On August 14, the Catholic Church celebrates the life of St. Maximilian Kolbe. He is a pro-life hero and an example of someone who was willing to give up his life to save another’s life.
Raymond Kolbe, later known as Father Maximilian Kolbe, was born in 1894 in the Kingdom of Poland. His parents were relatively poor, and when Maximilian Kolbe was 20, his father was captured by the Russians and hanged because he fought for an independent Poland.
Maximilian Kolbe always had a deep draw towards the religious life. In his early childhood he talked about his vision of the Virgin Mary where he chose both the path of sanctity and the path of a martyr:
That night, I asked the Mother of God what was to become of me, a Child of Faith. Then she came to me holding two crowns, one white, the other red. She asked me if I was willing to accept either of these crowns. The white one meant that I should persevere in purity, and the red that I should become a martyr. I said that I would accept them both.
Because of this vision, he drew himself ever closer to the Blessed Mother and became an active participant in the Militia Immaculata or the Army of Mary.
Maximilian Kolbe was ordained a priest and got a doctorates in philosophy and theology while studying in Rome, Italy. After he finished his studies, he became ill with tuberculosis. He would spend the rest of his life battling this illness, but he didn’t complain. He saw his illness as a way to “suffer for Mary.”
A Heroic Deed
During the second world war, Father Maximilian Kolbe was arrested in February of 1941 for hiding the Jewish people in hopes that they wouldn’t be arrested. He was transferred to the well-known Auschwitz concentration camp. There, he accepted his placing in this so-called “community” and helped teach other prisoners about the Lord’s mercy. He was placed in a rough work camp where he was bullied and teased by the overseers. But throughout all of the pain and suffering that he went through, witnesses say that he was able to maintain his deep faith and accept all of the mistreatment. He was loved by the other prisoners because of his selfless attitude and his undying love for the Lord.
That summer, three prisoners of the camp had escaped. When a prisoner escaped in Auschwitz, ten randomly selected individuals would be executed in that person’s place.
Francizek Gajowniczek was one of those randomly selected individuals. As soon as his name was called out, he began screaming, “My wife! My children!” This is when the great priest stood up and volunteered to take the place of the father/husband. Maximilian Kolbe exchanged his life for the other man’s life. The guards accepted the replacement and Maximilian Kolbe was placed in a starvation cell with the other men for fourteen days. Those days were agonizing for the men, but Maximilian Kolbe was able to bring those men the gift of prayer. They were weak from starvation so most of them were only able to sit or lie down. But witnesses explained that whenever they would pass the starvation cell, Maximilian Kolbe would be in the middle either standing or kneeling while leading prayers and songs. Over this fourteen-day period, all nine other prisoners had passed away, but Maximilian Kolbe remained alive due to his zeal and love for the Lord. On the 14th day, the Nazi guards injected his arm with a lethal dose of carbolic acid, which calmly killed him, giving his life so that another man may live.
St. Maximilian Kolbe: A Pro-Life Hero
This example of self-giving that St. Maximilian Kolbe demonstrated is an extreme, yet powerful example of how humans can do as Jesus did. Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins. He is calling us to be selfless and die to ourselves so that we can serve others.
But St. Maximilian Kolbe only saved one man? Jesus saved EVERYONE! St. Maximilian Kolbe’s example is but a stepping stone to the Divine Mercy that Jesus offers us.
Let us live by St. Maximilian Kolbe’s example – dying to our own needs by putting others’ lives before our own. This selfless act shows how we can save others’ lives just as St. Maximilian Kolbe saved an innocent life. Pray to this great saint, for his intercession and guidance to live for others.
St. Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us!
“Let us remember that love lives through sacrifice and is nourished by giving. Without sacrifice, there is no love.”