Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. Most of us are never in a situation where we are literally in a position to lay down our life for another. How would we react if we were?
Maximilian Mary Kolbe, whose feast we celebrate today, was a Franciscan priest with tremendous devotion to Mary, who spent many years spreading Christianity in Japan and elsewhere. During World War II, he was imprisoned and suffered greatly in Auschwitz. Here is an account of his death:
“A prisoner had escaped. The commandant announced that 10 men would die. He relished walking along the ranks. ‘This one. That one.’ As they were being marched away to the starvation bunkers, Number 16670 dared to step from the line. ‘I would like to take that man’s place. He has a wife and children.’ ‘Who are you?’ ‘A priest.’ No name, no mention of fame. Silence. The commandant, dumbfounded, perhaps with a fleeting thought of history, kicked Sergeant Francis Gajowniczek out of line and ordered Father Kolbe to go with the nine. In the ‘block of death’ they were ordered to strip naked and the slow starvation began in darkness. But there was no screaming—the prisoners sang. By the eve of the Assumption four were left alive. The jailer came to finish Kolbe off as he sat in a corner praying. He lifted his fleshless arm to receive the bite of the hypodermic needle. It was filled with carbolic acid. They burned his body with all the others.”
One has to ask oneself the obvious question. Would I have done the same in Kolbe’s place?