Cardinal's Network Archive
Monday, August 17, 2009
Martyr for Charity
Besides the Feast of St. John Mary Vianney, who is a saint to accompany all of us during this Year for Priests, the Church’s calendar celebrates another holy priest this month: St. Maximilian Kolbe. St. John Mary Vianney was a parish priest in a small French village from the time of his ordination to the moment of his death. He transformed his village by converting his people. St. Maximilian Kolbe belonged to the Franciscan Order and was stationed in Japan as well as his native Poland. He was in seminary work, he was an author and a newspaper editor, he began a youth movement under the patronage of Mary Immaculate.
St. Maximilian Kolbe died in the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz. In Auschwitz and especially in Dachau, near Munich, many thousands of Catholic priests were imprisoned and many were killed. Maximilian Kolbe was killed because he asked to take the place of a family man who was marked for execution and who begged for mercy for the sake of his wife and children. The Nazi guards were not moved, but Maximilian Kolbe was moved by charity and suffered by being starved and then was murdered by a lethal injection.
What is unique about St. Maximilian’s feast in the liturgical calendar is his title: martyr for charity. All previous saints recognized as martyrs died for the faith; Kolbe died for love of neighbor. The Church cherishes both faith and charity, but she has now expanded the meaning of the title “martyr” in the liturgical calendar. This action on the part of Pope John Paul II reminds us of Pope Paul VI’s admonition that the world today needs not only teachers but witnesses, witnesses to what they believe and what they love.
Francis Cardinal George, OMI