diocesan priest, before he entered the Society of Jesus, he prepared his homilies, by playing the violin.

One of the most difficult sacrifices Mayer had to make, on entering the Jesuits, was that of his violin. When the Nazis arrested him, among the many questions that were thrown at him was whether he played any musical instrument. His answer was: “They tell me I might have become a good violinist; but for thirty eight years I have not touched a fiddle.”

Rupert Mayer also had a passion for riding horses. He was seen as such a good horseman, the German military lend him horses from the cavalry barracks. Due to Mayer’s prowess as horseback rider, one of the German military officers quipped that Mayer should not be a priest. In his early theological studies, he often attended the lectures in his riding boots and breeches and with a whip.

He finished his seminary education with no distinct marks, but was praised as a thoroughly good, pious, and noble-minded gentleman. He was ordained a priest in 1899. A year later Rupert Mayer entered the Society of Jesus. In 1911 Mayer was missioned to Munich to work with the thousands of immigrants that were flooding the city in search of work. He formed organizations of men and women to help the immigrants find a sense of security and standing in the large city.

The Great War military chaplaincy and the period in between the wars

 nam5When the First World War broke out, it was natural for a man of Mayer’s talent and temperament to volunteer as a military chaplain. He was three times decorated: twice with the Iron Cross [Germany’s highest military honor]. This was unheard of honor for a chaplain. He was literally in the trenches with his men in some of the worst artillery bombardment of the war. Military service had cost Mayer a leg.

When he was convalescing in the military hospital he wrote to his parents concerning the lost of his leg:

“… Even though my freedom of movement must from now on be severely curtailed, this doesn’t bother me in the least. There are so many jobs, that they’ll find something for me to do. And besides, I’m still of an age, when I can be trained.”

mayer (1) After the war, Mayer returned to Munich and engaged himself in a variety of pastoral work. He started to celebrate Masses at the main railway in Munich. When the archdiocese was concerned about this attempt to celebrate and bring the Eucharist outside of the Church on a regular basis, Mayer responded that we have to take the church to the people and not wait till they come to the church. The first Mass was celebrated at the central railway station on the feast of the Assumption in 1925. The time was 3:10 a.m. (the celebrant was Mayer). The Masses continued until 1937, when the Nazis shut them down. Masses were said at peak travel season at: 3:10, 4:50; 5:15; 5:50; and 6:25 a.m. He celebrated confession after his Masses and these long hours put a physical toll in his body. On one occasion, a lady saw Mayer to be exhausted and pale, and she expressed her concerns. Mayer replied, “It has not only tired me out; it has been a perfect torture.”

During the workweek, Mayer engaged himself in charity work. During the hardest time of the economic depression, he travelled throughout lower Bavaria begging for food and clothing. The basement of the Jesuit parish St. Michael’s church listed that between 1 November 1930 to 1 April 1931 Mayer had collected 18,000 marks’ worth of clothes and food; 35,390 pounds of food; and distributed in alms 34,000 marks.

The rise of Nazism and the Second World War

Mayer was not considered dogmatic, and was considered a gentle listener. Yet when truth was being coopted, he was its fighter. As far back as 1923 he was invited to address a Nazi gathering on the theme: “Can a Catholic be a National Socialist”” As he rose to address them, the crowd warmly applauded him. He began, “I am afraid gentlemen that your applause has come to soon. For my answer to your question can only be a negative one. No. A Catholic cannot be a Nazi.” The applause turned to boos, but Mayer had made his point.

073111 01At the height of attack on religious houses, a Nazi paper had published a sentence: “Whoever casts doubts upon these facts [reflecting on religious houses], counts as an enemy of National Socialism, and we know perfectly well how to deal with him.” The following Sunday morning Mayer took the newspaper into Mass and onto the pulpit, read the sentence slowly, and then said with great emphasis: “And I say this: I cast grave doubts upon them.”

