Witness: Blessed Kaspar Stanggassinger – “I can, I want to, and I have to become a saint”
“I can, I want to, and I have to become a saint” – Those are words of blessed Kaspar Stanggassinger, which he often expressed during his lifetime; he was governed by them, and he brought them into action. Blessed Kaspar, whose memorial we observed on September 26, was born in the picturesque alpine town of Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, on September 12, 1871. He was the second child out of 16 born to Kaspar and Krescencja, his parents. The family was very large, devoted to prayer, everyday work, service to their relatives, and also those with whom they lived in the parish and society. Was this family perfect? No. Obviously there was prayer everyday, mutual respect, work, and the worship of God in this family, but there were also weaknesses – for example, Kaspar’s father was often absent from home and abused alcohol. His mother was an illegitimate child. Kaspar wasn’t perfect either; as a child he was a bit lazy in terms of learning. However, we can certainly say that he was striving to implement that motto “I can, I want to, and I have to become a saint” every day.
I had a great desire to go to visit places connected with the life and work of our blessed confrere. This desire came true, when I first returned from the mission in Bolivia for holidays. Then, with my confrere Fr Kazimierz, we went to visit our friends in Germany. Then I could visit Gars as well. I prayed at the relics of Kaspar there, and I obtained relics of the blessed that I always carry with me. The picture that is in the background, was painted for me in Tupiza in Bolivia, by a young artist from our parish, who has subsequently died. I wanted this painting to accompany me. In the year 2000, just after the visit in Gars, when I returned to Bolivia, my Provincial superior, Fr Gerard Weisbeck, asked me to become the student prefect at our seminary in Santa Cruz.
Speaking of blessed Kaspar, I would like to refer to some of his thoughts. As we know, Kaspar really wanted to move to Brazil after his ordination, to become a missionary and preach plentiful Redemption. However, his superiors assigned him to serve as a tutor – firstly he was deputy director of the Juvenate in Dürrnberg, and later he was appointed director of the Juvenate in Gars. He led young people to faithfulness to their priestly and religious vocation. In his spiritual journal we can read his reflection and decisions, of pre-ordination retreat, that he experienced from 6th to 15th June. There he noted that: “The only motive that induces me to take holy orders, is God’s glory and the salvation of souls”. That was the goal of his life, as a priest, as a Redemptorist. How did he seek to accomplish this goal? He wrote: “To achieve this goal, I’m relying completely on God’s holy will, conveyed to me by my superiors.” – that is obedience. In his superiors, our beatus discerns Jesus Christ Himself, and he knows that only with obedience will he be able to achieve that goal – that God may be glorified, and people may be redeemed. He doesn’t care about praises from people. He wants only God’s glory. He also says in his journal, that as a priest, he will always give priority to the poor, simple, humble people, both in hearing their confessions, and preaching the Gospel. Why? To lead them to the Kingdom of Heaven. In his sermons he sought to avoid vanity, but to preach the Word of God, not himself. He prepared sermons with prayer, often before the Blessed Sacrament.
As I said, the main service in his short life was bringing up boys in the Juvenate. How did he understand upbringing? He believed that it should be comprehensive, that means it should cover the mental, intellectual, moral, and religious fields. Upbringing means much more than teaching, and transfer of knowledge. Building emotional maturity is just as important as formation of mind and heart. We know that upbringing is very important. The well-formed and integrated man, as blessed Kaspar said, will fully respond to God’s calling, and as a shepherd he will serve his people. His whole upbringing should be steeped in the practice of true religion. God’s fullness of revelation should permeate all layers of human life. Four key words are repeated regularly in his notes: love, respect, freedom, joy.
Love. He believed, and made clear in his actions, that you must love everyone equally, and have no preferences. He strove to love all his students as they were, not as they should be. Of course, he was loved by the youth. He used to say: “dedicating oneself to the work of upbringing, we must have inexhaustible supplies of leniency, patience and commitment.” These are features, that every tutor should have.
Respect. The forming and development of a man is only perfecting him in accordance with the plan outlined by God’s providence.
The tutor should study the reality of grace and nature, to take them into account, because education is the work of infinite variety. “Nothing is more harmful and dangerous than throwing pupils into one crucible, and treating them all as one smelts iron” – stated blessed Kaspar. Respect is the basic law of every educator.
When it comes to freedom, it is also necessary to respect and honour liberty. “With holy fear” said Kaspar, “you should protect the freedom of the child”. The child is a free, moral and rational being – and you should remember that. You cannot bring a child up without and against his will. He used to say to his pupils: “God wants from us nothing that is forced and imposed by force, but He wants what is wanted, chosen and made because of love”. His understanding of education was all about freedom, based on truth about the nature of man, God and the world.
Joy. Blessed Kaspar understood the importance of joy in his method of nurturing young men. One of his students said: “He never wanted to see sad faces. Students of the Juvenate should be cheerful, alive, as long as they don’t frolic”. He was totally committed to his pupils, and the task entrusted to him. He cared not only about religious formation, strengthening their faith, but also about their physical condition. As an avid tourist who had been hiking in the mountains since childhood, he also encouraged this and travelled in the mountains with the boys: either in Dürrnberg or to Gars to his family house, where they were welcomed by his siblings and parents.
Kasper had no special tools or techniques to become saint. He lived the same charism as every Redemptorist. He was inspired by same writings of Saint Alphonsus as we are. He nourished himself with the Body and Blood of Christ, he used the sacrament of reconciliation, meditated on the word of God and preached that word. He cared especially for the poorest.
That is the way that leads to God, to sanctity. We have the same means. Let us use them, so one day we can meet Kaspar in the Father’s house. I do have hope, that Kaspar will accompany me in my Redemptorist life, my service as formator, and I especially hope that we will meet one day face to face in the Father’s house, and have a long talk.
Author: Adam Kośla CssR
Translator: Michał Zieliński CSsR