Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Feast of Maximillian Kolbe, August 14, 2005

1) The canonization of Maximilian Maria Kolbe on October 10, 1982 as martyr is a precedent-setting event marking the paradigm shift from dying for the faith as a set of propositions and dying for the dignity of the human person as revealed in Jesus Christ.

2) The larger context in which this can be appreciated is contained in the words of then- Josef Ratzinger:

“Ought we to accept modernity in full, or in part? Is there a real contribution? Can this modern way of thinking be a contribution, or offer a contribution, or not? And if there is a contribution from the modern, critical way of thinking, in line with the Enlightenment, how can it be reconciled with the great intuitions and the great gifts of the faith?
“Or ought we, in the name of the faith, to reject modernity? You see? There always seems to be this dilemma: either we must reject the whole of the tradition, all the exegesis of the Fathers, relegate it to the library as historically unsustainable, or we must reject modernity.
“And I think that the gift, the light of the faith, must be dominant, but the light of the faith has also the capacity to take up into itself the true human lights, and for this reason the struggles over exegesis and the liturgy for me must be inserted into this great, let s call it epochal, struggle over how Christianity, over how the Christian responds to modernity, to the challenge of modernity.”

Robert Moynihan says: “You use the phrase `epochal struggle…” “Yes.”

“Well, at the very least, that means it is a struggle of enormous historical importance…”“Yes, certainly…”

Ratzinger continued:

“And it seems to me that this was the true intention of the Second Vatican Council, to go beyond an unfruitful and overly narrow apologetic to a true synthesis with the positive elements of modernity, but at the same time, let us say, to transform modernity, to heal it of its illnesses, by means of the light and strength of the faith.
“Because it was the Council Fathers’ intention to heal and transform modernity, and not simply to succumb to it or merge with it, the interpretations which interpret the Second Vatican Council in the sense of de-sacralization or profanation are erroneous.
“That is, Vatican II must not be interpreted as desiring a rejection of the tradition and an adapting of the Church to modernity and so causing the Church to become empty because it loses the word of faith.”

Ratzinger then points to Augustine:

“Augustine, as you know, was a man who, on the one hand, had studied in great depth the great philosophies, the profane literature of the ancient world.
“On the other hand, he was also very critical of the pagan authors, even with regard to Plato, to Virgil, those great authors whom he loved so much.
“He criticized them, and with a penetrating sense, purified them.”
“This was his way of using the great pre-Christian culture: purify it, heal it, and in this way, also, healing it, he gave true greatness to this culture. Because in this way, it entered into the fact of the incarnation, no? And became part of the Word’s incarnation.”

3) To dramatize the paradigm shift in the canonization of Kolbe as martyr, the historical event of October 10, 1982 tells the story:

“Father Kolbe was widely regarded as a martyr, but was he a `martyr’ in the technical sense of the term –someone who had died because of odium fidei, `hatred of the faith’? He had not been arrested because of odium fidei, and witnesses to his self-sacrifice had testified that the Auschwitz commandant, Fritsch, had simply accepted Kolbe’s self-substitution for the condemned Franciszek Gajowniczek without evincing any particular satisfaction that he was killing a priest. The theologians and experts of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints (the Vatican office that considers beatifications and canonizations) had argued that Kolbe, while undoubtedly a saint, was not a martyr in the traditional sense of the term. At Kolbe’s beatification in 1971, Pope Paul VI had said that Kolbe could be considered a `martyr of charity,’ but this was a personal gesture and the category lacked standing in theology or canon law. Since the, though, the Polish and German bishops had petitioned the Holy See that Kolbe be canonized as a martyr, rather than as a saintly confessor who happened to have died under extraordinary circumstances.
“John Paul II appointed two special judges to consider the question from the theological and historical points of view. Their reports were then submitted to a special advisory commission. The majority of the commission concluded that Blessed Maximilian Kolbe’s self-sacrifice did not satisfy the traditional criteria for martyrdom, heroic as it undoubtedly was. On the day of his canonization, it was unclear whether Kolbe would be given the accolade of a martyr, as many Poles, Germans, and others wished.
“October 10, 1982, a magnificent autumn morning, found a quarter of a million people in St. Peter’s Square, where they saw a great banner, a portrait of Father Kolbe, draped from the central loggia. Still, the question hung in the air: Would Kolbe be recognized as a martyr? The answer came when John Paul II processed out of the basilica and into the square wearing red vestments, the liturgical color of martyrs. He had overridden the counsel of his advisory commission, and in his homily he declared that `in virtue of my apostolic authority, I have decreed that Maximillian Mary Kolbe, who following his beatification was venerated as a confessor, will henceforth be venerated also as a martyr’!
“John Paul II was making an important theological point in deciding that St. Maximilian Kolbe was indeed a martyr – systematic hatred for the human person (systematic odium hominis, so to speak) was a contemporary equivalent of the traditional criterion for martyrdom, odium fidei. Because Christian faith affirmed the truth about the inalienable dignity of the human person, anyone who hated that truth hated, implicitly, the Christian faith. Modern totalitarianism was an implicit form of odium fidei, because it reduced person to things.”

