In the year 590, Pope St. Gregory the Great said that a good and holy bishop ought to be “an example of good living who already lives spiritually, dying to all passions of the flesh; who disregards worldly prosperity; who is afraid of no adversity; who desires only inward wealth; whose intention the body, in good accord with it, thwarts not at all by its frailness, nor the spirit greatly by its disdain: one who is not led to covet the things of others, but gives freely of his own.”
Pope St. Gregory the Great said that a bishop should approach his vocation with humility, with reverence for the Lord, and for the task to which he is called. A bishop, he said, must be truthful, courageous, merciful, and honest. He must place the salvation of souls—especially those entrusted to his care—as his highest goal.
In the 1930s and 1940s, in Germany, Blessed Clemens August Graf von Galen served as the Bishop of Münster, Germany. As the Nazi party rose to power, Bishop Von Galen resisted their tyranny. When the Nazis began to seize the property of religious orders, and arrest priests, and undermine the faith, Bishop von Galen resisted—boldly and publicly when necessary, and with savvy, prudence, and wisdom.
He began to publish pamphlets denouncing National Socialism. He assisted those fleeing the Nazis. He called his country to reject the falsehoods of Satan, and, with charity, he aided all those subject to persecution.
Nazi exterminations began with the mentally ill and the intellectually disabled, especially with children. Their systematic euthanasia took place in secret. But Bishop von Galen gathered information about their work, and he became among the first public figures to expose the profound inhumanity of the Nazi regime. He did so with the truth on his side, but at great personal peril.
In 1941 Bishop von Galen began preaching more fervently on the dignity of all human life. Regarding the extermination of the disabled, he preached that “we are concerned with men and women, our fellow human beings, our brothers and sisters! Poor human beings, ill human beings, they are unproductive if you will. But does that mean they have lost the right to live? Have you, have I, the right to live only so long as we are productive, so long as we are regarded by others as productive? … Woe to mankind—woe to our German people—if the Divine Commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ which God our Creator wrote into man’s conscience from the beginning, if this Commandment is not merely violated but this violation is tolerated and remains unpunished!’”
Many German bishops were unwilling to publicly oppose the Nazi regime. Bishop Von Galen was often alone and always in danger of arrest. But he preached the truth, and his preaching saved lives.
Today, Blessed Bishop Von Galen is remembered as the “Lion of Münster.”
At the beginning of next month, we will celebrate the 80th birthday of my predecessor, Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz. Bishop Bruskewitz is a man of humility, holiness, and charity. And like the “Lion of Münster,” he is a man of courage.
From the time I was a young priest, I have been an admirer of Bishop Bruskewitz. He has spent his entire ministry proclaiming the dignity of human life, the Gospel, and the grace of redemption in Jesus Christ. He does not seek popularity, or fortune, or esteem—Bishop Bruskewitz seeks only to proclaim the truth.
Our diocese is blessed because of his leadership. He has ensured strong Catholic formation in our schools. He has ensured the presence of beautiful and holy worship. He has supported our seminarians—even founding St. Gregory the Great Seminary—and supported our religious communities.
Above all, Bishop Bruskewitz has told the truth. At times, he has done so, like Bishop von Galen, all alone. At times, he has inspired others to do the same. I have no doubt that his ministry has played a critical role in the salvation of thousands and thousands of souls.
He is a holy man. He is man of keen intellect. He is, I am fortunate to say, my friend. As we celebrate his momentous birthday, I ask you to join me in prayer for Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz—the charitable, fearless, and holy “Lion of Lincoln.”
Editor’s Note: Please click here for more birthday tributes to Bishop Bruskewitz.