Due to his blunt criticisms of the Nazi regime in his homilies, Rupert Mayer was imprisoned in 1937. From 1937 till 1945 Mayer was either in a concentration camp or in exile outside of Munich. Solitary confinement, rather than withering away his spirit, enabled him an occasion for spiritual maturation. The unintended effect of confinement is revealed in a letter to his mother:

“… one grand thing have all these experiences brought with them. In these last weeks in solitude I believe I have come into far closer contact with God Almighty in my own self and in the same measure I have become more detached and withdrawn from earthly things. So I feel not the very least worry or anxiety about my future. I place all that in God’s good hands. In myself I am completely contented and at peace.”

During the war the Nazis feared that Rupert Mayer would die in a concentration camp and, thus, be seen as a martyr amongst the ordinary Bavarian Catholics. They released him from the concentration camp and exiled him in a Benedictine monastery outside Munich.

When the Americans liberated Munich in May 1945, Mayer gladly returned to his city. Despite failing health, he pressed forth in pastoral work. On Thursday, 1 November 1945, Mayer was saying the 8:00 am Mass in the half-destroyed church of St. Michael. He was never able to finish his short homily. He remained stuck in the middle of the delivery repeating the word three times: “the Lord, the Lord, the Lord.” He leant heavily on the altar and had to be taken from the church. He had a stroke. He died at 11:00 that morning and was buried on 4 November.

a_Mayer_1An obituary in December 1945 read: Father Rupert Mayer, SJ, … one of the earliest Catholic opponents of Hitlerism has died in Munich after a stroke while offering Mass. He was 70. Fr. Mayer, who lost a leg in the first World War, was sent to a concentration camp for a long period for the strong stand he took against Nazi measures restricting freedom of worship. R.I.P.”

[The above details of Rupert Mayer’s life were taken from these two sources: Mary Macken, “Pater Rupert Mayer, SJ” in Irish Quarterly Review, 1946, and John Murray, “An Apostle of the Great City: Father Rupert Mayer, SJ” in Irish Quarterly Review, 1955]

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Two Sisters

Teresa_of_ÁvilaOn this Feast Day of St. Teresa of Jesus, I am reminded that the 16th-century Spanish mystic’s  autobiography was instrumental in the conversion of the philosopher-martyr Edith Stein [St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross]. In this post I share some of Edith Stein’s reflections on the Spanish Carmelite. The passages that I selected underscore that mysticism is firstly not an extraordinary event, but is a relationship of prayerful dialogue with God and the soul. Secondly, this prayerful relationship permits us to see the pro nobis [for us] structure of existence. That the most fundamental form of being is love; that the structure of existence is triune. Thirdly, this relationship goes beyond the intellect and that the basic and utmost communication is from the heart–the seat of freedom.

Selections taken from: Love for Love: Life and Works of St. Teresa of Jesus” in The Collected Works of Edith Stein: the Hidden Life


St Edith Stein in lay clothesPrayer is the communication of the soul with God. God is love, and love is goodness giving itself away. It is a fullness of being that does not want to remain enclosed in itself, but rather to share itself with others, to give itself to them, and to make them happy. All creation exists to thanks to this divine love spending in itself. However, the highest of all creatures are those endowed with spirit, able to receive God’s love with understanding and to return it freely… Prayer is the highest achievement of which the human spirit is capable. But it is not merely a human achievement. Prayer is Jacob’s ladder on which the human spirit ascends to God and God’s grace descends to people…

St. Teresa calls the next stage the prayer of quiet or simplicity. Various activities are replaced by a recollection of spiritual energies. The soul is no longer in a position to reflect intellectually or to make definite decisions; she is completely engaged by something she cannot avoid, the presence of God who is close to her and allows her to rest in him…

Intellect and memory could cease their activity. In this prayer of the quiet, “the will alone is active and, without knowing how, it delivers itself to God like a prisoner for him to chain to himself through his love.”

