have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” – Galations 2:20
The prisoners of Auschwitz were lined up for the terrible punishment for a suspected escape. During the selection, one of the men began to cry for his family. Amazingly, prisoner 16670 broke ranks to make a request, “I am a Catholic priest from Poland, and I would like to take this man’s place because he has a wife and children.” Fr. Maximilian Kolbe spent two weeks in the starvation bunker encouraging his nine fellow prisoners and praising God. On August 14, 1941, the Nazis had seen enough and killed him and the remaining prisoners by lethal injection. On October 10, 1982, Pope John Paul II canonized Kolbe and declared him a martyr of charity. Franciszek Gajowniczek, the man whose life Maximilian had saved, was in attendance with his family.
As we look for inspiration from others, the saints encourage us to imitate Christ by the transformation of his grace. In Catholic theology, anyone who is in Heaven is a saint, but through a process of discernment the Church declares those “saints” who have led a life of heroic virtue. These holy men and women show us the power of Christ’s love in us and the potential to respond to that love. I chose Maximilian Kolbe to be my patron saint when I was preparing for Confirmation in high school. I was inspired by his courageous death but am now equally amazed by his life of 47 years. He lived a life of poverty as a Franciscan priest, received both a doctorate in philosophy and theology from universities in Rome, was a missionary to Japan, and started a publication that had a million subscribers by the outbreak of World War II.
Kolbe’s courageous life highlights what the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls fortitude, “the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life” (CCC 1808). Perhaps the saint summarized it best, “Be a man. Don’t blush for your convictions.”
– Rev. Rick Chenault, pastor, Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Church.