This past Monday was the feast day for St. Maximilian Kolbe. Kolbe was a Franciscan priest who, during the Second World War, resisted the Nazi regime and was imprisoned. The story is told that one day, a group of prisoners was set to be executed and one of the prisoners pleaded to be spared because he had a wife and children. Maximilian Kolbe stepped forward and offered to take the man’s place. The Nazi authorities accepted his offer, the man with the family was spared and Kolbe was executed in prison. In 1982, Kolbe was canonized by Pope John Paul II and present at the canonization was the man whose place Kolbe had taken in prison.
Maximilian Kolbe is remembered for his selfless and loving act and also for speaking out against the Nazi regime. We sometimes think that era is long ago and far away, but last weekend in Charlottesville we were reminded that the Nazi flag has not gone away, and that it is sometimes paraded in a very public way through the main streets of our towns and cities. My father’s uncle fought in the Second World War and came back with a Nazi armband that he took from a German soldier. My father now has that armband and he would show it to us when we were growing up. I remember holding it, the red armband with the black swastika, a symbol of a dream of a thousand year Reich in which there was no place for Jews, no place for those who were not physically perfect. We would hold the armband and be reminded that this was history that happened not so long ago.
Kolbe spoke out against the Nazi regime, a brave act that led to his death and a reminder that, more than 70 years later, our responsibility as baptized Christians is to speak against any kind of ideology such as what was represented last weekend in Charlottesville. The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had this to say: “The bishops stand with all people who are oppressed by evil ideology. We stand ready to work with all people of good will for an end to racial violence and for the building of peace in our communities.” And the bishop of Richmond, VA added these words: “The most powerful weapon we have against any kind of violence is the love of Jesus Christ.” As Christians, may we always have the courage and faith to always follow Jesus on his way…
Blessings on your week!