Feast of Max Josef Metzger (April 17)   Leave a comment

Above:  Max Josef Metzger

Image in the Public Domain

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MAX JOSEF METZGER (FEBRUARY 3, 1887-APRIL 17, 1944)

Roman Catholic Priest and Martyr

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It is honorable to die for one’s country, but still more honorable to die for righteousness and peace.

–Max Josef Metzger

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Father Metzger comes to my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days via Robert Ellsberg, author of All Saints:  Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (New York, NY:  The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997).

Max Josef Metzter, born in the German village of Schopfheim on February 3, 1887, discerned his priestly vocation at an early age.  He, ordained the priesthood in 1911, served as an army chaplain in 1914-1915, leaving military service during World War I due to ill health.  The lasting effect of the Great War upon our saint was to transform him into a pacifist.  He devoted the rest of his life to the cause of peace and disarmament, among other causes.  He worked with the White Cross, a mission to the downtrodden.  Our saint also founded the World Peace League as well as the World Congress of Christ, an ecumenical peace movement.  He was also a pioneering ecumenist, for he promoted Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue and reconciliation.

Metzger opposed Nazism from the beginning.  The Gestapo asserted him several times, the final time being in June 1943.  His specific offense was to write foreign bishops to ask them to help secure a negotiated settlement of the war.  The courier, unfortunately, was an agent of the Gestapo.  Metzger, convicted of treason, went to his fate (martyrdom via beheading) on April 17, 1944.  His final spoken prayer was

Now, Lord Jesus, I come.

Our saint was 57 years old.

The example of Father Metzger raises some challenging issues.  As Voltaire reminds us down the corridors of time,

It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.

Likewise, to quote The Use of Force in International Affairs (1961),

If what your country is doing seems to you practically and morally wrong, dissent is the highest form of patriotism.

I rank Metzger among the German patriots.  Patriotism does not necessarily entail supporting the government or the administration.  This is especially true when the government is a genocidal dictatorship.

To praise those who resisted the Third Reich is easy in North America in 2017.  After all, finding someone, regardless of political affiliation, who looks upon Nazi Germany with moral revulsion is a simple task.  More challenging is to ask how one, if one had been in Nazi jurisdiction at the time, would have acted.  One might hope that one would have had the moral courage to resist the Third Reich, but one might be inaccurate.  How easy is it after all, to go along and get along, to keep one’s head down and be passive?  Yet, as the late Howard Zinn reminded us, one cannot be neutral on a moving train.

Father Metzger took a moral stand and paid the ultimate price.  His conscience did not permit him to attempt to be neutral on a moving train.  Many of us are so fortunate as not to have to take such risks.  Others, however, must, due to their circumstances, make such decisions.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 4, 2017 COMMON ERA

INDEPENDENCE DAY (U.S.A.)

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Holy and righteous God, you created is in your image.

Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression.

Help us, like your servant Max Josef Metzger,

to work for justice among people and nations,

to the glory of your name, through Jesus Christ,

our Saviour and Lord, who lives and reigns with you

and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-15

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60

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