Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Aug. 14, 2014 Thursday: St. Maximilian Kolbe

Those who pray never lose hope, even when they find themselves in a difficult and even humanly hopeless plight. Sacred Scripture teaches us this and Church history bears witness to this.

In fact, how many examples we could cite of situations in which it was precisely prayer that sustained the journey of Saints and of the Christian people! Among the testimonies of our epoch I would like to mention the examples of two Saints whom we are commemorating in these days: Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Edith Stein, whose feast we celebrated on 9 August, and Maximilian Mary Kolbe, whom we will commemorate tomorrow, on 14 August, the eve of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Both ended their earthly life with martyrdom in the concentration camp of Auschwitz. Their lives might seem to have been a defeat, but it is precisely in their martyrdom that the brightness of Love which dispels the gloom of selfishness and hatred shines forth. The following words are attributed to St Maximilian Kolbe, who is said to have spoken them when the Nazi persecution was raging: "Hatred is not a creative force: only love is creative." And heroic proof of his love was the generous offering he made of himself in exchange for a fellow prisoner, an offer that culminated in his death in the starvation bunker on 14 August 1941.

.. "Hail Mary!" was the last prayer on the lips of St Maximilian Mary Kolbe, as he offered his arm to the person who was about to kill him with an injection of phenolic acid. It is moving to note how humble and trusting recourse to Our Lady is always a source of courage and serenity. While we prepare to celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption, which is one of the best-loved Marian feasts in the Christian tradition, let us renew our entrustment to her who from Heaven watches over us with motherly love at every moment. In fact, we say this in the familiar prayer of the Hail Mary, asking her to pray for us "now and at the hour of our death".
Pope Benedict XVI - General Audience, 13 August 2008 - © Copyright 2008 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Testimonies of the those who lived in Auschwitz Concentration Camp with St Maximilian Kolbe

Sigmund Gorson, a Jewish survivor of Auschwitz, called him 'A prince among men':

"I was born in a precious family where love was abundant. All my family, parents, sisters and grandparents were murdered in the Concentration Camp. I was the only survivor. For me, it was extremely hard to find myself alone in this world, in the horror and hell that was lived in Auschwitz, and alone thirteen years old.

Many youth like myself lost all hope of survival, and many jumped into the high voltage barbed wires to commit suicide. I never lost hope of finding someone among the immense mass of people who would have known my parents, a friend, a neighbour, so that I wouldn’t feel so alone.

This is how Father Kolbe found me, to put it in simple terms, while I was looking for someone with whom I could make a connection. He was like an angel for me. Just like a mother hen takes in her chicks, that’s how he took me into his arms. He would clean my tears. I believe more in the existence of God ever since then. Ever since the death of my parents, I would ask myself, Where is God? I had lost all faith. Father Kolbe gave me back my faith.

Father Kolbe knew I was a young Jew, but his love would embrace everyone. He gave us lots of love. To be charitable in times of peace is easy, but to be charitable the way Father Kolbe was in that place of horror is heroic. I not only loved Father Kolbe a lot in the Concentration Camp, but I will love him until the last day of my life."

Mieczyslaus Koscielniak relates how Saint Maximilian had attempted to create a school of saints in Niepokalanow, and how he attempted to do the same
amidst the horror of Auschwitz:

"Saint Maximilian would encourage us to persevere with fortitude, “Do not allow yourselves to break down morally,” he would say to us, promising that God’s justice existed and that the Nazis would eventually be defeated. Listening to him, we would forget about our hunger and the degradation which we were subjected to constantly.

One day, Saint Maximilian asked me for a favour. He said, our life here is very insecure, one by one we are being taken to the crematoriums, maybe I will go next, but in the meanwhile, can you do me a favour? Could you make me a drawing of Jesus and Mary, to whom I am very devoted? I drew it for him in the size of a postage stamp, and he would carry it with him all the time in a secret space he had on his belt.

Risking his own life or at least a good beating, between the months of June and July, he secretly met with us, almost every day, to instruct us. His words meant a lot to us. He would speak to us with such great faith about the saints who were celebrated each day, and how much they had to suffer. He would speak to us with great ardour about the martyrs who had totally sacrificed their lives for God’s cause. On Pentecost, he exhorted us to persevere, not to lose hope. Even if we don’t all survive, he said, we will all for sure triumph.