Life & Affection
1. The outer way
„A new star rose on the firmament of the church“. With these words the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger concluded the sermon he gave on the evening prior to the beatification of Anna Schäffer in Rome. It was the 6th of March 1999.
Meanwhile Anna Schäffer has also been canonised on the 21st October 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI. Her star now shines for the entire catholic church throughout the world. Before she reached her zenith in the heavens of the church, she had to come a long way. It began in her home village of Mindelstetten, where she was born on the 18th February 1882, around 20 km northeast of Ingolstadt. She grew up in a simple working family, the third of six children. From her primary school days onwards she brought home very good marks. But she did not get any further education than primary school. In January 1896 her father died. At that time Anna already had been working for more than half a year in a household in Regensburg. Further jobs followed in Sandersdorf, Landshut, and finally in the Gamekeeper’s cottage in Stammham.
That is where the accident happened which upset the plan for her entire life. It was the 4th February 1901, the day for the laundry. Together with another employee Anna was dealing with the washing, which was boiled within a kettle. The stovepipe had come loose, Anna climbed onto the rim of the kettle in order to deal with the damage. She slipped and fell into the kettle holding the boiling suds and scalded both legs up to the knees. She was brought to the district’s hospital near Kösching. All efforts to provide healing went awry. Finally she was given up as a lost cause and only waited for her death. But she was not yet meant to die. Her condition stabilised so that she was no longer in mortal danger. Three months later she was discharged, because there was nothing further that could be done for her...
With the accident a life of intense suffering began for Anna. The initial pains of her burns never left her again. The legs did not heal. Open holes remained which festered permanently. Even though her general practitioner regularly cared for her, he was not able to change anything about her state of health. Not even two sojourns – several months each - in the university clinic of Erlangen brought any results. The therapies applied there were so very painful, that on reflection Anna was filled with horror. The joints of her feet, which had stiffened due to long periods of immobility, were more than once forcefully broken and forcibly bent to make increase mobility. Again without any success.
2. THE INNER WAY
Her sister Kathi describes Anna as a normal child. But her mother remarks that even as a child she had been different from others. From time to time she used to withdraw into a quiet space to pray. God seems to have begun early to put his hand onto this girl to slowly draw it onto himself.
On the day of her first communion, it was the 12th April 1893, Anna had a deeply religious experience, which she does not describe in detail however. Years later she only remarks it had been the most beautiful day of her life. Apparently under the influence of this experience she wrote a letter to Jesus in which she made him some very consequential promises: „…do with me as you want… I want to atone and if you will it my Jesus, let me become an expiatory sacrifice to atone for all dishonour and all offenses which are committed against you.“ This offer reveals that even as an 11 year old child, Anna possessed a character which enabled her to go the whole way. Perhaps in her surrender to God she might have thought of entering a religious order or working as a missionary sister, certainly not of that which later happened in her life. Because after her accident for a period of at least two years she hoped to recover her health.
With 16 years Anna dedicated herself to the Mother of God. In the formula used it says: „today I choose you as my patroness and intercessor and am strongly resolved never to leave you...” All her life Anna had a very intimate relationship with the Mother of God, who helped her to persevere in her life of suffering. Later on Mary often appeared to her in her dreams.
In June 1898 Anna Schäffer had a visionary experience that deeply touched her. She herself wrote it down. Jesus appeared to her as the Good Shepherd to announce severe suffering lying ahead for her. „He held a rosary in His hands, spoke to me of praying the rosary and that I would not become 20 years old. That I would have to suffer a great deal.“ In a panic, Anna left Landshut the following day and nobody could make her go back to her work place.
Humanly speaking her reaction was understandable. Also later she never looked for suffering – only accepted it and abandoned herself to it.
In a letter Anna hints at the fact that she fought for about two years to recognise the will of God in her difficult fate and to say yes to it, as she had promised during her first communion. About 91/2 years after her accident (on the 4th of October 1910 Jesus confirmed to her) in a vision: „I accepted you in atonement for my holy sacrament. And in future during holy communion you will feel the pains of my holy passion, with which I have redeemed you, miserable nothing. Suffer, sacrifice and atone in silent secrecy. On the morning of that quiet day, while she received holy communion from the hand of her parish priest, she was touched by 5 rays of fire, like lightening, striking her in her hands, her feet and her heart. She writes: “at once unending pain began in these bodily parts... I was permitted to suffer such pain from October 1910 onward. On some days it is vastly increased, especially on Thursdays and Fridays and on Sundays and Feast days.“
Thus the Lord ennobled the sufferings of his handmaid and united it to his own. She herself tried to emulate him, if she had to suffer, at least she tried not to do it in rebellion or by revolting against her fate, but rather while surrendering, while being ready to offer it up as a sacrifice, in love. Just as the Lord on the cross persisted in his love up to the uttermost moment of distress (Father forgive them for they know not what they do), she also wanted to bear it. At the end she wrote: „In suffering I learned to love you“. That is the most difficult but also the most elevated way of emulation.
In this attitude, her prayers became ever deeper and more substantial, sometimes leading into deep mystical experiences. For her the rosary was viewing the life of Jesus. And when she was no longer able to formulate longer prayers due to her pain,
she sent brief ejaculative phrases towards heaven. The Lord gifted her with the grace of continuous prayer, so that she did not have to miss his presence, even when she received visitors and talked to them.
Most of her strength she drew from her almost daily holy communion. She wrote: „I cannot write down how happy I always am after holy communion... In those holy hours I feel so blessed that I do not want to change my bed of suffering with any noble, not for the whole world...“ In those moments the Lord strengthened her. He not only burdened her with heavy crosses, but also gave her heavenly comfort.
More and more she grew into the attitude of love, which she took on from the Lord. This enabled her to dedicate herself to the needs and concerns of the people around her. She wrote encouraging letters, received visitors, took up their concerns and promised to pray for them. She, who was so helpless that she was unable to stand on her own feet, gradually turned into a helper for many. In the end she almost consisted entirely of abandonment and love. Suffering for her increasingly became the means, the resources she deployed to render her own prayer for others more powerful. In this she became ever more similar to Jesus and approached her own perfection. On the 5th October 1925 the Lord called her home into his kingdom. At the moment of death, one final time she prayed with her last strength „Jesus for you I live!“. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his holy ones.