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Chapter 32

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« on: March 09, 2023, 11:10:45 am »

THE Frauenkirche was ice cold but so crammed with people on Christmas Eve, for the midnight Mass, that Mark found himself pressed close against the pillar near which he had managed to find a standing place.

Very few of the assembled Munichers were devout or regular Catholics but the same passionate instinctive longing had brought them together late at night, into this freezing building, in order to celebrate the birth of a Christ, all of whose thoughts and actions they had been trained to repudiate.

Consciously, or for the most part unconsciously, they came together because here for this hour, and in this building, the burden of their State slavery was lifted off them.

It was not only that the church was a momentary refuge from the Gestapo; but apart from security from actual danger, they were being released from the tightening pressure of the State upon their private lives. Husbands could be aware of the love they still felt for their wives, while families became more certain of the tie that bound them together; friends stood side by side with friends, without fear of betrayal.

God asked nothing of them. He made no exactions or inquisitions. In their Father’s house there were no distinctions, no penalties, and no sacrifices but His own. Here they were free. They could come and go as they chose. They could keep their minds idle; or dream forbidden dreams. While they knelt upon the cold stone floor they could take counsel with an Invisible Presence, who would keep their secrets.

Only a few hours before, Mark had arrived in Munich, after six weeks of secret underground existence. A lifetime divided his present self from the Mark who had said good-bye to Pirschl in Berlin. His life as a Runner was so absorbing, so swift, so uncertain, so utterly unlike anything he had ever dreamed of as life, that he found it hard to force himself back into a reasoning human being---part of a whole---in which religion and humanity had once seemed natural to him.

This pillar against which he now leaned was his next port of call. When the service was over it was here that someone would speak to him, and give him shelter for what was left of the night, and his orders for the next part of the journey. This was as much as Mark expected now of security---to be found---to be told where to go---to be sent further on.

Even direction eluded him. He might be sent to a place, and find himself travelling in an opposite direction in order to reach it. He might be told to find a person whom he had never seen, and must never mention nor describe; and when he found him, be prepared to risk his life to save him. Perhaps the person he was to find in Munich was pressing against him now, or kneeling before the brilliantly lit altar; and yet not one face in all the hundreds round him was familiar to him.

The Mass had begun. Priests came and went, their white vestments stiff with gold, carrying on the rhythmic pattern of their ancient ceremony. Few of the congregation took an active part in the service. They were attending to something within themselves, released by a Power that was beyond themselves. Many of them had no more definite faith in God or another world than Mark; but never in all their lives had they so wanted to believe in God, and in another world. Mark understood and shared this feeling; he too longed to know that there was something beyond this cold and senseless slavery of the German Reich---this endless dwarfing grip that squeezed out more and more all the beauty, all the meaning of human life.

Here in this church there was still beauty. Here was an idea if not a reality---which lived and moved and had its being apart from all earthly authorities. Here in the Frauenkirche was something greater and older than any State authority. Here, and here only, could those who had so helplessly dedicated themselves to an idol, feel free as only the sons of God are free.

The deep drone of the organ, the occasional piercing sweetness of a boy’s voice, “the blessed mutter of the Mass” restored to those who listened, a little of their lost self-respect. A spirit penetrated their passive aching hearts, touching them anew with hope, perhaps with generosity, before it let them go. It flashed through Mark’s mind that man can never be free unless what he worships is also free.

Hitler, in forcing his gigantic megalomania upon the people of Germany, had driven a whole country mad; now, just for an hour, Mark could watch sanity stir and flicker in the faces round him, as he had often watched it stir in the faces of the insane at the Schloss, when Ida momentarily roused them into a sense of their human brotherhood.

Here and there in the Frauenkirche a face dropped its masklike rigidity and became touched with beauty. Mothers smiled at their children; husbands looked at their wives with a protective tenderness they had long hidden even from themselves. Old men and women relaxed completely, as if what they had come for was simply to cease to struggle in the coils of this new Laocoön.

