Homily for the Beatification of Sr. Sára Salkaházi
Budapest, St. Stephen Basilica, September 17, 2006
(Is 50,5-9a; Jas 2,14-18; Mk 8,27-35)
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
1. „Hallowed be your name!” – this is the first petition we make in the most important prayer, the ’Our Father,’ the prayer Jesus himself has taught us. The sanctification of God’s name constitutes our utmost desire and request. In some instances the fulfillment of this request may require of us a high price for doing God’s will: our own life. Reading the rest of the Our Father prayer with this in mind, we will understand more clearly what the sanctification of God’s name implies. „Your kingdom come!” – meaning that God’s reign has to come into our lives; God’s will has to become visible in the life of the individuals and of the community both in this world and in the one to come. The one who loves me will keep my commandments, says Jesus. When in the Our Father we pray that God’s will be done, we make a big commitment: namely that we ourselves will do everything to follow God’s will.
In the letter of the apostle James we have just read: „What good is it if someone says he has faith but does not have works? …faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Our Christian faith urges us to put the love of our neighbor into practice. This love may require work, charity, generous giving - whether of goods, or of our attention, or care. It may also require what we used to refer to as mortification; i.e. to freely give up something we would like to do, something we would consider delightful, useful, entertaining, or even necessary for ourselves.
But sometimes following God’s will would also bring suffering. Today we read in Isaiah: „The Lord has opened my ears and I have not rebelled, have not turned back. I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard. My face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.” The words of the gospel are meant in this dramatic context. Free from his contemporaries’ expectations, Jesus announces who he really is. And we are left with the task to learn from him. We have to accept and learn his way and lead our lives accordingly. If we say that we have accepted him, that we too, are his disciples, then we can no longer follow the way we think it is his. Rather we have to contemplate the person of Jesus, pondering over and over what his way is, and seeking what he really is asking of us. And we might find it not so very attractive; it might not be the way we would have liked to choose for ourselves. It may turn out to be more difficult than what we had expected; however, if we recognize that this is the way he calls us to follow, we would be able to persevere on it with joy. Jesus says: „Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me! For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”
2. Today at this mass, according to the decree of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI we proclaim Sára Salkaházi, Sister of Social Service blessed; and as we do so, in her person we gain an example as well as an intercessor.
In her we have an example of witnessing for Christ – for this is the original meaning of Christian martyrdom. This witnessing is at the same time sanctifying God’s name; it becomes manifest in the many deeds of her life, but first and foremost, and in the strict sense of the word it is accomplished in the death she accepts for her faith in and faithfulness to Christ. Sára Salkaházi was an intelligent and talented woman, open minded and seeking for deeper meanings. She obtained a degree in education and she tried her talents in journalism, in literature and politics. She felt a special call to dedicate her life to the service of those in need. Therefore she embraced the call to religious life and entered the Society of the Sisters of Social Service, a community that represented the most modern form of consecrated life in the 20s and 30s. As a journalist and community organizer she intended to help the poorest of the poor; besides organizing soup kitchens, she dedicated special attention to the dignity of women, empathizing with the difficulties they had to face. Sr. Sara’s Christian vision recognized how the burdens of work, family and society were weighing down working class women who raised their children in poverty. Sr. Sara also dedicated herself to the education of young women; she founded the Catholic Women’s movement. She took her first vows in 1930 but she was allowed to final vows only ten years later. She also felt a call to mission, not only to the people who were far from God, but also to the ones of faraway countries. Thus she accepted the invitation to go to Brazil. This however, could never materialize. The needs and sufferings of her own country demanded more and more of her attention. She worked in many different regions, including Sub-Carpathia with its extremely difficult circumstances.
