St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe wrote about the saints and sanctity quite often. His first rule of life was
“I must become a saint, and a great saint.” …
As we might expect, St. Maximilian tells us that to become holy is our duty to God. It is not an option…”
In an article he wrote in “The Knight of the Immaculata” in 1922, he likened sainthood to secular success – noting that being successful, whether in the world or for heaven, is similar in many ways. For both secular genius and sanctity require:
undeterred focus on achieving seemingly impossible goals regardless of the obstacles or setbacks – even when opposed by both those closest to them (those in whom one expects to be supportive) as well as enemies.
Both saints and the great achievers are often seen as different from most people, and they attract attention and/or disdain as they steadfastly pursue their dream – never quitting despite many failures – until, eventually, their success becomes a source of inspiration for those who aspire to be like them.
However alike their outward characteristics are, their inner dispositions and motivations are very dissimilar:
one is concerned about earthly greatness, while the other is concerned about heavenly glory;
the secular man often seeks this glory at the expense of what is most important – such as love and family; while the saint incorporates Divine Love into all that he thinks, says and does;
the worldly man achieves only momentary happiness or it’s counterfeit, while the saint
“achieves the greatest happiness possible in this life and perfect happiness in the next. For the great man of the world, the Cross is a burden to be dragged or thrown off in disgust. For the saint, the Cross is the easy yoke and light burden of Sweet Jesus who desires to give us rest (cf. Mt 11:30). The beatitudes, that is, the blessings of God by which we become happy, are summarized by the words: Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’s sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Mt 5:10). St. Maximilian called this “suffering willed out of love.” It is the destiny of the saint: perfect holiness and happiness. The secular man, no matter how great, cannot understand this. For the saint, no matter what life brings, good or ill, the opportunity to serve God is always present.”https://saintmaximiliankolbe.com/saints-and-sanctity-part-1/
It was this single-hearted devotion to the Will of God and the love of the Immaculata that would be a source of life for Maximilian in the death camp, never forgetting that he was engaged in a battle for souls:
“In 1924, St. Maximilian Kolbe wrote an article entitled “Our
Tactics” for his magazine. …His premise
was that even though in the spiritual life we are not engaged in a
conflict with flesh and blood, waging war with guns and ammunition, we
are still fighting a real war. Success in this conflict requires that we
have a battle plan.
The spiritual life is a battle because the eternal destiny of our
souls hangs in the balance. God wants us to go to heaven and the devil
wants us to go to hell. The battle is over our hearts, to which we alone
hold the key. Everything hangs on the choice that we make, and the
determination at the end of our lives is absolute, final and
irrevocable. We are either totally victorious or totally destroyed.
St. Maximilian’s simple formula for victory in this fight is prayer, mortification and charity. … Prayer, of
course, is more important than anything else because while, on the one
hand, the Holy Spirit tells us “without Me you can do nothing,” on the other, He says “all things are possible with God”
(Jn 15:5; Lk 1:37). Our destiny then, is wholly beyond our natural
strength, but nonetheless, God desires to empower us to attain what is
above and beyond us. That is the definition of supernatural:
“above and beyond nature.” So grace is the fuel for the engines of our
war. It is the life of our soul and can only be obtained through
recognition of our need and by an attitude of humility. Prayer gains
and nothing is gained without it.
Of course, St. Maximilian would remind us that the most effective
prayer is that which is offered through the hands of the Immaculate. She
is our conduit to heaven. She is our Advocate who brings our prayers to
heaven, and our Mediatrix who dispenses God’s grace to us. The second
requisite, mortification, is necessary because in order for us to live
forever, that is, in order for us to survive the battle and be crowned
victors, our old self must die. Our Lord says: “He who saves his life will lose it, but he who loses his life for my sake will find it”
(Mt 10:39, 16:25; Mk 8:35; Lk 9:24, 17:33; Jn 12:25). The paradox of
the Christian life is that in order to live we must die, like Christ. In
the end, we all pass through the veil of death into eternity, but while
we live, we must choose to die.
St. Bonaventure says: “‘My soul rather chooseth hanging and my bones death.’ He who chooses this death can see God because this is indubitably true: ‘Man shall not see me and live’ ” (Itinerarium Mentis in Deum,
7:6, quoting Job 7:15 and Ex 33:20). Thus, mortification is our daily,
even hourly choice to impose death on all that is offensive to God, and
even on that which is not convenient to our eternal salvation, such as
inordinately seeking the attention of others and talking too much.
In particular, St. Maximilian reminds us, contrary to the Protestant
understanding of justification, that our mortification, done in
cooperation with God’s grace, in fact wins for us an increase of grace.
