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No Greater Love

August 14, 2020

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13

Today brings another commemoration for the church. Today we remember Maximilian Kolbe, saint and martyr.

I first heard Maximilian’s story when I visited Auschwitz for the first time. He had been sent to the concentration camp after giving shelter and aid to refugees in Poland, including 2,000 Jews. At Auschwitz, he continued to serve as a priest, for which he was beaten and harassed. In July 1941, a prisoner escaped from the camp. In retaliation and to prevent future attempts at escape, the SS selected ten men to be starved to death in an underground bunker.

Franciszek Gajowniczek was one of the ten men selected. Upon receiving his death sentence, he cried out, “My wife! My children!” Kolbe volunteered to take his place.

The men were deprived of food and water for two weeks, during which the other nine men died. But every time the guards checked on Maximilian, they found him calmly kneeling or standing in prayer. To hasten his death, he was given a lethal injection of carbolic acid. Certain in his faith, he accepted this with peaceful calm.

Franciszek Gajowniczek survived the death camp and the war.

Maximilian’s body was cremated the next day, August 15, the Feast of the Assumption of Mary This was beautifully fitting, as Maximilian had received a vision of Mary at the age of 12: “That night I asked the Mother of God what was to become of me. 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.”

John Paul II proclaimed Maximilian the Patron Saint of Our Difficult Century. May we be inspired by his love, devotion, and sacrifice. May we never be in such a position but, if we are, may we boldly commend ourselves into God’s hands and live, or die, for the good of our neighbor.

Be well, friends. You are loved.

Generous God, your Son poured out his life for the sake of his friends. Not because we deserved it, but because he loves us. May we live with such love for one another. May our self-giving love beat back the forces of evil. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Image: Photo from Auschwitz, taken by me on August 21, 2019, during my third visit to the concentration camp.

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