Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A Shining Faith, A Martyr's Crown

Not long ago, I wrote this, describing six beautiful new statues of saints which were placed in my parish church. All of these saints were extraordinary witnesses to the Faith, but one statue in particular seemed especially beautiful and moving to me.

It is a statue of a man who looks at the world through round glasses with a kind but serious expression; his robes identify him as a Franciscan priest, and speak of a life of evangelization and service. Over his left shoulder is draped a black and white striped prison jacket, in commemoration of his suffering and death at Auschwitz at the hands of the Nazis.

In another time and place, St. Maximilian Kolbe might still have risen to sainthood by virtue of his tireless efforts to propagate the faith. His magazine, Knight of the Immaculate, was widely circulated; he worked to oppose religious indifference and Freemasonry, and founded three monasteries. But these efforts, in retrospect, become shadowed by the looming threat of the Second World War; the second monastery, which he founded in 1931, was located in Nagasaki, Japan, and it would survive the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki fourteen years later. Returning to Poland because of his ill health, St. Maximilian was arrested by the Nazis for the first time in 1939; released a few months later, he continued to work until February of 1941, at which time he was arrested again, and eventually transferred to Auschwitz.

Less than a year later he would take the place of a prisoner condemned to death with nine others, and would accept the crown of martyrdom which, along with the crown of purity, he had seen and accepted from Our Lady in a vision he had had as a young boy.

In our modern day and age, people seem to lose their faith in God, in the Catholic Church, in religion altogether, so terribly easily. If we can't have what we want when we want it, if we are asked to suffer or if we experience failure, if we find ourselves in the wrong or if we witness scandal, how tempting it is to turn away from the narrow path that leads to salvation. We become like Esau in the Bible, willing to sell away our bright inheritance for creature comforts and earthly pleasures.

St. Maximilian Kolbe's faith was of the order that when tested in the crucible does not melt into nothing, but becomes a shining crown of gold. It is easy to have faith when we are untouched by evil; it is beyond the ability of man unaided to continue to have it when confronted with the bitter dark reality of pain, and sin, and horror, and death. At such moments we, alone, would fail; but we are not alone. The sufferings of the One who truly did take the weight of the world's evil on His shoulders makes it more than unnecessary for us to think we carry it on our own: in fact, it makes such thoughts temptations to pride, to think that God doesn't know what we endure or has abandoned us to endure it.

In the last issue of "Knights of the Immaculate," St. Maximilian wrote:

"No one in the world can change Truth. What we can do and should do is to seek truth and to serve it when we have found it. The real conflict is the inner conflict. Beyond armies of occupation and the hecatombs of extermination camps, there are two irreconcilable enemies in the depth of every soul: good and evil, sin and love. And what use are the victories on the battlefield if we ourselves are defeated in our innermost personal selves?"

St. Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us.

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