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John Henry Cardinal Newman and the White Rose

DSC04048 On the Feast Day of John Henry Cardinal Newman it is fitting to remember the anti-Nazi student group–the White Rose. German academics and Newman scholars have argued that the most poignant expression of Newman’s theology materialized amongst a group of young men and women who were studying in Munich during WW II. These students gathered to read banned philosophy and theology works under the guidance of Theodore Haecker, who was responsible for translating Newman’s writings into German. Haecker introduced to them Newman’s theology of conscience, and it has been argued that their anti-Nazi pamphlets carried within them echoes of Newman. Their resistance led to their arrest and subsequent beheading. These young students were martyrs for the truth of conscience.

The students of the White Rose were not the only famous beneficiaries of Haecker’s tutelage on Newman. A young Joseph Ratzinger’s first encounter with Newman came via Haecker.

In this post I share a few excerpts from the letters of Lt. Fritz Hartnagel to his girlfriend– Sophie Scholl, the heroine and heart of the White Rose. Fritz was enlisted in the German military and was sent off to the Eastern Front. Sophie gave Fritz theology books to read in order to convince him to abandon the German military. These letters that I share were written from the Ukraine and Russia.

[translated from Sophie Scholl und Fritz Hartnagel: Damit wir uns nicht verlieren]


… I still read at the moment in my Newman book, above all, about faith, especially faith and reason. It has already revealed much beauty for me, even if I only advance laboriously…

Your Fritz


… Finally, I can sit once again at a table, unpack the ink and fountain pen and with the candlelight in my comfortable tent to write a letter to you in complete silence. Because the [army] advance has faltered at the moment due the strong Russian opposition, we have been sitting for three days in the same place whereby I have at my disposal a little bit more time again. Today after three weeks I come again to my reading, to my Newman. Since I was occupied all this time with quite different and almost opposing activities, I could only take in a few pages, and I took up every line in myself like drop of a drink.

This everyday reading, I notice this just now so clearly, am to me still an indispensable pillar, which preserves me from slipping into the emptiness from which I cannot protect myself from own strength yet…

With love and sincere heart from your Fritz


… Have you already sent to me something to the reading? I would like to have something for work, maybe a Thomas Aquinas, also good history of literature would interest me. You will already find what is right for me. The loss of my books hurts me more than all the other things.

Above all 2 volumes of Newman, my small Augustine and Martin Deutinger of Inger were precious to me.

Warmly your Fritz today

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Diary from the Spiritual Exercises; 9 October 1938

This is the 2nd entry in Alfred Delp’s long retreat diary from tertianship. It is also the 1st entry which mentions the Heart of God. What caught my attention is that he sees the Heart of God to represent the centre of God’s will. Moreover, he speaks of this heart as the fixed point from which one cannot be shaken and from which one can shake others.

[translated from Gesammelte Schriften I: Geistliche Schriften]


Feldkirch, Austria; 9 October 1938

After all the events of my life, I ought to make an honest decision for the Lord.

Will gladly encounter God with the heart. Finally encounter him with total love: that is religion. And as a religious I must abandon myself to the Exercises.

Have a sense for service. Be more responsive to God. Seek and find a personal relationship work and Him.

The uncertainties in my present life–the fear and ignorance–I have put these things too much on myself. I have not been called down and led down into the Heart of God.

sacred_heartThat is our peace and great advantage, if we are at centre of the will of God. Here we have the fixed point, which cannot be shaken and from which we can shake all others.

From my haste and hurry I arrive through a personal conversation with my God. To love Him, to understand Him, and to find myself in Him.

I notice this immediately, as I become more peaceful and relaxed under the nearness of God in this 2nd retreat. As the ancient fluidity of the Spirt again reveals, and I am glad.

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Diary from the Spiritual Exercises; 8 Oct 1938

Tertianship is the final stage of Jesuit formation. A Jesuit is generally invited to begin tertianship several years after ordination or studies. During this time the Jesuit is required to study the foundational documents of the Society of Jesus, to be in ministry with the poor, and to undergo the Spiritual Exercises [30 day silent retreat]. This intense period, which can last between 7 to 9 months, is intended to offer the Jesuit an occasion to examine and to renew his life in the order. At the end of tertianship, a Jesuit is invited to pronounced final vows in the Society of Jesus. St. Ignatius of Loyola called tertianship “the school of the heart”–an opportunity to get in touch with our affect and God’s love for us.

