St. Maximilian Kolbe’s saint-day precedes the Feast of the Assumption. St. Max volunteered his life to the executioner in place of another man’s life, while imprisoned in the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz, Poland. About 2,000 years earlier, our Lady volunteered to offer her life when she said “yes” to carry Our Savior in her womb. She risked death by stoning as a pregnant and unmarried teen, which the Jewish Law would condemn as evidence of fornication.
St. Max won the crown of martyrdom, while our Lady was assumed – body and soul – directly into heaven. That’s where the analogy breaks down. Our Lady was set apart from the beginning: She, who was conceived through the Immaculate Conception, did not die a human death, but was take up directly into heaven (the Feast of the Assumption), where she remains the Queen of all the Saints. No doubt, she was there among the first to welcome St. Max when he entered heaven.
St. Maximilian lived an extraordinary life. He chose the vocation of a priest with the help of his parent’s urging and example. He was brilliant in his studies, and he used this in service to the Church. He started a newspaper that expanded to other countries, including Japan. St. Max suffered tuberculosis, but he continued to travel the globe as a missionary, while writing and publishing his newspaper and serving as a priest – even when he had only half of one lung functioning.
Many say his newspaper gave Poland the spiritual tools to endure the horrors of Nazism. His newspaper and faith convictions landed him in Auschwitz, along with thousands of Jews. He ministered to others in the camp throughout his imprisonment, and he was set apart by the Nazis for extreme abuse. At the hands of the Nazi oppressors he met his death. One day, when a man appealed to his executioners that he had a wife and family, Maximilian stepped forward and offered his life instead. Greater love has no man than this, that one lays down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)
How in the world can we live up to that?
Well, we can’t. But we can strive to follow the principles these lives embody. That is the key to translating concrete details from the Bible, from Church doctrines and from the lives of the saints: We can’t follow the example exactly; instead we need to uncover the principles those details point to. It’s the principles we apply to our lives.
Our Lord showed us – through His complete and voluntary Sacrifice – the principle of sacrificial love. True love is sacrificial. It does not benefit us; it empties us and fills others. Taking ourselves – our needs, our wants, our desires – out of the equation is the greatest of challenges.
There is no formula for learning how to love sacrificially. It’s something we need to strive for, while relying on God’s Grace. To live this principle, however, we need to stay mindful. Our days will present a series of opportunities to love sacrificially. It is the daily challenge. And we need to strive moment-by-moment:
- Someone cuts you off in a check-out line or while driving at an intersection. Choose to yield, and let another go first.
- Your spouse leaves his/her dirty clothes in a pile (again). Choose to serve, without counting the cost.
- Your child asks you to drive her (yet again) to a friend’s house far away. Say yes without hesitation.
- Your friend needs your help at a most inconvenient time; drop everything and say yes.
To love sacrificially in the hum-drum of daily life requires flexibility, slowing down, putting aside our “list” for that day or hour, and allowing the needs of others to take over our days. It requires a posture of openness and receptivity. It requires tireless energy: Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. (Galatians 6:9).
It’s unlikely that we will face the courageous moment to offer our very lives for another, as St. Maximilian Kolbe did. Of course, no one can relive the yes our Lady offered God and the world. And yet, we can learn to say yes to sacrifice each moment of the day. Our lives are measured in these moments of choice: to say yes to love sacrificially or to hold back something of (and for) ourselves. This forms the front line of spiritual warfare.
Cultivate moment-to-moment awareness that each thing that happens to us in our days is God-presented rather than random. Embrace the daily opportunities God presents us, so we can learn how to love sacrificially. The more we say “yes” to those hard choices in love, the more our will grows to conform to the Divine. This is the sure path of holiness. With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. (Matthew 19:26)
Our Lady of the Assumption, pray for us.
St. Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us.