Perhaps you've heard the story of the Polish Catholic priest at Auschwitz who, when a fellow prisoner was selected to be executed, took the place of the prisoner and was killed. That priest was Maximilian Kolbe. While that sacrificial act is what Father Kolbe is primarily remembered for, there was much more to his life. Desmond Forristal wrote a biographical account of Kolbe's life and martyrdom, Kolbe: A Saint in Auschwitz.
Kolbe's parents were devoted Catholics, so it was no surprise that he and his brother decided to pursue the vocation of priesthood. They served together in the Franciscan Order. Maximilian Kolbe became a leading figure, opening monasteries and creating periodicals to spread the message of the Church. He particularly promoted devotion to Mary, the Immaculate. I am not Catholic, but I think even Catholics might have a problem with Kolbe's take on Mary. When she appeared at Lourdes, she is reported to have said: "'I am the Immaculate Concetion'" . . . by which Kolbe believes "she meant something more than that she had been conceived without sin: she meant that she was the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, so completely one with him and filled by him that she could take his title as her own." Mary as the third person of the Trinity? Or married to the third person of the Trinity? Hmmm…..
But much more important than this theological quirk was Kolbe's selfless service to others, which he demonstrated throughout his life. This became especially true during the occupation of Poland and during his internment at Auschwitz. As an ethnic German he could have received special privileges, but "He refused the invitation, saying that he was a son of Poland and would always remain so." In the camp, he constantly ministered to other prisoners, giving up his own rations and supplies to others. Finally, in the ultimate act of selflessness, he submitted himself for death in the place of another prisoner.
I am humbled not only by Kolbe's sacrifice, but by his sacrificial lifestyle and the energy with which he served the church throughout his life. He is one about whom we ask, "How did one man accomplish so much?" Forristal's account is quite sympathetic to Kolbe, inspiring the reader to study Kolbe's life and emulate his ministry. Kolbe was justifiably recognized by the Church as a martyr and a saint.
2016 Reading Challenge: A book by or about a martyr