Today the Church celebrates the feast of St. Pius of Pietrelcina, a man better known simply as Padre Pio (1887–1968). Even before his death, Padre Pio was a source of fascination for many people, and stories of his remarkable holiness and supernatural gifts abound, some of which are truly astonishing, some of which border on outlandish, but all of which inspire us to take a closer look at this humble Capuchin friar, who was so intimately united with Christ in his heart, so closely conformed to Christ in his soul, that even his own body was also conformed to Christ, marked with the wounds of Christ’s Crucifixion.
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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.
Today, the Church celebrates the First Holy Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church. These men and women were martyred en masse by Emperor Nero in Rome in the year 64 A.D., in his effort to shift the blame for the great fire of Rome from himself to the Christian community.
While the names of these proto-martyrs of the Church are lost to history, their deaths inspired many to convert to Christianity, proving once again the truth of Tertullian’s statement that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
Today marks the feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan priest executed at Auschwitz on August 14, 1941, offering his life in the place of a fellow prisoner who had been condemned to death.