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With Arnold Janssen in the School of the Cross: Experience of the Cross in the Service of Others

Author: Igor Kral, SVD
Subject: Arnold Janssen
Language: English, Spanish
Publisher: VivatDeus.org
Year: 2023

(Excerpt from the article: “Verbum SVD”, 2017, vol. 58, p. 222-248)

“It remains valid: In Cruce Salus – Salvation in the Cross! How many times I’ve experienced this!”  (A. Janssen to J. Freinademetz, 1902).

In the 464 letters of Arnold Janssen addressed to China this expression is mentioned repeatedly. It is often reinforced by expressions such as „Per Crucem ad lucem” (Through the cross to the light!) and „Post nubila Phoebus” (After clouds, sun!). In Arnold’s Easter faith, he looked towards the future with hope and confidence. He believed that from a field of ruins a fruitful field would come forth, more flourishing than before (Letter to Henninghaus, 1897). He did not doubt that the drops of sweat would work to the advantage of the mission (Letter to Freinademetz, 1897) and that beautiful roses would grow out of the thorns of sufferings (Letter to all confreres, 1892). Referring to the Bible (Rev 7:14), he encouraged others with his hopes that the Lord would follow the sufferings with his blessing. That is why he was not afraid to refer to the word “grace” both for successes and problems. In this perspective, robbery and threats by enemies can be considered as reasons for both condolence and congratulation (Letter to Anzer, 1884). The presence of the Lord and the power of the Spirit are also the reasons to live a life without preoccupation in the midst of many enemies.

At the end of January 1885 Arnold Janssen wrote to Joseph Freinademetz, who assumed the position of superior in Anzer’s absence, to encourage him that the time of persecutions and service would bring confirmation of this truth of Easter faith:

„The greater the distress, so much the greater will be the light and the strength! Just keep on courageously hoping in the Lord! It is impossible for him to abandon those who trust in him. Don’t ask the Lord to keep you free of suffering; for all good is rooted in suffering; and all joy comes forth from pain. So when there is a storm all around you, don’t give up. In every howling storm and tempest, we see only wind and rain and privation; we see no sun. But the storm passes by, the winds calm down, the clouds open up and the warm sun shines again onto the newly fertilized earth. That is how it will turn out for you, too. ‚They went along weeping, since they had sown their seeds; but they will return rejoicing and carrying their sheaves’ (Ps 126: 6). So stand up in the storm like an oak, and strengthen your confreres”.

In 1887, when the persecution of Christians and Europeans was growing more intense, he explained to Anzer his belief that enemies could only do as much harm as the Lord allows, not a hairbreadth more, and at the end of all the noise, the victory would belong to the Lord. The stronger the wind blows, the deeper will the sapling of Christianity sink its roots.

“We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8: 28). The content of this gospel truth is repeated like a refrain in almost every letter. Even the evil that God allows can serve for our good if we honor him in the right way. For example, according to Arnold Janssen the very serious problems with the bishop, who was at the same time the provincial of their Chinese mission (J.B. Anzer), the other problems in the first mission of the Divine Word missionaries and everything that happened there could serve to shape the rule of the young Society and to establish relationships between the ecclesiastical hierarchy and religious in the future (Letters 173 and 180 to Freinademetz).

Furthermore, sins, defects, evil tendencies are weights to bear and to confront both for the person himself and for others. Despite these burdens, Arnold Janssen saw in them an opportunity of inner growth, improvement, purification and sanctification. We see it clearly in his communication with Bishop Anzer. Being the Superior General, Arnold Janssen assured Anzer that the sins of others could also become useful and he could take advantage of them. He believed that God in His great wisdom and love could let situations and difficulties come upon a man in order to build his character, to teach him patience, and perfect his inner man. Sin can become an occasion of personal improvement and the one currently failing can later be a support and staff for others, so that they do not fall into the same pit.

Even the reality of death can serve for the good of man. After the unexpected death of Bishop Anzer, which caused great suffering for many, Arnold exhorted the confreres to learn from his death so as to bring death into their minds and be ready for the encounter with the Lord in every moment of their lives (Letter to all confreres, 1903). Even the death of the four brothers, who died very young, led him to think about the end of our lives, trying to make use of the time granted us to fight like true warriors in the vineyard of the Lord (Letter to Anzer, 1893).

In his thoughts there is always a reward for the labors of faith on the day of final judgment. All the efforts and all the sacrifices in the service of the mission and the Society are written in the Book of Life and nothing will remain unrewarded. When the Provincial and Provicar Joseph Freinademetz died of typhoid fever on January 28, 1908, Arnold sent a letter of condolences to Bishop Henninghaus:

The good and zealous Father Freinademetz who made hundreds of thousands of sacrifices, great and small, for the Society and the mission and was a shining example for all, has been ripped off by typhoid fever. I was about to write: is no longer in the land of the living, but it would be better to say that he was transferred from the land of pilgrimage and the valley of tears into the land of the living and the peace and joy of the saints in heaven. Of course, we are convinced that he was mature for heaven and there-in communion with all the saints-he will be a mediator for the mission and the Society. Let us console ourselves, kissing the hand of almighty God, that hit us with a blow so hard and let us say with Job: “the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1: 21).

Cross, sufferings, persecution, diseases, weaknesses, conflicts and even death are marked by his faith in the resurrection and in the ultimate triumph of the Redeemer. For this he considered it right to thank God for all, the good and the bad, and to carry the cross with patience and joy, hoping for the help of the Lord and his final victory. The invocation „The name of the Lord be praised also in cross and suffering!” was not only a phrase for the holy Founder but his firm belief as well.



2 responses

  1. Muy buena reflexión. La invocación “¡El nombre del Señor sea alabado también en la cruz y en el sufrimiento!” no era sólo una frase para el santo Fundador, sino también su firme creencia” .El sabio Fundador ya sabía que contemplar a Jesús La Cruz es profundizar el tema del sufrimiento cristiano. Creo que muchos de sus hijas e hijos sin “la cruz”. También es una invitación para dejar nuestro egoísmo e indiferencia.

    Pretender un Evangelio sin Cruz nos impide entender el valor redentor del sufrimiento. La cruz de Cristo es la verdadera zarza que arde sin consumirse. En Jesús crucificado se nos muestra el amor de Dios.

    La curación llega sólo mirando la cruz – Papa Francisco.

  2. Que buena reflexión
    Tan visionario San Arnoldo q nos deja hasta nuestros días la fuerza del amor a través de la Cruz
    Por la Cruz a la luz… muchas gracias
    A vivir nuevamente esta Semana Santa tocando nuestros dolores para salir victoriosos y llevar nuestra misión 🙌🏼

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