Here is a brother Jesuit’s testimony on his tertianship experience.


In these upcoming posts, I offer you selections from the diary of Alfred Delp while he was making the Spiritual Exercises as a tertian. I will focus my effort on translating the entries that connect with his devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I believe, nonetheless, it is fitting to give the very 1st entry in Delp’s diary.

[translated from Gesammelte Schriften I: Geistliche Schriften]


Feldkirch, Austria; 8 October 1938

God has serious work to do with me and I have serious work to do with him. He must have more worth in my life. I must always stand under his “impression.” This daily examination is an exercise and effort on which I must work.

To pray: to have personally have to deal with God. This must be the end result of the Exercises.

I want therefore to pray, that I have the joy of God. That my heart feels free and joyful before him and not so much burden and anxiety.

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Heart of Jesus–Infinite Majesty

This concludes Alfred Delp’s prison memoirs on the devotion to the Sacred Heart, in particular the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He never finished the meditations on the invocations, because the 1st Sunday of Advent was presumably upon him. As a result, he switched his focus onto the meaning and portent of Advent. One can find his prison meditations on Advent here and here.

It has been a challenge to get into Delp’s heart and mind on the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The roughness of his words were born and written in solitary confinement in an unheated prison cell. In some ways, Delp’s difficult message to a violent world is no different from his Protestant contemporary–Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

After this I will take a step back, go to Alfred Delp’s “earlier” Jesuit days, and translate his dairy while he underwent the Spiritual Exercises as a tertian. When Delp entered the last stage of Jesuit formation, the young priest rediscovered his love for the devotion of the Sacred Heart. An encounter that arguably prepared him for his arrest, imprisonment, and execution.

[translated from Alfred Delp: Gesammelte Schriften IV: Aus dem Gefängnis]


Berlin-Tegel Prison, late November 1944

The Heart of Jesus–Infinite Majesty

It suffices to continue what has been said earlier. The statement of this invocation is a kind of result of previous statements. By the same token, a breathing after the first astonishing encounter and an astonishing realization of the value, of the dignity, of the abundance what one has just met.

One has to, however, seriously received the words that are used and to let them be exactly as they are: maiestas infinita.

burning bushMaiestas is a relatively comparative word and means the superiority of that from which it is predicated, above all, with which it is compared. This is how the term majesty arose as the highest dignity and power in a place. To begin with, the word means a statement about being and only afterwards about the status, reputation and privileges.

When the word majesty became connected to hereditary there was nothing left other than to lose the grandeur and the dignity from the often miserable person and to have it declared to be a position, an office.

Here a statement of being is definitely meant. This loving heart has a limitless power of love because its reality is maiestas: elevated, superior to everything comparable, for this reason reverentially reserved and commanding of great silence.

Infinita: the comparative meaning is lifted to the absolute, the result of the previous predication on the ontological relationship at God. It is the heart of my God that beats here. Therefore maiestas, therefore infinita maiestas. 

In light of this reality, religious talk falls silent which has so ruined the devotion to the  Heart of Jesus adoration. The minimization and trivialization come to an end on their own, just like ordinary chatter on a real ascent to a mountain where the heights of the peak and the massive seriousness come before the soul. Silent prayer and devout distance are, despite all intimacy, particularly, when it comes to this prayer, the necessary attitudes.

www-St-Takla-org--Moses-Prophet-05-Burning-Bush-CopticFamiliarity with God entails no lack of reverence. We are no longer familiar with the secret life of the devout. But the devout is the only true person. Only he is capable of the immense experiences and benefits of the human heart, of prayer and of love.

The kitschy nature, which annoys many a heart when it comes to the call of mercy in the message of the devotion to the Heart of Jesus obstructs the call of mercy and has ruined so many human echoes, stems from this lack of reverence.

The burning thorn bush in whose proximity one had to remove the shoes is the model and notion of what is meant here. Only those can speak to God who have been silent in front of him in devout genuflection of the Creator.*

*Here the writing terminates.