Grace is always first, but we must cooperate and our cooperation is
Finally, charity, the third requisite in this battle plan, is a
necessary tactic because salvation and victory over our enemy is a
matter of God’s everlasting love for us. If it is true that we are only
saved by grace, and that God hears our prayers and gives us what we
need, then it is for us a lesson in the fundamental importance of
charity. It tells us that we, too, must have the generosity and
selflessness of Christ. In fact, we are all united in Him as members of
the same family and, ultimately, our victory is a triumph over that
isolation which is pride and selfishness. Satan desires to bring about
our destruction through the debilitating plague of inordinate self-love:
charity foils his plan.
Furthermore, grace has truly united us as members of the same family
and we can never be severed from the communion of Saints, except by sin.
“No man is saved alone,” as the saying goes. Either we are a cohesive
army, or we are a defeated army.
Prayer, mortification and charity: a simple strategy, but an
unbeatable one. Not even the Prince of this World can withstand it. In
union with Our Queen, and under Her banner, we are assured of victory if
only we follow Her instructions and commands. https://saintmaximiliankolbe.com/st-maximilians-tactics-for-total-victory/
These marks of Prayer, Mortification and Charity that imbued Maximilian’s life in and through Mary, would carry him through the terrible battle against evil that faced him in Auschwitz:
“On February 17, 1941, Father Maximilian was arrested by the Nazis for a second time. Only hours before the Gestapo arrived, he completed his final and most comprehensive, theological essay on the Virgin Mary’s identity as one who is perfectly united to the Holy Spirit by a bond of love. Soon after, in the concentration camp, Father Maximilian would translate his theological and spiritual insights into practical words and actions for his fellow inmates, by tangibly showing that there is God, and therefore, love and hope exist even in the midst of horrific genocide in the camps of Auschwitz.
Only a saint can stand firm, with constancy and unwavering hope, throughout life’s many difficulties and sufferings. Only a saint can influence others to do the same, because only a saint knows that true and perfect peace is found in God alone. For the saint, trials don’t weaken, they fortify. Serenity and calmness amidst atrocities are not a sign of defeat but of victory, for love is greater than hatred!” https://saintmaximiliankolbe.com/biography/
“After a brief internment in a notorious Polish prison, Kolbe was sent to Auschwitz concentration camp and branded prisoner #16670”. While there, he was sent to the work camp, which involved carrying blocks of heavy stone used to build the crematorium wall. The work camp was overseen by a brutal, vicious man: the ‘Bloody Krott’ who singled out Maximilian for particularly cruel treatment. On one occasion Krott forced Maximilian to “carry the heaviest planks until he collapsed; he then beat
Kolbe savagely, leaving him for dead in the mud. But fellow prisoners
secretly moved him to the camp prison, where he was able to recover.”
Prisoners reported that Kolbe faced appalling mistreatment with “calm … deep faith and dignity”, as he “remained selfless and often shared his
meager rations with others”.
On June 15, he was able to send a letter to his mother.
“Dear Mama, At the end of the month of May I was transferred to the camp of Auschwitz. Everything is well in my regard. Be tranquil about me and about my health, because the good God is everywhere and provides for everything with love. It would be well that you do not write to me until you will have received other news from me, because I do not know how long I will stay here. Cordial greetings and kisses, affectionately. Raymond.” https://www.biographyonline.net/spiritual/maximilian-kolbe.html
“In the harshness of the slaughterhouse Father Kolbe maintained the gentleness of Christ. At night he seldom would lie down to rest. He moved from bunk to bunk, saying: ‘I am a Catholic priest. Can I do anything for you?’
A prisoner later recalled how he and several others often crawled across the floor at night to be near the bed of Father Kolbe, to make their confessions and ask for consolation. Father Kolbe pleaded with his fellow prisoners to forgive their persecutors and to overcome evil with good. When he was beaten by the guards, he never cried out. Instead, he prayed for his tormentors.
A Protestant doctor who treated the patients in Block 12 later recalled how Father Kolbe waited until all the others had been treated before asking for help. He constantly sacrificed himself for the others.”http://www.auschwitz.dk/kolbe.htm
“In July 1941, three
prisoners appeared to have escaped from the camp; as a result, the
Deputy Commander of Auschwitz ordered 10 men to be chosen to be starved
to death in an underground bunker.
When one of the selected men
Franciszek Gajowniczek heard he was selected, he cried out “My wife! My
children!” At this point, Kolbe volunteered to take his place.
The Nazi commander replied, “What does this Polish pig want?”
Kolbe pointed with his hand to the condemned Franciszek Gajowniczek and
repeated: “I am a Catholic priest from Poland; I would like to take his
place because he has a wife and children.”
Rather surprised, the commander accepted Kolbe in place of Gajowniczek. Gajowniczek later said:
could only 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?
