Daily Reflection
August 14th, 1999
J.J. O'Leary, S.J.
Medical School Chaplain

Joshua 24:14-29
Matthew 19:13-15

Saint Maximilian Mary Kolbe, priest and martyr - Memorial

In today's first reading, we hear Joshua and all the people promise to serve Yahweh as their God and never to choose a false God.  This reading fits beautifully with the life of Maximilian Kolbe, the first person canonized by the present pope.  He chose to serve Yahweh all his life in a fearless and courageous manner - never a false God.

Father Kolbe, a polish Franciscan priest, was outspoken in tongue and pen against the Nazi regime.  He had a great devotion to the Blessed Mother which seemed to strengthen him in all his convictions.  Naturally, it wasn't long before the SS troops incarcerated him at Auschwitz.  Even in the concentration camp, he fearlessly ministered to his fellow prisoners bringing many savage beatings upon himself.  Slowly the spirit of the prisoners took on new life because of Fr. Kolbe's prayerful spirit, the eucharists and his encouragement.  One afternoon while the prisoners were working in the fields, one of the prisoners escaped.  Commandant Fritsch, the German official, said, "If the escaped prisoner is not found by dusk, ten of you will die."  After an intense search by the SS men, he could not be found.  The compound of the escaped prisoner was ordered to stand outside in rows.  The German commander began to select at random the ten men who would die.  When he pointed to Franciszek Gojowniczek, Franciszek cried out in pity for his wife and children.  Fr. Kolbe stepped out of line and said, "I want to take that man's place.  He has a family, a wife and children.  I am a Catholic Priest.  I am alone."  The German Commander acquiesced and the ten were marched over to the hunger bunker, and underground starvation cell to die.  They died one by one but after ten days Father Kolbe and the few remaining were injected with carbolic acid and died.

In October of 1982, Father Kolbe was cannonized a Saint in Rome and present at that canonization was Franciszek Gojowniczek, the man whose place Fr. Kolbe took.  What must have been the thoughts of this man who always must be aware that he lives because this priest died for him.  I would think is whole life must be rooted in Auschwitz where he was given life.  His life has tremendous value - because of the price that had been paid for it - the death of Fr. Kolbe.  In a sense he cannot live in any ordinary way, but he must live up to that value.

Fr. Kolbe's death helps me to understand Jesus' death.  We live because Jesus died for us.  The life is not just the physical life but a life of loving, caring and goodness.  The life of why we read these reflections.  Our lives must be rooted on Calvary where we were given this life.  Our lives have tremendous value because of the price that was paid for it - the death of Jesus Christ.  In a sense then we can't live in any ordinary way but must live up to that value.

The reason Christ died for all was so that we might live no longer for ourselves but for others.  May we be today as Fr. Kolbe was all his life - a person for others.

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