St Maximilian Kolbe

Confessor and Martyr, (entered heaven this day in 1941)

Dear Max,

As a convert, you have to be careful.  You didn’t grow up imbibing the Catholic worldview; you imbibed the Protestant worldview, which is different.  One of the differences is your picture of heaven. Catholics picture heaven as a bustling, glorious, populous city of light and joy and activity and excitement and celebration, everyone serving and glorifying their Eternal King in their own way, together with everyone else.  Protestants tend to picture heaven as a vast, beautiful space, with Christ waiting in the middle, arms open wide. The Protestant view is true as far as it goes, but less complete than the Catholic view. It helps explains why converts like yourself sometimes still feel uncomfortable with the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  You shouldn’t, and you know that, but you do. Don’t worry too much about it, but work on it little by little; gradually take on a truly Catholic view of Mary. Today’s saint can help.

St Maximilian was a brilliant guy.  He had one Ph.D. by the time he was 21 and another just a few years later.  He designed space travel mechanisms long before World War II. While he was studying for the priesthood, his greatest temptation was to leave his priestly vocation to pursue a career in the fascinating and seductive world of science.  But he felt that God was calling him to put all his talents at the service of battling religious indifferentism in the modern world (indifferentism is like practical atheism; no one really cares what God has to say about anything). So he began an Apostolate called the Knights of the Immaculata, dedicated to spreading the Kingdom through publications and other media endeavors under the patronage f Mary Immaculate, who “alone has from God the promise of victory over Satan”, which grew and spread rapidly.  Too rapidly, in fact. When the Nazis conquered Poland, his native land, St Kolbe’s publications vociferously denounced Nazi errors and crimes, and the saint found himself arrested, then released, then arrested again, and sent to forced labor and eventual death at Auschwitz.

Most Christians know of his remarkable ministry at Auschwitz, where his example of faith and perseverance gave hope and meaning to his fellow prisoners even in the most dehumanizing situations.  But few know the details of his experience. Because he publicly acknowledged that he was a Catholic priest (so as to be available to help his fellow inmates), he received “special treatment”: beatings, attacks by dogs, the dirtiest and heaviest work, the carrying of the corpses… Through it all his spirit stayed strong, and supported the others.  He told them, “No, they will not kill our souls… They will not be able to deprive us of the dignity of a Catholic. We will not give up. And when we die, then we die pure and peaceful, resigned to God in our hearts.” You have probably also heard that he voluntarily offered his own life in substitution for a young family man who was randomly chosen for execution.  And so he died – on the eve before August 15th, the feast of Mary’s Assumption.  

The timing of his death, and the remarkable fact that he was beatified as a confessor (one who professed his faith in situations of great danger and risk) and then canonized as a martyr (one who dies for his faith), should indicate that his views on theological issues, like the central role of Mary in the extension of Christ’s Kingdom, are worth meditating on.  He understood that God’s glory is served more by conquering Satan and his minions through the grace-supported efforts of other creatures, like Mary and the Saints, rather then just doing it all himself, which is why the Catholic heaven is so jubilantly crowded.

Think about it.  And don’t be afraid to stay close to your heavenly Mother – she’s certainly staying close to you.

Yours truly, Uncle Eddy

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