The significance of the shift from confessor only to martyr first and also confessor involves the purification of modern epistemology and anthropology by Christian faith as a “lived experience” before it is a “set of propositions.” John Paul asserted:

“It is urgent to rediscover and to set forth once more the authentic reality of the Christian faith, which is not simply a set of propositions to be accepted with intellectual assent. Rather, faith is a lived knowledge of Christ, a living remembrance of his commandments, and a truth to be lived out. A word, in any event, is not truly received until It passes into action, until it is put into practice. Faith is a decision involving one’s whole existence. It is an encounter, a dialogue, a communion of love and of life between the believer and Jesus Christ, the Way, and the Truth, and the Life (cf. J. 14, 6). It entails an act of trusting abandonment to Christ, which enables us to live as he lived (cf. Ga. 2, 20), in profound love of God and of our brothers and sisters.”

It must be remembered in the same Veritatis Splendor that “(t)hrough the moral life, faith becomes `confession,’ not only before God but also before men: it becomes witness…. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven’ (Mt. 5, 14-16). These works are above all those of charity (cf. Mt. 25, 31-46) and of the authentic freedom which is manifested and lived in the gift of self, even to the total gift of self, like that of Jesus, who on the Cross `loved the Church and gave himself up for her’ (Eph. 5, 25)…. Charity, in conformity with the radical demands of the Gospel, can lead the believer to the supreme witness of martyrdom” (#89).
This too is the example par excellence of the “New Evangelization.”

1)The Spiritual Vision of Pope Benedict XVI, “Let God’s Light Shine Forth,” ed. Robert Moynihan, Doubleday (2005) 35-36.
“Men saw what happened in the camp at Auschwitz. And even if to their eyes it must have seemed that a companion of their torment `dies,’ even if humanly speaking they could consider `his departure’ as `a disaster,’ nevertheless in their minds this was not simply `death.’ Maximilian did not die but `gave his life… for his brother.’ In that death… there was the whole definitive greatness of the human act and of the human choice. He spontaneously offered himself up to death out of love. And in this human death of his there was the clear witness borne too Christ: the witness borne in Christ to the dignity of man, to the sanctity of his life, and to the saving power of death in which the power of love is made manifest….
“Does not this death – faced spontaneously, for love of man – constitute a particular fulfillment of the words of Christ? Does hot this death make Maximilian particularly like unto Christ – the Model of Martyrs – who gives his own life on the Cross for his brethren? Does not this death posses a particular and penetrating eloquence for our age? Does not this death constitute a particularly authentic witness of the Church in the modern world?” Homily of His Holiness John Paul II at the Canonization of St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe. St. Peter’s Square, Rome October 10, 1982.
2) George Weigel, Witness to Hope, Cliff Street Books (Harper Collins) (1999) 447-448.
3)Veritatis Splendor #88.

You are right. Kolbe's death is what JPII and Benedict XVI mean by the "New Evangelization." We all stand there marvelling at the gift of self to death. Thank you for your insight.


Anonymous said...

What struck me most was the tremendous impact Kolbe's action had on the other prisoners who witnessed it. While they all could have gasped in relief after standing motionless in the heat for hours awaiting their fate, they instead marvelled at the man who must have looked more like Jesus Christ than anyone they had ever known.

Anonymous said...

This paradigm shift from 'hatred of the faith' to 'hatred of the human person' puts into proper prospective the trials of those who fight against abortion. As articulated by jpii, st. kolbe could be a galvanizing presence in the pro-life movement.