Thursday, August 14, 2014

Kolbe: Martyr Because to Violate the Human Person Is To Violate Christ

Jesus Christ is the Meaning of the Human Person 

From Kenneth L. Woodward’s book, Making Saints: How the Catholic Church Determines Who Becomes a Saint, Who Doesn’t, and Why (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996) 144-147: Fr. Gumpel: “The question was whether Kolbe had died as a martyr for the faith. I personally never said he was not a martyr. What I did say was we have no absolute certain proof that he was a martyr in the classical sense, and in these cases you have to be absolutely cert ain. For instance, some people said that since he was picked yp by the Nazis and put in Auschwitz that this was the equivalent of a death sentence. But Auschwitz became a death camp only much later and, as a matter of fact, a number of the inmates survived.

                ‘In addition, we had to look at the circumstances of his arrest. It was a part of a big operation, a large sweep. The Nazis were preparing to  invade Russia, and as part of that operation they had a to make sure from a logistical point of view, that the lines of supply were safe for the transport of ammunition, foodstuffs, fuel, spare parts for tanks, and the like. So to assure the safety of all this, they arrested all the intellectuals who could possibly cause them trouble: atheists, Communists, Catholics. So Kolbe was not arrested for reasons of his faith.’

                The Nazis wsere known for their hatred of priests. The question  arose, therefore, whether it was possible that Kommandant Fritsch wanted Kolbe killed because he was a priest. Gumpel responded, sensibly enough, that if that were the case, Fritsch would have picked Kolbe to die in the first place. ‘Furthermore,’ he said, ‘Kolbe took a risk. He stepped out of line to go up to the commander and for this he could have been killed on the spot. Now there has been a most searching investigation of the survivors who saw had heard what happened. We asked  them whether they heard of saw in the commander’s face of in the face of any of the guards any satisfaction that they were god for chance to kill a priest. There was none of this. The commander simply said to Kolbe, well, if you want to, go ahead.’”

                “Whatever the reasons, it is patently clear that the local bishops play a decisive role in determining who will be named a martyr. As we have already seen, it was at the request of the German and Polish bishops that the saint-makers bent to the task of transforming the causes of Edith Stein and Maximilian Kolbe from confessor to martyr. This is not to suggest that the saint-makers lack independence in investigating and evaluating causes; on the contrary, the Kolbe case demonstrates just how independent the saint-makers can be. But it is to suggest that the making of martyrs, like martyrdom  itself, is also a political act. Even after the saint-makers have proved a martyr’s cause, it is up to the pope, in consultation with the local bishops and the Vatican Secretariat of State, to calculate the consequences of proceeding to a declaration of martyrdom.”
   George Weigel continues the point: “October 10, 1082, 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 Maximilian 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. Maximillian Kolbe was indeed a martyr – systematic hatred for the human person… 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 persons to things.”[1]

[1] George Weigel, Witness to Hope,  Cliff Street Books (1999) 447-448.

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