Today, the Church honors St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan priest who volunteered to die in place of a fellow prisoner at Auschwitz, thus embodying the teaching of Jesus, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Yet this last and greatest act of St. Maximilian did not emerge from a vacuum; it was the result of a lifetime of being conformed to Christ through prayer and sacrifice. Only by consistently practicing self-denial, by dying to himself and taking up his cross daily, could St. Maximilian have been conformed to Christ to such a degree that he was in that pivotal moment able to imitate Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross, laying down his life so that another might live.
Every day of our lives contains within it the possibility for sacrifice. In every decision we make, we have the opportunity to choose the self or choose the other, and if we have the wherewithal to choose the other, we have a further opportunity to do so begrudgingly or lovingly, even joyfully. The spirit within which our sacrifices are made matters, and St. Maximilian Kolbe shows us that it is possible to make even the greatest sacrifice—laying down one’s very life—in a spirit of serenity, surrender, and peace.
This spirit of sacrifice is the antidote to what Kolbe observed as an “epidemic of indifference” (see The Collected Writings of St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe, Vol. 1: Letters, 378), as Jessica Keating noted in her 2017 presentation “St. Maximilian Kolbe: Saint of Auschwitz,” part of the McGrath Institute for Church Life’s Saturdays with the Saints series.
It is precisely Kolbe’s example of self-sacrifice in imitation of Christ that is so sorely needed now, when personal autonomy often takes priority over accepting even minor inconveniences for the safety and well-being of others. Learn more about the ways in which Kolbe responded to indifference throughout his life and his ministry by reading the text of Keating’s presentation at Church Life Journal, or by watching the video below.
To watch Jessica Keating's presentation on St. Maximilian Kolbe, click the link below:
St. Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us. May we imitate your courage, and may we be filled with the spirit of Christ so that we, too, might lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters in ways both great and small.
Featured image by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.; CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0.