Tomorrow is the Feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Catholic priest and victim of the Nazi agenda who died as a result of the horror and darkness of the 20th century. Father Steve pays homage to this great Saint in today's blog post.
At its beginning, the twentieth century was heralded as an age of progress. It was to have been a time in which science would overcome all obstacles that stood in the way of human flourishing and political ideologies would replace the superstitions of religion faith. A new materialist culture would create what Christianity had promised, but had failed to deliver- heaven on earth.
But now looking back we see this “age of progress for the grand illusion that it was. Despite the momentous advances in culture that were inspired by humanistic motives, the twentieth century remains a time when a great darkness fell. One spiritual writer has called the twentieth century the “age of victims” and I think that this is an apt description.
The number of victims of violence and terror in the twentieth century is nearly impossible to bear: two world wars plus the fact that war was waged continually throughout the 20th century. How many died to serve Stalin and Mao’s secularist ambitions? How many lives were sacrificed in pursuit of economic hegemony? How many died for the sake of political expedience?
Every 14th of August, the Church celebrates the witness and martyrdom of Maximilian Kolbe, one of the victims of the twentieth century. He was killed in order to advance the Nazi cause during the Second World War. The cruelty of his final days exceeds what we might imagine to be possible. His last act, an act of love and defiance to Nazi cruelty, was to offer his own life so that another prisoner might live.
“Greater love no man has than to lay down his life for his friends.”
Kolbe laid down his life for a man he scarcely knew.
Kolbe was not granted an easy death. As a result of his sacrifice he died in abject cruelty. He was forcibly starved, and because he would not die fast enough to satisfy his tormentors, Kolbe was killed by a lethal injection.
Saints like Maximilian Kolbe teach us that though our faith may be a comfort in times of trouble it is not to be used as an evasion of our responsibility as disciples. We are called, as Saint Maximilian was, to give testimony to the Light and to boldly oppose the dark powers that curse the radiance of Christ’s love with tyranny, violence, and cruelty. This witness will inevitably require self-sacrifice, even exposing us to danger and to risk.
The dark shadows of the twentieth century haunt us still, and there are cruelties and terrors that beset us in the present moment as well. But, because of the witness of saints like Maximilian Kolbe, we know that in Christ there is a light in the darkness that cannot be overcome.
Father Steve Grunow is the Assistant Director of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.