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Catholic Heroes… St. Anna Schaffer

October 3, 2017 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

There have been a number of well-known saints who have endured the painful wounds given to them by Christ. St. Rita suffered a permanent wound in her forehead, representing Christ’s crown of thorns. Others such as St. Francis and St. Padre Pio suffered the stigmata, the wounds in the hands and feet representing the holes where the nails pierced Christ’s hands. St. Catherine of Siena suffered similar pains and so did a lesser-known saint, St. Anna Schaffer.
Anna was born on February 18, 1882 in Mindelstetten, Germany, about 75 miles west of the Austrian border. Anna was the third of six children. Her father, a carpenter, died in 1896 when Anna was 16 years old. This left the family in dire poverty. Thus, although Anna had been receiving excellent grades when she was in school, she was forced to quit in order to support the family.
Anna’s mother recalled that when Anna was a child, she would remove herself from the family and go off to pray. It seemed that God was pulling her closer and closer to Him. On April 12, 1893, she received her First Holy Communion, after which she received a special spiritual gift. On this day, she was inspired to write a letter to Jesus, “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 dishonor and all offenses which are committed against you.”
Anna had begun working part time at the age of 14, but still held on to the dream of entering religious life. Two years later when her father died she began working as a maid in various households. First, she worked for a family in Regensburg about 25 miles northeast of Mindelstetten. Then she worked for a family in Sandersdorf, followed by employment in Landshut about 40 miles south of Regensburg.
In Landshut, at the age of 16, she consecrated herself to the Blessed Virgin Mary with these words, “Today I choose you as my patroness and intercessor and am strongly resolved never to leave you.” Then Jesus appeared to her as the Good Shepherd, holding a rosary in His hand. He asked her to pray the rosary. After this she left the employment at Landshut, and no amount of persuasion could get her to return.
Finally, she went to work for a gamekeeper in Stammham, which lies 10 miles west of Mindelstetten. For two years she worked for the gamekeeper when she received a vision from Christ who let her know that her life would be one of long, painful suffering. She pondered these words, wondering what the agony would be.
She found out three years later when while she was still working for the gamekeeper. On laundry day, February 4, 1901, Anna and a friend took the dirty clothes to the laundry and were boiling the water in a large kettle. When the rickety stove pipe became dislodged, the girls could not reach it to put it back in place.
Anna rashly decided she would climb up and reset the pipe, so she stood on the rim of the large kettle holding the soaking clothes and reached up for the wavering pipe. As could be feared, she slipped and fell into the kettle of boiling laundry. Her legs — up to her knees — were severely burned.
Immediately they rushed her to the hospital near Kosching where the attendants worked to treat her burns. However, all the efforts proved useless and finally the doctors relinquished all attempts to heal her.
The treatments were excruciating as the raw nerves were assaulted every time her bandages were changed. As the doctors stopped their attempts, Anna waited to die — she was nineteen years old. They released her from the hospital three months later and for two more years she hoped to be healed, but was not expecting to be delivered.
Now her long ordeal of suffering had begun as our Lord had told her. The crippling pains of her burns remained with her for the next 24 years. Her doctor continued to see her and she even spent two long stretches of time for three months each in Erlangen, location of an advanced medical clinic in the university.
These therapies were recalled years later with great horror by Anna. This is not surprising, considering that they forcefully broke her feet to try to increase their mobility. Her feet had become stiff, the joints frozen from months of inactivity. These treatments proved ineffective as well.
Despite the excruciating pains, Anna remembered Jesus’ words to her and so she gave glory to God, and her love and veneration for Mary increased. Daily reception of Holy Communion sustained her throughout her ordeal as she wrote, “I cannot write by pen how happy I am every time after Holy Communion. Oh, I forget my earthly sufferings and the longing of my poor soul draws me every moment to adore God and my Savior hidden in the Blessed Sacrament.”
The frail victim continued to struggle to endure this great cross. Even though she offered herself as a suffering soul on her First Communion, the reality of such pain was difficult to bear. Nevertheless, she prayed for the grace and the strength to endure.
Anna received another vision from Christ on October 4, 1910. He informed her that He accepted her offer to make reparation and spoke of her suffering to come. When she received Holy Communion that day, she felt five rays of fire strike her hands, feet, and heart — the stigmata. These pains intensified on special feasts and Thursdays and Fridays.
Human nature cannot comprehend how a person can endure such prolonged and intense suffering. Only grace provides the means to continue living. She not only endured the cross but she came to embrace it with a special joy. Pleasure comes from gratification of the senses and is a temporal experience that is fleeting. True joy, on the other hand, is spiritual and is eternal.
Anna wrote of such sentiments at the end of her life, “In suffering, I learned to love you.” She also began to receive mystical experiences, deepening her prayer life. She did not complain, but continued to receive visitors whom she comforted and consoled with her words of wisdom.
Cancer claimed Anna in 1925 while her increasing paralysis made it difficult for her to speak. Finally, on October 5, she received Holy Communion and exclaimed, “Jesus, I live for you!” She died just a few minutes later.
Amazingly, thousands of miracles have been attributed to her intercession. Her feast is celebrated on October 5. She was canonized on October 21, 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI.
Dear Anna, obtain for us the special grace to embrace the cross for love of Christ; there is nothing more pleasing to our Redeemer. Amen.

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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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