Meanwhile she felt a deepening desire to offer her life as a sacrifice to God. She made this offering in 1943 in a prayer, the text of which we still have today. She wanted to offer herself as the sacrifice of the Society in case persecution of the Church, of the Society and of the Sisters may come to pass. Such a life offering is a very dramatic moment of the soul in its relationship with God. We can see in the example of many saints that God was personally involved in their lives; God listens to us and if it is in accordance with his love and wisdom, he grants what we ask for and accepts our offerings. Her love for Christ urged Sr. Sara to welcome and shelter those who were persecuted for their political views or because they were Jewish. Had she done this out of simple empathy, it would still deserve our respect. She however, did so following what Christ taught to be the most important commandment in the law: “Love the Lord, your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second commandment is similar: love your neighbor as yourself!” She was not a lone follower of this love. Along with other remarkable people like Blessed Vilmos Apor, Cardinal Mindszenty, and above all with her superior, Sr. Margit Slachta and the other Sisters of Social Service she took the risk of protecting the persecuted. Many other houses of the Society of the Sisters of Social Service served as hiding places. In their house in Kolozsvar/Cluj five persecuted women were dressed into the sisters’ uniform and in the mother house Sr. Margit Slachta was sheltering many people, even men who often had to hide in the attic or in closets. These were days of fear; fear that evoked long cries in those who survived even decades later. And they were days of fear for the risk taking sisters as well. Sr. Sara and her sisters were not among the persecuted, but their activities were filled with dangers. That is why Sr. Sara was worried for the sisters and this might have been part of the reasons why she had offered her life for the Society. She might also have considered the news that came from the Soviet Union about the torture and massacre of priests and religious.
The Decree of the Holy See says rightly about Sr. Sara that she was killed as Christ’s faithful disciple: she witnessed to her faith with her life. When on December 27, 1944 she was shot into the Danube along with the catechist, Vilma Bernovits and the people she was hiding in the home at Bokreta Street, Sr. Sara welcomed the bullets of her executioners with the sign of the cross she had traced solemnly on herself. She used to instruct young women not to make the sign of the cross hurriedly or sluggishly; rather they should put on the crucified Christ when they make the sign of the cross, identifying with the One, of whom this sign is supposed to remind them.
3. Sara Salkahazi’s witness and martyrdom has a timely message for us today. Its message is not a sensational one, nor is it a headline appealing to the eyes. It is a more profound message revealing the roots of our created humanity. When on that mundane, grey and slushy winter evening death took Sr. Sara away, silence fell over her memory. Her place was left empty. The news was whispered around that she too, was shot into the Danube. First among her sisters and later among others the realization slowly took shape: she then is a martyr! History went on and another era followed with other kinds of fear. There was no possibility to start a beatification process from Hungary. However, more and more evidence surfaced from the silence, and words of gratitude and appreciation followed, becoming stronger and stronger. Her name appeared on the list of the righteous ones and in 1996 the process of her beatification was started in the Esztergom-Budapest diocese. We initiated her beatification because even after fifty years her memory lived on and we felt it timely to gain in her person someone whose intercessions we can ask for and someone whose authentic example we can follow. Her example is not one that comes to us from the legends of the distant past or from the ranks of a royal or aristocratic family. She is close to us, and her example is within our reach. She is someone of modest circumstances, who lived through the storms of the 20th century Hungarian history and she gave us an example of the feminine way to holiness.
We need Sr. Sara’s example especially in this jubilee year. We have been praying for the spiritual renewal of our nation in the spirit of penance and reconciliation. Such renewal is only possible in truth, justice, and love, and in a spirit that respects the human person in the weak and the poor, and recognizes human dignity as the greatest value of human society. Renewal and reconciliation is needed not just within our society but among all peoples here in Central Europe as well as throughout the whole world. Our Catholic faith is our guide and resource. If we follow Christ unreservedly, our lives will enrich our neighbors, our nation and the entire world. In the saints the face of Christ is shining on us in the many different life situations and in all the events of the history. Men, women, young and old, children of all races and nations can carry the face of Christ. And Christ’s presence brings peace, hope and joy to the world; the promise and the token of eternal life and glory.
Our Lady of Hungary, pray for us! Blessed martyr Sára Salkaházi, pray for us! Our Heavenly Father, hallowed be your name! Amen.