Sunday, 14 August 2011

St Maximilian Kolbe

When I had the opportunity to visit the concentration camp at Auschwitz a number of years ago, I was taken a bit by surprise when we visited the cell in which Maximilian died. My mind was more on Edith Stein, who died at the nearby Birkenau camp.

In my view, Maximilian is one of the key saints of the twentieth century. One part of his relevance is the Marian character of his apostolate - Fr Rene Laurentin includes a section on Maximilian Kolbe and the Militia Immaculata (in comparison to Louis de Montfort) in his study of Marian consecration. Another is the exemplification of martyrdom as the free offering of life for another, martyrdom as a witness to charity. At its deepest origins, this martyrdom is a profound testimony towards the truth about the human person, about the dignity of the person for whom life is offered. Maximilian does in a way foreshadow the activity of the Church on behalf of the dignity of the human person. [Witnesses of Maximilian's offering to replace another prisoner chosen for death indicate that it was when he identified himself as a priest that the German officer agreed to his request, his priesthood therefore also being an aspect of his martyrdom. The religious inspiration of his self offering is also apparent in the witness statements.] Another aspect of his relevance might be described as his "evangelisation of his milieu". In some ways, his self offering and subsequent death were witnessed only by a very few. Whilst Maximilian Kolbe's milieu as quite unique, I do think the principle extends more widely; that is, that our small actions of testimony can have a significant meaning for those who immediately know us, and that this for many of us represents our calling.
".. I felt his influence with far greater strength afte the event which shook the camp, that is, after he offered his own life for that of another prisoner. The news of the episode spread throughout the entire camp that same night."
The comment of the author (he was the general postulator for Maximilian's cause for canonisation) of the biography of Maximilian Kolbe  that I have read is:
"All the survivors of Auschwitz are unanimous in testifying that from the feast of the Assumption, 1941 [ie the day after Maximilian died], the camp became a somewhat less hellish place."
In a camp that is maintained almost as a testimony to death, to the absence of life, the candle placed in the punishment cell in which Maximilian Kolbe died came to me as a welcome testimony to life.

Photo credit: see here.

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