Today we celebrate the life of Raymond Kolbe, or Saint Maximilian, who was born in Poland, in the year 1894, during the Russian occupation. His family was poor, but despite the forced oppression, they remained devoted to the Faith. Both of his parents were lay members of the Third Order of Franciscans called Franciscan Tertiaries. His father enlisted in the Polish army and fought for Polish independence from Russia. When he left the military he ran a religious bookstore. He was captured and hung by the Russians, who claimed him to be a traitor. After his father died, his mother became a Benedictine nun.
As a young boy, Raymond, was a mischievous, unruly young boy. Often providing his mother with the difficult task of trying to rear him. Around the time he made his First Communion, she asked him to pray to the Blessed Mother for help and guidance in getting his life on track. When Raymond prayed, the Blessed Mother appeared to him. He asked Her what was to become of him. She presented him with the two crowns She had been carrying in her hands. A red one, and a white one. She asked the young saint which of the crowns would he accept. She told him that the white one meant that he should persevere in purity and the red one meant that he should become a martyr. Raymond told her that he would accept both. The experience changed him forever and helped him turn away from the disobedience that he had been drawn to his entire young life.
In 1907, at the age of thirteen, he began his studies at the Franciscan seminary in Lwow, Poland. He excelled in mathematics and physics. For a couple of years, he wanted to abandon the priesthood so as to join the military, but eventually, he relented to the calling of the religious life and in 1910 he became a novice in the Conventual Franciscan Order at the age of 16. He took the name Maximilian, making his first vows on September 5th, 1911, and then making his final vows on November 1st, 1914.
Shortly after professing his final vows, he developed chronic tuberculosis…eventually losing one of his lungs to the dreaded disease. And though he eventually recuperated, his health was always weakened due to this loss. Yet another saint, who after promising to dedicate their life to the Lord…was weakened by ill health….
During October of 1916, the Italian Freemasons were carrying out anti- Catholic demonstrations which prompted Friar Maximilian and six other Franciscans to head to Rome to form an association they called the Immaculata. The founding of this group coincided with the Bolshevik revolution that was going on in Russia and the Marian apparitions that were beginning in Fatima, Portugal.
In the 1920’s Father Maximilian returned to work in Poland as a Franciscan priest. working tirelessly to promote the Faith through use of newspapers and magazines. The publications grew so large that from a monastery which continued to grow as well, that it began to be referred to as the “City of the Immaculata.” Then in 1930 he moved to Japan and with the same zeal he’d had before, he was able to establish a Japanese Catholic press and another monastery by 1936.
Later that year he returned to Poland, and in 1939, when Germany invaded Poland, Father Kolbe was arrested. In 1940, he was freed just long enough to publish one last issue of the Knight of the Immaculata. In 1941, he was rearrested and set to Auschwitz.
In Auschwitz, it was customary that if a prisoner was caught trying to escape, that 10 other prisoners would be sentenced to death by starvation. In August of 1941, a prisoner was caught, and 10 of the prisoners were chosen to pay for his ‘crime’. When Father Kolbe heard one of the men pleading to be spared because he had a wife and children, he was so moved that he offered his life in exchange for that of the man who was a husband and father.
Later, survivors of the camp told of how the starving prisoners could be heard singing hymns and praying, with Father Kolbe leading them. He administered to the prisoners and helped prepare them for their coming deaths. After two weeks, on the night before the Church’s feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the camp officials tired of the priest’s heroics and decided to hasten Fr. Kolbe’s death, injecting him with carbolic acid.
St. Maximilian Kolbe’s body was cremated by the camp officials on the feast of the Assumption. He had stated years earlier: “I would like to be reduced to ashes for the cause of the Immaculata, and may this dust be carried over the whole world, so that nothing would remain.”
PRAYER TO ST. MAXIMILIAN KOLBE
St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe, most faithful son of St. Francis, the beggar of Assisi, inflamed with love for God you journeyed through life practicing heroic virtues and performing true apostolic deeds.
Turn your gaze on us who honor you and have recourse to you.
Radiating with the light of the Immaculate Virgin, you brought countless souls to holiness and introduced them to various apostolic endeavors for the victory of good over evil and to thereby extend the Kingdom of God throughout the whole world.
Obtain for us the light and the strength we need to do good and to bring many souls to Christ.
Perfectly conformed and united with Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, you achieved such a high degree of love of neighbor that you were able to freely offer your life in exchange for a fellow prisoner in witness of true evangelical charity.
Beg the Lord on our behalf that, filled with the same fire of love, our faith and good example might also bring others to Christ and secure for us the reward of everlasting life, where we shall praise Him together with you in eternal glory. Amen.