Rupert Mayer: A Profile in Courage and Commitment

“Rupert Mayer – who?” Many would perhaps not have heard of this great Jesuit – who had the courage to take on Hitler and the Nazi regime at the height of their power!

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Born in 1876, into a well-to-do family of Stuttgart, Germany, Rupert joined the Jesuits as a Diocesan Priest in 1900. The Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius Loyola influenced him greatly. He writes “now I know my purpose, and the next step is to translate my conviction into action and to put all possible effort into educating myself for my calling.”

He was a Jesuit ‘par excellence’ totally committed to the tasks entrusted to him. He suffered a lot but he never complained about the pain he went through. He was a brilliant speaker and a prolific writer who used both the pulpit and the pen very effectively to speak truth to power.

Long before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was promulgated; Rupert Mayer was passionate about the rights of all particularly when the Nazi regime denied the ordinary people freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

In 1923, he accepted an invitation to address a fledgling group of national socialists on the theme ‘Can a Catholic be a national socialist?’ He accepted the invitation as a challenge totally prepared to go into a den of lions. Those who invited him felt that they had an easy victim so when he stood up to address them, the huge crowd gave him a tremendous applause. Mayer began “I am afraid, gentlemen that your applause has come a little too soon. My answer to your question can only be a negative one: NO! A Catholic cannot be a Nazi!” The early ‘applause’ of the crowd turned to ‘boos’ but Rupert Mayer had made his point!

Throughout his life, he was a strong and blunt critic of the Nazi regime. The Nazis did not take his criticism lightly and he was imprisoned from 1937 till 1945 – either in a concentration camp or in exile outside Munich. The solitary confinement did not break his spirit. It was an occasion to deepen his spirituality. This is evident in a letter which he wrote to his mother “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come into far closer contact with God Almighty in my own self and in the same measure I have become more detached and withdrawn from earthly things.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 least worry or anxiety about my future. I place all that in God’s good hands. In myself I am completely contended and at peace.”

Though Mayer suffered greatly at the hands of the Nazi regime, he did not compromise. His resolute courage also earned him the admiration of his detractors; so much so that they were afraid to allow him to die a martyr’s death in a concentration camp and sent him to live in exile in a monastery at the fag-end of his life.

The courage and commitment of Mayer is epitomized in this prayer which he wrote in 1941 and sent to a nun with the following addendum written by hand: “This pray brought me much comfort in most difficult times. I hope that it will give you also some joy”.

Lord, as you will, so let it be for me; And as you will, so will I walk that road;
Help me only to know your will!

Lord whenever you will, then is the time; And whenever you will, then I am ready,
today and always.

Lord, whatever you will, that I accept, And whatever you will, is gain for me;
Enough, that I belong to you.

Lord, because you will it, it is good; And because you will it, I have courage,
My heart rests safely in your hands!

As we celebrate the memory of Rupert Mayer on November 3rd, let us pray that in some small way each one of us, emulate his courage and his commitment.

*(Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace.)

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