Commentary on the Gospel of
Memorial of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr
The story of Maximilian Kolbe is inspiring to me. He was from Poland and was a Conventual Franciscan. He had a great devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and he established a radio station. He travelled as a missionary in Asia, establishing monasteries. After Poland was invaded by Germany at the beginning of the Second World War, Maximilian's monastery sheltered Jewish refugees. He was eventually imprisioned for writing anti-Natzi materials. At Auschwitz, after a prisoner escaped, the guards selected ten men to be made an example, by starving them to death. One of the men cried for his wife and family and Maximilian asked if Maximilian could take his place. Maximilian was the last of the ten men to survive, so the guards took his life with a lethal injection of carbolic acid. Fundamentally, Maximilian had believed and lived the words of Jesus so deeply, that his instinctive choice was rooted in knowing, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit." (John 12:24) And, he accepted Jesus' wisdom so deeply that he could act on it freely: "Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it." (Luke 17:33) And, it seems most likely that his devotion to Mary made it easier for him to put his life in God's hands. He was declared a Servant of God in 1955, and Venerable in 1969, and Blessed by Paul VI in 1971. Pope John Paul II canonized him in 1982, as "a martyr of charity."
I ask myself if I could be as heroic and self-sacrificing as Maximilian. More directly, I ask for the grace to witness more courageously in the defense of those who are persecuted and on the margins of our society, especially today when that isn't so popular.
In the gospel, Jesus calls us to be reconcilers - to try to repair divisions and to take steps toward greater unity. It is so very difficult to do that today. Nationalism is growing across the globe. Fear is being used to focus on who "we" are and against those who are not "us." It is a natural fear, but for us who are made one in Jesus, by his death and resurrection and gift of the Spirit, it is a fear to be overcome, not fanned into a flame of deeper tribalism. This is the continuing message of Pope Francis.
Jesus assures us that when we are gathered together in his name, he is with us. When we let the Spirit gather us together in his name, to be one in him, we will become healed of fear and what tempts us to be gathered together in the name of separation and hatred. It is indeed a choice between which "unity" we desire and will find our security and life. Being united for division is not from the Spirit, but being united for communion with Jesus - so that our heart desires in communion with his heart - is truly of the Spirit. The signs that confirm this discernment are greater compassion and self-sacrificing love.
May a portion of the courage of Maximilian Kolbe be given to each of us these days. And, may our defense of all human life, our solidarity with those who are homeless, countryless, those without privilege or protection, without justice or compassion, be blessed with the Mercy and grace only Jesus can give.