As we say in the third Eucharistic prayer, he “entered willingly into his passion,” and in the fourth Eucharistic prayer, “having loved his own, he loved them to the end.” I put Kolbe’s prison photograph at the top of the stairs so that as I can remember always that to which I aspire: to fear nothing and so love without limits. On the walls of many of the barracks in Auschwitz are hundreds of these mug shots with the names of the prisoners, the date of entry, and the date of death. In many cases the interval between entry and death is only a week or two, and almost every photograph shows a terribly frightened man or woman. A few do not show this despair, and Fr. Kolbe’s is one of them. He looks into the camera with intense focus, the concentration of love. He was not afraid.
Fear drives much of human behavior. The Nazi’s feared the Jews. The Jews fear Hamas. Hamas fears the Israelis. Of course, we have good cause to fear those who fear us, and seek to harm us. Most of the time your neighbor’s unreasonableness is driven by fear. But letting fear drive our behavior is always a failure of our freedom. When we act out of fear, then we allow the irrational fears of others to drive us, and everyone ends up in a ditch.
The saints are simply those men and women who refused to let fear control them. They made the heroic effort to believe in God’s providence, to trust Him in the face of even the ferociously irrational behavior of others. I want to live in that kind of freedom; I want to posses that capacity to love. Only an abiding conviction that God loves me can bring me to the place where I can “sing because He loves me, and because I’m free.”
Kolbe loved our Lady very much and longed to go back to God on her feast day. He died on Aug 14, the vigil of the Assumption, and I always figured that he missed it by one day. But this year I offered Mass in the extraordinary form on that day and discovered that Aug 14 is indeed a Marian feast day, with the vesture and prayers for Our Lady—solemnities in the older calendar are spread over two days. So Fr. Maximilian would have offered the Mass of Our Lady that day, at least in his heart, because he was dying naked without bread or wine.
His death on a Solemnity of the Immaculata was one more sign that God had not forgotten him, even in that starvation cell in Auschwitz. As I climb the stairs every day I see his prison photograph and remember that God is with us, and there is nothing to fear. We are free to love without limits.