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What St. Maximilian Kolbe Taught Me About Forgiveness

st. maximilian kolbe auschwitz

I am sure many of you have special relationships with different saints for a variety of reasons. Maybe you feel they are a spiritual big brother or sister, or perhaps they show up and “help” you at important life transitions or times of need.

That is exactly how I feel about St. Maximilian Kolbe. To me he is known simply as Max.

While he was actually our family patron saint growing up, it wasn’t until years later when my friendship with Max became so personal to me in a whole new way.

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Forgiveness When It Feels Impossible

St. Max has taken me deeper in the understanding of it means to truly to forgive someone who has hurt you. Specifically, Max has helped me forgive my former husband.

Seven months after I got married, I learned that my husband was addicted to pornography and sexual addictive behaviors. I was devastated. As I scrambled for resources, I learned one of St. Maximilian’s patronages was those who battle addictions, but specifically sexual addiction.

This information changed my relationship with Max from a face on a holy card to a dear companion for the darkest hour I have lived through. I talked to Max constantly every day. I was always praying a novena to him, begging his prayers and intercession for the healing of my husband and the restoration of my marriage.

Eventually, I realized this was not a safe relationship to stay in, and I had to leave.

But I still had a deep connection to St. Max.

St. Maximilian Kolbe’s Forgiveness

In 2016, I led my fourth World Youth Day pilgrimage with teens and young adults; this one was in Krakow, Poland. We saw all the beautiful, sacred holy sites of Catholic Poland. We visited places associated with heroic men and women like Pope St. John Paul II, St. Faustina, and St. Maximilian Kolbe.

Shortly before leaving for Poland, I had my second Unbound prayer session. I was deeply convicted that the Lord was calling to forgive my former husband. He was calling me to a deeper and richer understanding of what it means to forgive.

The day we visited Auschwitz, it was unusually bright and sunny, such an eerie way to experience a place that was filled with such evil and hatred. Our guide slowly led us through the camp and explained what we were seeing. As we turned a corner, she point out cell block 11, the starvation bunker where St. Maximilian Kolbe met his martyrdom.

Forgiving Like Christ

Stepping away from the group, I walked up to the red exterior building and put my hand on the brick wall. Bowing my head, eyes closed, I simply began to talk to my dear friend, Max. I started to weep, and the tears just kept coming.

I asked Max to help to forgive as he forgave, to help heal my heart, that I would not be full of hate and resentment. But that my heart would be soft and learn to trust a man again.

I even gave my former husband to Max saying, “Here Max, you take care of him now and watch over him spiritually. I do not have to carry this any longer, it is not my responsibility.”

My prayer shifted to the man I may meet someday and fall in love with, that these hurts and wounds I experienced before would not be repeated.

The power of those few minutes was real. I knew St. Maximilian was with me. It almost took my breath away. It was not as if this was magic and all of sudden poof, I was able to forgive instantaneously.

But I walked away and left Auschwitz with a deeper understanding of why we as Christians need to take those words of Jesus seriously, “…forgive us our tresspassors, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

To forgive as Jesus did, as St. Max did, we need faith and desire.

Faith and Desire to Forgive

We need faith because we cannot forgive on our own ability, we can’t muster it up on our own effort. We need the grace of Jesus Christ, God Himself, to help us forgive. And we grow in the faith to forgive when we reach out to Jesus and beg Him to help us.

Wait, then where does the desire come in?

We ask Jesus for the desire to forgive because, often, we don’t have the desire to forgive. Pray earnestly for the desire and He will grow it in you. Coming home from WYD, after that experience in Auschwitz, I began to beg Jesus to give me the desire to forgive my former husband.

In time, that desire grew and flourished. It led me to choose to forgive because I did not want to be bound in anger and resentment.

Who are You Struggling to Forgive?

Sisters, is there a person in your life you struggle to forgive?

I encourage you to ask St. Maximilian Kolbe to help you. I know he has helped me greatly in this area.

And daily begin to ask Jesus to give you a true desire to forgive that person. It will not be easy, but I promise you it will be worth it in the end.

St. Maximilian Kolbe, please pray for us! Teach us to forgive as you forgave.

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Patty Breen is a full-time lay minister who finds joy in running, strong cups of coffee, and all things Ignatian spirituality. A Midwestern gal from the mitten state, she is constantly learning to find grace in all things. She is passionate about ministry to divorced Catholics and women whose relationships have been impacted by sexual addiction. You can find out more about her here.

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3 Comments

  • Reply
    Lisa
    August 14, 2018 at 6:09 am

    This is beautiful, Patty. I love the way your family patron saint became such a special friend and intercessor to you personally!

  • Reply
    Paola @ Swallow the World
    August 14, 2018 at 4:23 pm

    That’s truly an awe-inspiring story! I need to get better at forgiving little things, especially from my mother.

  • Reply
    Anon
    August 17, 2018 at 2:25 pm

    Thank you for your courage and honesty in writing about your experiences. This post has given me hope that I will be able to get to a place of forgiveness of my husband.

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