In some parts of the Church, today is the feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe. He was born Raymund on January 8, 1894, in the Kingdom of Poland, part of the Russian Empire. In 1910, he began the process to become a Franciscan friar; he was given the name Maximilian (“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” 2 Corinthians 5:17)
Maximilian went on to earn doctorates in philosophy and theology, and to found monasteries in both Japan and India. In 1936, his poor health forced him to return home to Poland. Once the WWII invasion by Germany began, he was one of a few brothers to remain in the monastery. He opened a temporary hospital. He provided shelter for refugees, including 2,000 fleeing Jews. On February 17, 1941, however, the monastery was shut down and Maximilian was arrested by the German Gestapo. He was taken to the Pawiak prison and, three months later, transferred to Auschwitz. Toward the end of his second month there, men were chosen to face death by starvation to deter escapes. Maximilian was not chosen but volunteered to take the place of a man who had a wife and children. The guards gave him a lethal injection of carbolic acid. The stories are that he raised his left arm and calmly awaited death. He loved to the end.
Maximilian is often depicted in a prison uniform and with a needle being injected into an arm. He is the patron saint of drug addicts, prisoners, and families.
Hear his exhortation to love one another:
We need to love our neighbor not just because he is pleasant or helpful or rich and influential or even because he shows us gratitude. These motives are too self-serving. Genuine love rises above creatures and soars to God. In him, by him, and through him it loves all persons, both good and wicked, friends and enemies. To all it stretches out a hand filled with love; it prays for all, suffers for all, wishes what is best for all, desires happiness for all—because that is what God wants.
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The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is a retired priest of the Diocese of Washington