Some of the congregation still kept their look of strain and tension as if trying to get from what was taking place before them, fresh strength to carry on what they still thought of as the highest of human duties---obedience to their Führer. Only the young—and Mark noticed with surprise that there were many young—did not want to be released from their burden. They loved it and longed only to press forward with its weight upon their shoulders until they found themselves conquerors of the world. They saw no reason why they should not harness the Unseen Powers to their brave New World.

It was in fact what they were there for. Their Führer believed implicitly in a German God; and these blind children thought that Christianity might well develop further in such a direction under Hitler’s guidance. Then they could carry on whatever was precious and sacred in the religion of their childhood, while giving up nothing of their new powers and responsibilities to the State. The young who were in the Frauenkirche were busy weaving the Christmas Mass into the Nazi pattern. Was it altogether their fault, Mark asked himself, that they had never learned from their parents, or from the priests swaying before the altar, the indelible pattern of an opposite logic?

What did they think Christianity was? What had he, Mark himself, thought it was, until he found his life---his very consciousness forced wide open at the mercy of his fellow men---who had forgotten mercy?

This ceremony in the churches unvitalized by action, was but a symbol of a fiery truth. The handful of stubborn people working in the underground movement, whose lives took place on a peak of courage and self-sacrifice, where all the values of the human spirit were heightened into heroic virtues---these men were the real Christians! They loved their brothers as themselves, or Mark himself would not have been alive leaning against a pillar in the church of the Frauenkirche. In the life he had been leading for the last few weeks, there was no time to show emotion or to express the bonds of fellowship in words; but every act of a man or woman for another was a sacrament.

Nor were their enemies the Nazis nearly as implacable as these men and women were implacable. No weapon in all the savage armouries of the Nazis was as terrible as the weapon of the spirit. The Nazi hate was a feeble emotion compared to such men’s love.

This feeling, Mark thought, was the best and truest feeling he had ever known. It burned in his heart when he thought of a man forced into the bestial cruelty of a concentration camp, or publicly disgraced by a senseless racial slur. Mark knew now for the first time what Christianity was---it was every virtue, every emotion, every instinct that drew a man nearer to his fellows. It was worth all that he had suffered in these last weeks to understand it. He had learned to take food, sleep and warmth as only occasional necessities, and practically everything else as luxuries. He had become so inured to risks that they merely heightened his senses. Dry bread or a cold potato had become as pleasant to him as a dinner at the Ritz. But beyond all the miracles of his changed habits was the fact that he felt men were his brothers. It was this feeling that he recognized in the church to-night. It gleamed on the faces of those who were released from the Nazi madness.

“We are here,” they seemed to say, “because after all we know that we belong to each other. Because we are children of the same Father. We are not alone! We are not cut off here in this church from the other children. We are not only Germans any more!”

Had they known that there were any Jews there---as indeed there very probably were---these people would have pressed closer to hide them from the Nazi-minded; and would have prayed that they might not be found.

Perhaps the young ones might not have understood. They might have acted as Paul would have acted before the vision of Damascus; but they too, as the Host was held up for one brief moment to bless them, all alike sank on their knees in unconscious solidarity.

They may not have believed that God was in the action. Perhaps they were merely being kind to their parents, or carrying on an old childhood’s custom, but for a moment it seemed to Mark as if a great wave of common feeling surged through the church in which the voluntary breaking of a life, to give more life to the world, was for ever justified.

A long curious sigh passed over the church from the lips of that helpless multitude, perhaps a sigh of sorrow, perhaps merely of cold and weariness; or of wonder what the next year might bring forth before the Christ Child came again. It sounded like the sigh that comes from a sinking ship, when the ocean swallows the living into its restless grave.

One by one the sacristan extinguished the altar lights. The great doors opened and the icy air of the dark night streamed through the church. The dangerous streets swallowed the worshippers into their separate lives.

The service was over, the Communion between hearts that for an hour had become human, had already passed. Mark was a fugitive again; he pressed himself uneasily into the shadows, hoping that no one would notice him before his summons came.

At last a voice whispered close to him: “I am ready, my son. Come with me!” And Mark followed one of the priests who had been officiating at the Mass into the sacristy, where he was to sleep, until Christmas Day began.

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