I was put back into my place without
having had time to say anything to Maximilian Kolbe. I was saved. And I
owe to him the fact that I could tell you all this. The news quickly
spread all round the camp. It was the first and the last time that such
an incident happened in the whole history of Auschwitz.” https://www.biographyonline.net/spiritual/maximilian-kolbe.html
“A personal testimony about the way Maximilian Kolbe met death is given by Bruno Borgowiec, one of the few Poles who were assigned to render service to the starvation bunker. He told it to his parish priest before he died in 1947:
‘The ten condemned to death went through terrible days. From the underground cell in which they were shut up there continually arose the echo of prayers and canticles. The man in-charge of emptying the buckets of urine found them always empty. Thirst drove the prisoners to drink the contents. Since they had grown very weak, prayers were now only whispered. At every inspection, when almost all the others were now lying on the floor, Father Kolbe was seen kneeling or standing in the centre as he looked cheerfully in the face of the SS men.
Father Kolbe never asked for anything and did not complain, rather he encouraged the others, saying that the fugitive might be found and then they would all be freed. One of the SS guards remarked: this priest is really a great man. We have never seen anyone like him ..
Two weeks passed in this way. Meanwhile one after another they died, until only Father Kolbe was left. This the authorities felt was too long. The cell was needed for new victims. So one day they brought in the head of the sick-quarters, a German named Bock, who gave Father Kolbe an injection of carbolic acid in the vein of his left arm. Father Kolbe, with a prayer on his lips, himself gave his arm to the executioner. Unable to watch this I left under the pretext of work to be done. Immediately after the SS men had left I returned to the cell, where I found Father Kolbe leaning in a sitting position against the back wall with his eyes open and his head drooping sideways. His face was calm and radiant ..’ http://www.auschwitz.dk/kolbe.htm
Father Maximilian Kolbe was executed on 14 August, 1941 at 12:30. He was forty-seven years old. His body was disposed of in the crematorium,”like hundreds of thousands who had gone before him, and hundreds of thousands more who would follow.
The heroism of Father Kolbe went echoing through Auschwitz. In that desert of hatred he had sown love. A survivor Jozef Stemler later recalled:
‘In the midst of a brutalization of thought, feeling and words such as had never before been known, man indeed became a ravening wolf in his relations with other men. And into this state of affairs came the heroic self-sacrifice of Father Kolbe.’ Another survivor Jerzy Bielecki declared that Father Kolbe’s death was ‘a shock filled with hope, bringing new life and strength … It was like a powerful shaft of light in the darkness of the camp.’” http://www.auschwitz.dk/kolbe.htm
|Cell here Kolbe was executed|
“The cell where Father Kolbe died is now a shrine.
Maximilian Kolbe was beatified as Confessor by Paul VI in 1970, and canonized as Martyr by Pope John Paul II in 1981″ http://www.auschwitz.dk/kolbe.htm, saying: “Maximilian did not die but gave his life … for his brother.”
“Franciszek Gajowniczek would miraculously survive Auschwitz, and would later be present at Kolbe’s canonisation in 1971.
“He died on March 13, 1995, at Brzeg in Poland, 95 years old – and 53 years after Kolbe had saved him. But he was never to forget the ragged monk. After his release from Auschwitz, Gajowniczek made his way back to his hometown, with the dream of seeing his family again. He found his wife but his two sons had been killed during the war.
Every year on August 14 he went back to Auschwitz. He spent the next five decades paying homage to Father Kolbe, honoring the man who died on his behalf.”
From the Writings of St. Maximilian Kolbe (KW 1065)
“Let all also embrace their brothers with charitable hearts, enduring suffering and difficulties for God’s sake. Let them do good to everyone, including their enemies, only for the love of God and not in order to be praised or thanked by men. Then they shall realize what it means to have a foretaste of heaven and find peace and happiness even in poverty, in suffering, in disgrace, in sickness. Such foretaste of paradise is also a sure harbinger of eternal bliss.
Indeed, it is not easy to exert self-control in the manner described above to achieve this happiness, but remember that those who ask it of the Immaculata with humility and perseverance will certainly achieve it, because she is unable to deny us anything, nor is the Lord God able to deny her anything. Anyway, we shall shortly know exactly what it will be like in heaven. Surely in a hundred years none of us will still be walking on this earth. But what are a hundred years in the face of what we have been through?… And who will have to wait as many more years?… Soon, therefore, provided we are well prepared, under the protection of the Immaculata.”
Reading and rereading about the greatness of St. Maximilian’s holiness amid such evil and darkness is the best way to prepare today…
May we do so, asking:
St. Maximilian, be with us and help us to pray, to sacrifice ourselves and to choose to always love in this great battle for our souls and the souls of all God’s children – even in the midst of evil and darkness.
Intercede for us to become great saints in and through Mary, our great advocate, as we pray today the mysteries of the rosary and wear the miraculous medal in preparation for our Total Consecration, praying:
O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you,
and for all those who do not have recourse to you, especially the
enemies of Holy Church and all those recommended to you.
© Janet Moore 2019. All Rights Reserved.