Friday, August 13, 2010

St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe (2010)

First Reading

“We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers… The way we came to know love was that he laid down his life for us so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (1 John 3, 14).


“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (Jn. 15, 13).

The Supreme Drama

“Finally the grisly selection is complete. Fritsch turns to Palitsch, the noncommissioned officer who likes to brag about the numbers he has shot at the execution wall by Block 11. Together the SS officers check the secretary’s list against the numbers on the condemned. As their German passion for accuracy occupies them, one of the victims is sobbing. `My wife and my children!’ It is Francis Gajowniczek. The SS ignore him.

“Suddenly, there is movement in the still ranks. A prisoner several rows back has broken out and is pushing his way toward the front. The SS guards watching this Block raise their automatic rifles, while the dogs at their heels tense for the order to spring. Fritsch and Palitsch too reach toward their holsters. The prisoner steps past the first row.
“It is Kolbe. His step is firm, his face peaceful. Angrily, the Block capo shouts at him to stop or be shot. Kolbe answers calmly, `I want to talk to the commander,’ and keeps on walking while the capo, oddly enough, neither shoots nor clubs him. Then, still at a respectful distance, Kolbe stops, his cap in his hands. Standing at attention like an officer of some sort himself, he looks Fritsch straight in the eye.
“ ‘Herr Commandant, I wish to make a request, please,’ he says politely in flawless German.
Survivors will later say it is a miracle that no one shoots him. Instead, Fritsch asks,
`What do you want?’
I want to die in place of this prisoner.’ And Kolbe points toward the sobbing Gajowniczek. He presents this audacious request without a stammer. Fritsch looks stupefied, irritated. Everyone notes how the German lord of life and death, suddenly nervous, actually steps back a pace.
The prisoner explains coolly, as if they were discussing some everyday matter, that the man over there has a family.

Prisoner in ranks are never allowed to speak. Gajowniczek says:
`I could only try to thank him with my eyes. I was stunned and could hardly grasp what was going on. The immensity of it: I, the condemned, am to live and someone else willingly and voluntarily offers his life for me – a stranger. Is this some dream or reality?...”[1]

Death and Obliteration
“: Dust
After two weeks, “the prisoners were dying one after the other, and by this time only four were left, among them Father Kolbe, who was still conscious. The SS decided things were taking too long… One day they sent for the German criminal Bock from the hospital to give the prisoners injections of carbolic acid. After the needle prick in the vein of the left arm, you could follow the instant swelling as it moved up the arm toward the chest. When it reached the heart, the victim would fall dead. Between injection and death was a little more than ten seconds.

“Some of Kolbe’s friends were brash enough to request that his body not be burned, but buried. The request was denied. … Years earlier he had said, `I would like to be ground to dust for the Immaculate Virgin and have this dust be blown away by the wind all over the world.”[2]

John Paul II at Auschwitz

“From the helicopter pad on the outskirts of town, the Pope was driven to the gate of the Auschwitz concentration camp in limousine constantly pelted with flowers thrown by the half-million Poles lining the roadway. But this was neither the place nor the moment for smiles. John Paul walked through the wrought-iron entrance gate with its infamously cynical inscription, Arbeit Macht Frei [Work Makes you Free], and along the gravel paths separating the red-bricks barracks buildings until he came to Block 11. There, in the basement, in Cell 18, Maximilian Kolbe had died a martyr to charity. The Pope knelt in prayer, kissed the cement floor where Kolbe had lain in agony, and then left a bouquet of red-and-white flowers and an Easter candle brought from Rome. Outside Block 11 was the `Wall of Death,’ against which prisoners were executed by firing squad. Enroute to praying there with West German’s Cardinal Hermann Volk, the Pope met and embraced seventy eight-year-old Franciszek Gajowniczek, whose life Father Kolbe had saved by his self-sacrifice.”[3]

Canonization as Martyr
“Kolbe’s canonization was set for St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, October 10, 1982. But a question had arisen. 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….

“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 ti 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 Maximilian Mary Kolbe, who following his beatification was venerated as a confessor, will henceforth be venerated also as a martyr!’”
And so as a young boy when Kolbe dreamed of asking our Lady “what was to become of me” she held out to him two crowns, one white, the other red. She asked him if he was willing to accept either of these crowns. The white one meant that he should persevere in purity and the red that I should become a martyr. He said that he would accept them both.” And so it was!
“We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers… The way we came to know love was that he laid down his life for us so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (1 John 3, 14).

The Assumption

As Kolbe is declared alive in supernatural/eternal life because he made the supreme gift of himself for love of another, so also our Lady was declared assumed into heaven body and soul because she had made the total gift of herself to the will of God at her vocation in the moment of the annunciation: “let it be done to me according to your word.” The gospel of the Mass of the feast recounts the visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth and the declaration of Elizabeth that John Paul II called “the truth of Mary:” “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Notice that she is declared already “blessed” while on earth here and by the women in the crowd who shouted out in the presence of Christ: “Blessed is the womb that bore thee and the breasts that gave thee suck.” To which Jesus responded – precisely including his mother as the first: “Yeah, rather, blessed is she who hears the word of God and does it.”
Faith lived with the deed of engendering the Messiah, forming him for the whole of a life, living side by side with him in faith without sensible confirmation (the first miracle is to be at Cana) and finally, standing beneath the Cross. Because of this faith which is her self-gift in the totality of an ordinary secular life, Mary is declared physically assumed into heaven.
Ascetical consideration from The Way 584 paraphrased: Christ lives here and now as the quid divinum disguised in the ordinary and the humdrum events of secular life. He has not lost his power. What is needed is faith on our part. Supply that need by the deeds of the total gift of ourselves in work and family life, offering work, renewing that offering frequently, finishing what was once begun, and making acts of thanksgiving. We are walking the way of Mary and by that self-gift, we will engender Jesus Christ in ourselves and place him at the summit of all human activities by ourselves being “other Christs.”

Also, consider what St. Josemaria did on August 14, 1951 going to Loreto (recorded in this blog somewhere).

[1] Patricia Treece, “A Man for Others,” Harper and Row (1982) 169-171.
[2]) Ibid. 176
[3] George Weigel, “Witness to Hope,” Harper and Row, Cliffside Books (1999) 314-315.
[4] Ibid. 447.

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