The Word of God

Purity and Martyrdom


Reflection on Mass Reading for August 14, 2019

Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe who is best known and revered as the priest-monk-prisoner of Auschwitz Concentration Camp during the horrific events in Nazi Germany during the Second World War.  He was very active in promoting the Immaculate Virgin Mary and was strongly influenced by a vision he had of the Virgin Mary when he was 12: “That night I asked the Mother of God what was to become of me. Then she came to me holding two crowns, one white, the other red. She asked me if I was willing to accept either of these crowns. The white one meant that I should persevere in purity, and the red that I should become a martyr. I said that I would accept them both.” “Son of man, go now to the house of Israel, and speak my words to them.” As in the dramatic call to love in our First Reading, our Saint of the day likewise received the awesome two-fold call to purity and martyrdom which he embraced completely with his entire life. “Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.”

“This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” We can and should easily recognize the sacrifice imbued by the childlike faith and confidence of St. Maximilian Kolbe. Never abandoning his priesthood while a prisoner, Kolbe was the victim to severe violence and harassment. At the height of perpetrated evil with the death camp, prisoners were chosen to face death by starvation to discourage attempted escapes and although he was not chosen to die, he nonetheless volunteered to take the place of a man who had a wife and children. During the last days of his life, St. Maximilian led prayers and remained calm. After more than twelve days of dehydration and starvation, the guards gave him a lethal injection of carbolic acid after which he raised his left arm and calmly awaited death. He died on August 14, the vigil of the Feast of the Assumption of Mary.

While the majority of us will not have these same or even similar events during our existence, we can and should understand that we are, in our own chosen states of life, called to practice a pure and chaste approach to human life and to give witness of our faith wherever and whenever possible. It is the same Jesus through His Mother Mary who inspires us to continue the path of holiness and strength in this life. May we may be encouraged by the heroic witness of St. Maximilian Kolbe, now and always. “I was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.”

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