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Heart of Jesus–Holy Temple of God

Alfred Delp’s reflection on the Litany of the Heart of Jesus now moves on to the invocation Heart of Jesus, holy temple of God, have mercy on us. He understands this as the fourth invocation, though it shows up as the fifth invocation in the contemporary English version.

I must confess that I have been surprised at the density of Delp’s reflections on the devotion to the Sacred Heart. I did not expect someone placed in solitary confinement and with his hands bound to delve into such depth and abstraction.

This post reminds me of recent interpretation on a theme of the Gospel of John. According to Mary L. Coloe, the Johannine community reinterpreted Israel’s Temple traditions firstly in terms of Jesus and eventually in terms of the believing community. In such an interpretation, one can become the “place” where the presence of God dwells–that the words, actions, and bodies of the believers, who have been transformed by the encounter with Christ, can become sacramental.  The last paragraph of Delp’s reflection on this invocation can allude to such essence of the Body of Christ.

[translated from Alfred Delp: Gesammelte Schriften IV: Aus dem Gefängnis]


Berlin-Tegel Prison, November 1944

The Heart of Jesus–Holy Temple of God

This and the following invocations stem from the cultic language of the Old Covenant. It is the expression with which the Temple and through it vouchsafed the special relationship of God to the people of the Covenant. At the same time, it is the expression which we have taken on from there to describe the dignity of our houses of worship and the closeness to God given to us in them.

Everything, which in that model and in our churches, as the fulfillment and the holy legacy of a genuine and effective divine presence, is expressed with apodictic simplicity from the hearts of people of God.1184891_591871764210178_1942977726_n

Objectively speaking this invocation means the same as what is expressed later: in whom dwells all the fullness of the Divinity. But here it is more about the emphasis of the sanctuary, of the sacred place of prayer, more about the emphasis on the centre, which our faith and our love is gathered, more about the emphasis on the divine abundance as such.

Moreover, later in the litany there is a very specific relationship to the spiritual character of the time when God offered his people His heart anew. For our life and our credibility there are two important realizations from this invocation.

The first realization is one of absolute commitment of one’s life to the living Christ. What used to be the temple: the only gathering place for the faithful people – the only place to meet God – the only altar of the valid sacrifice: this is now all in Christ.

The exclusivity of such order brought about in Christ is something we have to say again today against much softening and which we have to stress to ourselves. There is salvation in no other name (Acts 4, 12). Everything that lives, lives before God, lives through Him and because of Him. Even if a person realizes this only very late that he nonetheless drank from this source. This is not intended to be a hardening but rather a security, not a restriction but freedom and only those who are secure are capable of this.

All of the major spiritual undertakings which the human spirit attempted in recent centuries have essentially not advanced humanity. They have mostly loosened a piece of the past and discovered that it is outdated; they have merely forced living claims from history and from people’s sheep-like patience to justify or redeem themselves.

For a while they were a high ideal, for a while a fashion and a catchphrase and an intoxication and then they disappeared into the respective circles of the scholars, into the yearbooks, into the memorial halls of the learned societies (the Kant Society, the Goethe Society and so on) in an effort to obtain a lasting dedication in their Ph.D. theses for their grandchildren.

Christ is the last word of God to the world and a truth can only be sure of itself as being such if it has stood the test of the encounter with Christ. Only then is it too a blessing.

At the same time, this invocation announces to us the replacing of the order of stones by the order of hearts. The new centre of life is not the temple and its rituals. The new fixed point is the heart of the Son of God. The challenging and loving heart of the Lord.

-No new order out of stone or convention or law or human calculation can come between. Even things have to first endure an encounter with the living heart of the Lord before they can offer themselves to the world as a testimony. And there, in this loving atmosphere of the divine heart they are all going to be relativized. They are aids, means not purposes. Their only purpose is to prepare the path for people to meet their God – and not to block the path. This awareness leads many to freedom and should lead many people to humility and the willingness to serve.

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