Often when speaking of a very good person, someone will say, “S/he’s a saint!” but when we’re talking about saints in a specific way, we generally look to people who lived in the early days of Christianity or the Middle Ages. Almost everyone knows about St. Francis of Assisi, St. Benedict and (finally!) St. Mary Magdalene, as well as mystics Sts. John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila. Lately, we Catholics in the United States have been gratified with the canonization (official recognition) of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American saint, and Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American saint. Now there are also “regular people” who have lived a good and holy life who are coming to the notice of people in high places or those whose diligence pleads their case successfully with the Vatican to have them recognized in this special way. One such heroic holy person is Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan friar who volunteered to take the place of a Jewish man in the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz. A prisoner had escaped and, in retribution, the commandant announced that ten men would die. Sergeant Francis Gajowniczek was married with a family and lived to tell the tale of the holy man who took his place in the group of ten executed on this day in 1941. Fr. Kolbe was canonized in 1982.
Although this heroism was extreme, it was not uncharacteristic behavior for Maximilian Kolbe. His entire life was dedicated to God, most significantly in devotion to the Blessed Mother, Mary. Reading his biography – even the snapshot found on the website http://www.franciscanmedia.org – is inspiring. Most of us will not be called to the kind of heroism that Fr. Kolbe exercised, but we can all aspire to the holiness born of love, willingness and generosity that characterized his life. And in this moment in our complex and dangerous world, we can use those motivations to mitigate the hatred, greed and selfishness that causes the negative energies to rise.
May peace reign in our hearts today and lead to peace in our world.