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Maximilian Kolbe

St_Kolbe_Prayer_CardIt is the changing of the seasons from summer to fall that reminds me of Maximilian Kolbe. Every September as a new fourth grade class entered catechism, my mother would tell the story of Maximilian Kolbe. As a teenager, I was often “dragged” to “volunteer” to be my mom’s aide in her Sunday class. At the time, I didn’t see this as any gift – just something my mom was making me do. This was considered volunteer service and often I did not look forward to awakening early on a day off to help her. However, the one thing I always liked was when my mom told the story of Maximilian Kolbe to her students. She was a wonderful story-teller and often would relate Bible stories to real life examples.

Maximilian Kolbe was a priest who served in Poland. He was arrested and sent to Auschwitz concentration camp on February 17, 1941. Ten men were singled out at a time to go to what was known as Block 13 – the Death Block. One of the men broke down in tears, crying out that he would never be able to see his wife and children again. Prisoner number 16670 stepped forward and walked up to the prison guard and whispered something. Fr. Maximilian Kolbe told the prison guard that he wanted to take the place of the man with the family. The guards allowed him to switch and prisoner 16670 was taken, along with nine others to the cell block where the men died slowly without any food or water. Fr. Maximilian Kolbe died on August 14, 1941.

Maximilian Kolbe gave his life so that another man might live. He not only saved a life, but the morale in the camp changed as word got out that a prisoner stepped forward for another. My mother would tell this story and ask how many times were they willing to do something for someone else? She would tell the students how Maximilian Kolbe was willing to do anything to help someone in need. What are the small things we can do, even at age 10, to help one another? What are you willing to give up?

I never grew tired of hearing my mom tell that story and still wish she was here to share it. Each time she told it I was reminded how much I had and how getting out of bed early was nothing compared to what Maximilian Kolbe had to endure. It is a reminder that even on my worst days, I have so much to be grateful for. What are the sacrifices I am willing to make in order to make another life safe?

I probably will not have to take the place of another in prison, but I can help someone else feel safe in the world. I can offer the gift of friendship with more compassion, generosity, patience, and love. How can we reveal ourselves with courage and vulnerability even when it is not easy to do so? How are we prisoners to our own minds and project it out to the world? Freedom starts with each one of us. Step forward for yourself and for another.

In case you are wondering, Maximilian Kolbe was canonized in 1982. St Maximilian Kolbe’s feast day is August 14.

Dedicated to my mom for teaching me about service.

Mary Anne

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