Joseph Hofer was a Christian who lived in the Christian-pacifist Hutterite Community in Alexandria, South Dakota. Christ’s teachings were for him the Command of God, which called forth obedience. Hence, when the Lord commanded: “Love one another as I have loved you,” or “Love your enemies,” or “Put up your sword,” it was Hofer’s understanding that Jesus intended that His followers were to do what He told them.
THE DAWN-LESS NIGHT BEGINS
On April 6, 1917 the United States declared war on Germany. On April 18, 1917 Cardinal James Gibbons wrote a letter to President Wilson, which was signed by every Catholic Archbishop in the U.S. It is a textbook specimen of how the “blind guides” of Constantinian Christianity have cruelly mislead their Christian people into destruction for the last 1700 years, people who put their trust in them to lead them in the Way of Jesus. It is also prima facie evidence of how utterly irrelevant God Incarnate’s explicit teaching is to the self-perpetuating Constantinian Church breed of Church rulers when the rich and powerful of a society decide that sending others off to kill and be killed is in the interest of the rich and powerful. The letter in part reads: “Mr. President: We are all true Americans…Our people, as ever, will rise as one man to serve the nation…(T)he duty of a citizen is absolute and unreserved obedience to his country’s call.”
CONSTANTINIAN MILITARIZED NATIONALISM DOING WHAT IT ALWAYS DOES
In the early spring of 1918, Joseph Hofer was drafted to kill in the moral debacle and demented hellhole called World War I. In late May of that year, Joseph entered a dawn-less night. He was put on a train for Fort Lewis, Washington, with other conscripted men. The other draftees, displaying the ugly group-think that all nationalisms nurture in their young, found Hofer’s thoughts and appearance all too un-American. So they seized him and gave him what they called an “American” haircut, and then shaved off his beard. Joseph wept.
When he reached the training camp, as a matter of Christian conscience he refused to sign a promise to obey all military commands. He declined to march, and he would not wear a military uniform. After two months, he was court-martialed and sentenced to 37 years in prison. As an act of military mercy to temper military justice, the commanding general reduced Joseph’s sentence to 20 years. He was then sent under armed guard to Alcatraz.
At Alcatraz, his clothes were taken from him, and he was again ordered to put on a military uniform. He again said “No.” He was placed in solitary confinement in a prison cell below sea level where the atmosphere was unbearably cold and damp. No bedding was given, so he had to sleep, when allowed, on the wet floor. He was also seriously beaten during this time.
In November 1918, as the war in Europe came to an end, Joseph was transferred to Fort Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas. On the night of his arrival, he was forced to exercise to the point of a drenching sweat—and then his clothes were taken from him. He waited for hours outside in the cold with no outer clothing. He became critically ill.
His wife, Maria, was informed by telegram of the seriousness of his physical condition. She made her way to Fort Leavenworth. On November 29, 1918, the day after her arrival, Joseph Hofer’s six-month via dolorosa was consummated.
After his death, Maria asked to see her husband’s body. All the guards and officers denied her request. The commanding officer finally relented. When she was taken to his casket, she saw the reason for their refusal. In a gesture of fiendish mockery, the “victorious” military agents of the Government, most of whom were Christians of some denomination, had dressed Joseph’s dead body in a military uniform!
HE DIED FOR CHRIST
By any normal use of the word, Joseph Hofer was a Christian martyr. He died for Christ. He died for his Christian faith. Remove Jesus from Hofer’s life and his torture and murder would not have taken place. Like the early Christians, he was despised because he obeyed God in Jesus rather than men in political power, when the latter issued orders contrary to the teaching so the former.
He died proclaiming with his life what is an orthodox and most ancient Catholic spiritual tradition—the tradition that rejects homicide as compatible with the person and teaching of Jesus. This tradition spans the entire history of the Catholic Church from St. Stephen and St. Francis to Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa.
The Council of Narbonne in 1045, of which Joseph probably never heard, elucidated the spiritual root of this Catholic tradition with the words: “To spill the blood of another Christian is to spill the blood of Christ.” What Joseph Hofer had heard in his conscience were the words of Jesus: “Whatever you do unto the least of my brothers and sisters, you do unto me,” “Obey all that I have commanded you.” So, at incalcuable cost, Joseph chose to suffer and die rather than spill the blood of Christ in World War I. He laid down his life for his friend Jesus Christ, for the Divine authority of Jesus, for the temporal and transcendental truth of Jesus and His teaching and for God’s plan of Eternal redemption and salvation through Jesus.
This man of sorrows took Jesus’ teaching, “If you love me you will keep my commandments,”(Jn.14: 15,21,23; 15:10, etc.), with utter temporal and eternal seriousness. He struggled unto an Auschwitz-like death to “Obey all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:20). Of cardinal importance here is that Joseph Hofer sought neither power nor influence, nor did he seek to influence power—civil or ecclesiastical. He sought only to obey Jesus Christ. Like St. Therese of Lisieux, his obedience, in the face of a secular and Christian world that violently rejected the clear teaching of Jesus, was motivated exclusively by faith-full love of Jesus who said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
This obedience to “all that I have commanded you” is an area of primal spiritual significance in and of itself. It also is an area that has planted within it mustard seeds with the power to produce sweeping and historic changes for the good of the Church and through the Church for all humanity. The Constantinian Churches are in dreadful need of a public examination of consciousness and conscience on the spiritual indispensability of obedience to the explicit teachings of Jesus, and of the chosen indifference to those teachings in the life of the Churches and in the life of most Constantinian Christians, who claim salvation through Jesus Christ and/or who claim that Jesus is the Word (logos) of God Incarnate. The blasé attitude which the Constantinian Churches have adopted towards this all encompassing command of Jesus, substituting their own commands to obey human traditions of their own making, is soul freezing, if they believe that what is being spoken by Jesus is being spoken by God Incarnate.
In a little book which many (including this author) consider the finest piece of Christian spiritual writing outside the New Testament, Abandonment to Divine Providence [John Beevers’ translation], Jean-Pierre Caussade, S.J. (c. 1675) carves away all the paraphernalia of Christian religiosity to bare the kernel of Gospel sanctity:
“If the business of becoming holy seems to present insufferable difficulties, it is merely because we have a wrong idea about it. In reality, holiness consists in one thing only: complete loyalty to God’s will.”
And, Who is the ultimate and definitive revealer of God and God’s will to humanity for the Christian? It is God Incarnate, Jesus Christ. The one whom the Church calls “the greatest saint of modern times” and who was made one of the three women Doctors of the Church—St. Therese of Lisieux—sings of this primal truth in her poem, My Arms:
The Angel cried, from out eternal light:
“Command of God—No! I will not obey!”
But I repeat from earth’s obscuring night,
“Always and everywhere, I will obey.”
TO OBEY OR NOT TO OBEY
The Churches’ refusal to accept and to teach Jesus’ repudiation of homicidal violence and enmity is not now, nor has it ever been, due to Jesus’ inability to clearly speak His mind on the subject. “Teacher” is the most used title for Jesus in the Gospels. He is the master Teacher of history, the very Word of God. The momentous issue that confronts the Constantinian Churches in this moment and during each year of their 1700 years of operationally dismissing Jesus’ rejection of homicidal violence and enmity is nothing less than the krisis-choice that faced the Angel, St. Therese, Joseph Hofer and Jesus in Gethsemane: To obey or not to obey the will of God.
How long, O Lord, how long?