One year ago today, I was in Auschwitz, Poland for the Memorial of Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe.
It was the final day of my pilgrimage and it was pouring rain. I joined thousands for Mass in the concentration camp to remember prisoner #16670 who was martyred on August 14, 1941. The bishops and priests said Mass on a stage erected right outside of Block 11. This is the building where Saint Maximilian Maria died from a lethal injection of carbolic acid in basement cell #18.
The showers continued for the whole Liturgy of the Word. Tears were pouring down from the heavens. The only thing I could understand from the Archbishop of Krakow’s homily was the name of this beloved Saint and the name of this horrible place. Then as the offertory began, the rain cleared, and everyone closed their umbrellas. Thousands of us knelt in the mud during the Consecration, encountering the messiness of suffering in such a little way. At Communion, I prayed that Jesus would help me to say yes.
We gathered because of one man’s yes.
As a boy in prayer, Saint Maximilian Maria said yes to Mary and choose both the red crown of martyrdom and the white crown of purity.
He said yes to religious life with the Franciscans.
He said yes to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in founding the Knights of the Immaculate and Niepokalanów, the City of the Immaculate.
He said yes to missionary work in Japan.
He said yes to return to Poland and two Nazi arrests. He said yes in offering his life for Franciszek Gajowniczek: “I am a Catholic priest; take me and spare this man.”
He said yes to a fortnight in a starvation bunker.
He said yes, seventy-nine years ago today, on the vigil of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to a lethal injection.
After Mass, we prayed at his prison cell, where he was a light of hope to all around him. Today, let us pray that the intercession of Saint Maximilian Maria will inspire us to both little and heroic yeses to Jesus.