Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Sign of the Cross: Saint Maximilian Kolbe’s Gift of Life


By Father Gordon J. MacRae

Editor’s Note: This is Part Two of a two-part post. Part One was entitled “Suffering and St Maximilian Kolbe Behind These Stone Walls.”

(These Stone Walls) Writing from England in a recent posting at the venerable Homiletic and Pastoral Review, Psychologist Brent Withers has an intriguing article entitled, “The Science of Divine Love” (July 18, 2013). It is about the means for our sanctification and it describes how our actions, sacrifices and sufferings “build up the mystical body of Christ.” It’s a concept at the very heart of St. Maximilian’s sacrifice of his life at Auschwitz, a sacrifice that gave life to another as described last week in Part One of this post. It is a concept central to the Gospel:
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15: 13)
Among his many examples of how suffering can become sacrifice, Brent Withers wrote of the “practice of non-resistance” in the spiritual life of St. Therese of Lisieux who invites us “to receive hardships warmly.” Those who survived the horrors of Auschwitz to tell of the demeanor of St. Maximilian describe a man who in life and in death lived that tenet of the Gospel. The Jewish psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, described the power of such sacrifice in his masterful work about physical, mental, and spiritual survival of Auschwitz, Man’s Search for Meaning (Beacon Press, 1992):
“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way.” (p. 75)
These very words opened my eyes and my soul to a better path than the usual bitterness and resentment that consumes prisoners and transforms prison from Purgatory to hell. Not to be bitter, not to swallow the toxic pill of resentment, not to wear hurt and anger like a shield are a personal choice. Viktor Frankl himself used the example of Maximilian Kolbe at Auschwitz as a model for the inspiration to survive that he found in prison. It was the conclusion of Man’s Search for Meaning and the heart of TSW’s “The Paradox of Suffering: An Invitation from Saint Maximilian Kolbe.”
“Sigmund Freud once asserted, ‘Let one attempt to expose a number of the most diverse people uniformly to hunger. With the increase of the imperative urge of hunger all individual differences will blur, and in their stead will appear the uniform expression of the one unstilled urge.’ Thank heaven Sigmund Freud was spared knowing the concentration camps from the inside… Think of Father Maximilian Kolbe who was starved and finally murdered by an injection of carbolic acid at Auschwitz and who in 1983 was canonized.” (p. 153-154)..  (continued)


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