Today is the anniversary of the execution of Sophie Scholl, the young German woman who with her brother Hans and other brave souls formed the White Rose group to defy Hitler and Nazism during the Second World War. She was guillotined on the 22nd February 1943 after a mockery of a trial for her treason against the German people, in reality - her refusal to cooperate with the Nazi regime.
She and the other members of the group simply wrote about what was happening. In letters sent all over Germany they told the people of Germany what Hitler and his minions were doing, what they stood for and why it was wrong. It was a simple resistance, highly organised and effective, but given the dangers, very risky. Sophie and her companions were in no doubt as to the consequences of their actions should they get caught. However, their commitment to the truth outweighed the dangers, they were ready to lay down their lives for the truth.
In recent years it has been revealed that Sophie was hugely influenced by Blessed John Henry Newman and her work for the White Rose was motivated by her devout Christian faith. It seems she was preparing to be received into the Catholic Church: she had been brought up Lutheran. Apparently as she was awaiting the sentence of death to be carried out she and her brother had requested to see a Catholic priest intending to be received before they were executed. However, she was dissuaded by a Lutheran chaplain who told her that it would destroy her mother, a devout Lutheran: not only had the woman to deal with the death of her children, but knowing that they had left Lutheranism just before their death would have been too much for her. With filial devotion Sophie and Hans didn't take the step. If they had converted there may well have been a chance that Sophie at least might have been beatified by now since her death almost certainly constituted martyrdom given that her work was motivated by her Christian faith. If that had happened today might have been her feast day.
However, today is her dies natalis. Like the Coptic martyrs, we Catholics must also acknowledge the heroic witness of fellow Christians, as did Pope Francis in his speaking about those pious Egyptian men martyred for Christ by ISIS. The Holy Father has spoken of an "ecumenism of blood" uniting us, and that is true. Regardless of their Christian denomination, if a person sincerely lays down their life for Christ, even those not in the fullness of the truth, they are martyrs for having offered the greatest sacrifice of all for Christ. Remember martyrdom wipes out all sin, it surely wipes out all error too. In Christ's eyes, when he sees the soul of one who freely accepted death rather than deny him, he sees the witness of love.
That said, as I have wondered before, in Sophie's case, if it is possible to prove her intention of entering the Church could we put her forward for beatification: we have martyr Saints (St Genesius among them) who were not baptised but their martyrdom was a baptism in blood, and we also have incidents of baptism by desire: would it be possible to see Sophie in similar terms in regard to her desire and her martyrdom? Just wondering.
Sophie's stand reminds me of the work of many today. She died because she was telling the truth, she and her companions were informing Germans about what lay behind the regime and how the war was going - badly for Nazi Germany. Today we have men and women who are also telling truth about many things and they too are being persecuted for it. Members of the Iona Institute in Ireland here come to mind. David Quinn and Breda O'Brien are two fine people of faith who seriously reflect on where Ireland is going, and using verifiable, empirical evidence, show that the path we are taking will ultimately be disastrous not just for individuals but for our people as a whole. For this they are attacked, pilloried, they even get death threats on a regular basis. The media treat them aggressively, totally unwilling to listen objectively to what they and their colleagues have to say. Like John the Baptist they are crying in the wilderness and no one wants to listen. They will be proved right because they are drawing on what has happened in other countries, places where our permissive citizens's ideological comrades are now in denial, throwing oil on the fire they have caused thinking it will quench the flames.
Perhaps today we might pray for those who tell the truth in our midst and suffer for it. Like Sophie they have weighed up the consequences and have decided that service to the truth outweighs the dangers. That is real courage.