Friday, August 14, 2009

Father Maximillian Mary Kolbe

I absolutely & unequivocally confess that Maximillian Mary Kolbe originally caught my interest as the patron of drug addicts & the story on the saints index implies a misspent youth, but what stopped me in my tracks was his martyrdom.

Let me be clear, martyrdoms are often graphic stuff. The technique, if you will, can have a lot to do with what you become patron of: the patron saint of cooks was grilled. I do not mean questioned for hours by law enforcement types, I mean grilled.

As for the whys of martyrdom, they are not usually so engaging. Mostly it is because the other guy hates you, hates your religion &/or generally wants to make an example of you. The why is usually the predictable bit.

Enter Maximillian Mary Kolbe, one of many many many & more to die at Auschwitz.

When the Nazis entered Poland, he was one of thousands gathered & taken away. This was not just bad luck, wrong Pole in the wrong place at the wrong time. His family had a history of rebelling against the presiding authority: his father was hanged for treason fighting for Polish Independence in 1914. Moreover, ill health kept Father Kolbe from doing his original assigned tasks (teaching ) & gave him time to to dwell on what he thought was the single greatest threat to his church & G*d: apathy. & no one ever fought apathy sitting in a church (or a school or a community center) waiting for someone who wants to hear what you have to say to wander in. Fighting apathy usually happens out there, in the street, with the apathetic. Best case scenario they think you are a kook, they give you whatever spare change they have on them & later that night might wonder if you found a safe place to sleep. Worse case, your apathetics are Nazis.

In the end, the almost end, he & his fellow brothers were arrested for harboring 3,000 Polish refugees in & around their monastery, an estimated 2/3 were jews. On May 28, 1941, he was deported to Auschwitz. In July that same year, following an escape, ten random remaining men were singled out to be killed. One of them, Franciszek Gajowniczek, despaired aloud of seeing his wife & children again; Father Kolbe requested & was allowed to die in his place. As Prisoner 16670, he was starved & dehydrated with the others selected, & died August 14, 1941 by lethal injection.

I have many many problems with the modern catholic church (with the older church, as well, but there is little point in hanging on to those). Not the least of which was the underhanded assisting known Nazi war criminals in relocating to Syria, South America, etc. to avoid trial for their war crimes. The more recent appointing of a former Hitler Youth to the papacy was just the cherry on top. Finding Father Kolbe on the calendar makes it easier for me to breathe.

What really held my attention though, heart rending story aside was the nature of his martyrdom. I have cruised up & down the saints lists looking for another who did not die for of his religion or even for his own direct actions or safe in his bed after a church-y life. Random chance could have made him one of the original ten chosen & we would not be talking about him now. Another take-me-instead volunteer might be in the pantheon, but I have not found him/her so far.

Father Kolbe is the patron of drug addicts (as I believe I mentioned), political prisoners & Auschwitz.

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