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.
History is full of hope. This is what the saints tell us and why their stories should be told and celebrated in every day and age. The holy men and women who have gone before us direct our attention toward the final unfolding of history, when God will be all and in all. However, this is not always obvious, at least it wasn’t to me. As a young school girl, and even as a graduate student, history was a subject for study. I learned about the past, and often that past that didn’t seem to have much to do with me, at least not here and now, nor in the future.
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.