By Paul Fahey Monday, August 19
Last week, on August 14th, the Roman Church celebrated the feast of Saint Maximilian Mary Kolbe. He was a Franciscan priest who was killed in the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1941. He handed his life over to the Nazis in order to save the life of a fellow inmate. He was starved for two weeks before he was finally injected with a lethal dose of carbolic acid. However, this post isn’t about his death, it’s about his life, a life enlightened by faith.
When Fr. Kolbe was arrested by the Nazis he said to his companions,
Courage, my sons. Don’t you see that we are leaving on a mission? They pay our fare in the bargain. What a piece of good luck! The thing to do now is to pray well in order to win as many souls as possible. Let us, then, tell the Blessed Virgin that we are content, and that she can do with us anything she wishes.
At first glance this may sound like the words of a man who does not fully get what is really going on. But on the contrary, these are the words of a man with a supernatural vision. In Lumen Fidei the pope says that “Faith does not merely gaze at Jesus, but sees things as Jesus himself sees them.” In other words, faith allows man to see as God sees. Faith gives man the ability to see reality as it truly is, to see past the terrors and storms of life.
This kind of supernatural vision can be seen in the Gospels when Jesus invites Peter to walk toward Him on the sea. As long as Peter gazed on Jesus, had faith in Jesus, saw the water as Jesus did, he could walk on the lake’s surface. However, once Peter let himself get distracted by the storm, he became afraid, lost faith, and immediately was engulfed by the sea. Later, after His resurrection, Jesus was able to walk into locked rooms. This was not because He was an ethereal ghost that could float through walls, but rather because His risen body was in fact more real than the walls themselves.
This is the faith, the supernatural vision, that enlightened Fr. Kolbe’s entire life, up through the moment of his death. During his two week stay in the starvation bunker, with only urine to drink, Fr. Kolbe was the voice of peace to the other prisoners. One of the camp undertakers said,
It doesn’t even seem like the starvation bunker….When I go down there, it’s like descending into the crypt of a church…Sometimes the prisoners would be so absorbed in prayer that they would not even realize the guards had come for the daily inspection and had opened the door of their cell. Only when the SS began shouting at them would they stop praying.
Though he was in Hell on earth, he did not fear death. Rather, he saw the Nazis for what they really were – pawns of the “powers and principalities,” powers that have already been conquered by the God-man. Though he was mercilessly beaten and starved to death, he was the image of real peace and joy, to the point that it could be questioned whether or not he was actually suffering.
This supernatural vision is not only offered to great saints and apostles, but it is promised to all men and women who ask for it. Imagine a life not ruled by the passing exterior storms of this world – where pain, suffering, illness, and death do not hold men captive. Yet this is the faith, the freedom, that we are all called to.
Saint Maximilian Mary Kolbe – pray for us.
Paul Fahey is a husband, father, and catechist. He has a BA in Theology, History, and Catholic Studies and is currently studying at the Augustine Institute for a MA in Theology.