A fruit of my consecration to Jesus through Mary in the days leading up to the centenary anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima was reflecting on the heroic life and death of St. Maximilian Kolbe by the hands of Nazi Germany. Aside from St. Athanasius and St. John Paul II, I do not think there is another saint that modeled love and courage to speak the truth with such tenacity!
From an early age, Maximilian promoted devotion to Mary and sought to bring others of God through the intercession of the Blessed Mother. Ordained in 1918, he continued to work promoting Mary throughout Poland. I believe Divine Providence strategically placed Maximilian in Poland to be a light to the destitute because this nation eventually became an epicenter for Nazi domination.
During May 1941, Maximilian was transferred to the Auschwitz concentration camp. The Polish priest died on August 14th, 1941. Despite his short stay, the heroism of St. Maximilian lives on and impacted his fellow inmates and generations to this day. I want to highlight three essential points about Maximilian’s life that compelled me turn to him as a role model.
1. Savior: Maximilian only cared about others. He refused to sign German documents that would have provided protections to avoid sending him to the concentration camps. He heroically volunteered to take the place of a man, with a large family, who was sentenced to death. Such selfless love is powerful. Maximilian allowed the Holy Spirit to be so present inside him that he reflected the love of Christ perfectly and died a horrific death like Jesus to save others!
2. Sacrifice of the Mass: St. Maximilian once said, “If angels could be jealous of men, they would be so for one reason: Holy Communion.” The Second Vatican Council’s document Lumen Gentium echoes this point as well by calling the Eucharistic sacrifice the “source and summit” of the Catholic life (no. 5). As a priest Maximilian lived this reality and he took it to a new level in the concentration camps as well. He celebrated Mass daily and fellow prisoners even attested the Polish priest took crumbs of wheat bread to gather the substance needed to perform the sacrifice of the Mass when times became really desolate in his cell.
3. Divine Insight: The theology of St. Maximilian Kolbe that taught me most about relationship between the Trinity and Mary is his insight and clarification of the truth revealed to St. Bernadette and dogmatic proclaimed by Pope Pius IX in the 19th century. Mary’s apparition at Lourdes revealed to Bernadette that she is the Immaculate Conception. Kolbe expanded on this revelation by making a distinction between the created Immaculate Conception [Mary] versus the uncreated Immaculate Conception [the Holy Spirit]. Maximilian clarified the Catholic understanding of Mary for me personally with this distinction. It is important to realize that Mary is a part of CREATION and it not to be worshipped. I think St. Maximilian provided a good example to help me understand how we honor the Mother of God!
Role models are not merely people that exist in a state of earthly life today. We may all look to the Catholic saints as good examples to mirror when it comes to combating our own selfish wills and desires. St. Maximilian stood up against the malevolent force of Nazism by proclaiming the truth of the Gospel. In a world of tumult and lack of stability clarity has never been more important. St. Maximilian once said, “No one in the world can change Truth. What we can do and should do is to seek truth and to serve it when we have found it.” Let us seek truth always!