Since the time of the Reformation, the lack of devotion to the Mother of God has been a sign of the dying of Christendom. Saint Maximilian Kolbe had been dedicated to the Virgin Mother since he had a vision of her when he was a boy. She offered him the red crown of martyrdom or the white crown of purity, and he chose to take both. By his founding of the Immaculata Militia and his devotion to the Immaculata, our Blessed Mother found a knight and champion in Kolbe willing to proclaim her message in the teeth of the indifference and hostility of a world that so desperately needs precisely the love and compassion of the Queen of Heaven.
After the Nazi invasion of Poland, Saint Maximilian Kolbe threw open the doors of the monastery at a Niepokalanów and gave assistance to thousands of refugees, including 2000 Jews. Even the wife of a Nazi Gauleiter was moved by the endless compassion that Kolbe had for all who sought his assistance. Facing a seemingly hopeless situation he gave hope and love to all he encountered. Hope and love have always been in short supply on this planet and perhaps never more so than today.
A man carrying out the precepts of the Gospels under Nazi rule was a marked man, and so I am sure it came as no surprise to Father Kolbe when he was arrested by the Gestapo on February 17, 1941. After a short stay at Pawiak prison, on May 28, 1941 he was sent to the extermination camp of Auschwitz to die. Adolph Hitler was not the Anti-Christ, but it is hard in light of the death camps not to see him, along with his colleague in mass murder Joseph Stalin, as a developer of methods that might be utilized by the Anti-Christ. Auschwitz is as close as humanity has come to creating a literal Hell on Earth, and into this industrial slaughter camp strode Father Kolbe, Prisoner 16670. Whatever terrors await us in this century it is hard to believe we will manage to surpass the nihilistic worship of mass death that went on at Auschwitz. The reaction of Father Kolbe? Subject to the same beatings, starvation and brutality as his fellow prisoners, Kolbe moved among them at night, telling them that he was a Catholic priest. He prayed with them and heard their confessions. A constant theme for him was that the prisoners must pray for their persecutors and return evil with good. When he was beaten, Father Kolbe would not cry out but would pray for the man beating him. I confess that I could not do that, but I recognize the perfection of Christian love that Saint Maximilian achieved by doing so. In the midst of his sufferings he was able to send a last letter to his dear mother.
“Dear Mama, At the end of the month of May I was transferred to the camp of Auschwitz. Everything is well in my regard. Be tranquil about me and about my health, because the good God is everywhere and provides for everything with love. It would be well that you do not write to me until you will have received other news from me, because I do not know how long I will stay here. Cordial greetings and kisses, affectionately. Raymond.”
I think that when he wrote that letter he already suspected that the ultimate sacrifice might soon be required of him. Continue Reading