Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Maximilian Kolbe and the Assumption

Today is the Memorial of St. Maximilian Kolbe. His story is here.

This morning as I was thinking of what to say in the homily, it dawned on me, after so many years, that his feast day is the perfect compliment to the Feast of the Assumption tomorrow.

The Dogma of the Assumption of Mary was declared infallible in 1950. In the document making the decree official (Munificentissimus Deus), Pope Pius XII writes:

Now, just like the present age, our pontificate is weighed down by ever so many cares, anxieties, and troubles, by reason of very severe calamities that have taken place and by reason of the fact that many have strayed away from truth and virtue. Nevertheless, we are greatly consoled to see that, while the Catholic faith is being professed publicly and vigorously, piety toward the Virgin Mother of God is flourishing and daily growing more fervent, and that almost everywhere on earth it is showing indications of a better and holier life. Thus, while the Blessed Virgin is fulfilling in the most affectionate manner her maternal duties on behalf of those redeemed by the blood of Christ, the minds and the hearts of her children are being vigorously aroused to a more assiduous consideration of her prerogatives.

History tells us that this decree was made following up the Second World War. In that war, humanity was exposed to the cruelty and inhumanity that allowed for the extinction of hundreds of thousands of human beings and the eventual release of the atom bomb. Maximilian Kolbe's death was just a small fraction of the animal savagery our human race displayed.

The pronouncement of the Assumption was made in 1950 in part to show that indeed God does think well of humanity. In Mary, we are capable of a "better and holier life".

Today, reading about St. Maximilian, I thought of how ugly we can be. How sick and thirsty for perversion we can be. How murderous we are. We all are at times.

Kolbe had a devotion to Mary. He created the Militia of the Immaculate in her honor. A few short years after his extermination, one of the oldest traditions concerning her was made a fundamental belief of Catholics.

Between St. Maximilian's day and the Assumption, we can be taught. We learn that crosses and crucifixions are very real. So is the divine spark that we all have. The beauty of Mary's fiat ("let it be done to me") allows Kolbe to say, "I'll die so another may live." It's not that the darkness of the concentration camps and the brutality of the war never happened. It's that it was made redemptive.

I once had a friend whose father was a survivor of the Holocaust. The man was in his seventies when I met him. My friend was the product of his second wife. His first wife and children were killed in Auschwitz. He had a thick German accent and smoked cigarettes conservatively. Puffing a bit, extinguishing it and picking up the cigarette hours later. A habit he'd learned in the camp himself. His arm had the tattoo given him by his Nazi captors. Even with his deep tan, it was visible.
Kolbe in Auschwitz

He told me one night between puffs that he didn't care for the Church because the Pope didn't help. I tried to explain but he would hear nothing of it. He said that the pope locked himself away in the Vatican and let Europe burn.
Later, I would hear that this was a common sentiment.

I had nothing to offer my friend's father. What do you say or do to make things better for a man who had been forced to literally live another life?

There is still very much to learn about the Church and it's involvement in the Holocaust. Some vilify Pope Pius XII while others have shown his largesse and compassion to the victims of Hitler's purging. Professor Ron Rychlak, a member of our parish, has done as much to clear the air.

That said, Catholics can debate historically the strength or weakness of the Church. It's academic.

But when one ponders the example of Maximilian Kolbe, his sacrifice and faith, it's inspirational. I wish I had known more when Poppa was alive. I would not have been a happier face of Catholicism or anything like that. But

I probably would have known more about standing in his place instead of "talking him out of it".

So we do wish to live after all, but without having to suffer. We want to live happily, but not any sort of happy life. We would like our happiness to grow con­tinually rather than diminish; in fact, the knowledge itself that we might find an insurmountable obstacle in our path would diminish our happiness. We long for happiness, but it should have no limits. Quite so. And not only should it have no limits, but it should last for a very long time, as long as possible; endless­ly, if possible.
Indeed. Evidently, there is no such thing as unlimited hap­piness in this limited world; such happiness can only be found in the infinite, eternal God himself, in heaven. Besides, all of us who are here, long for this, and every person, regardless of nationality, lives on such longing. The longing comes from human nature itself, which is common to us all.
Could God himself, who has bestowed on us abili­ties and natural tendencies to reach our goal (eyes to see the objects that really exist, ears to hear the sounds that really exist), give his creatures a higher, intellectual longing, without offering them the chance to fulfill it? If this were the case, then that longing would be pointless.
A God who has created in nature this somehow unquenchable longing for happiness, explicitly intending it to be unlimited, but without offering the way to satisfy this burning thirst, would not be acting sensibly nor lovingly. In short, he would not be God. Therefore, there must be such happiness.
St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe