“No one in the world can change Truth. What we can do and should do is to seek truth and to serve it when we have found it. The real conflict is the inner conflict. Beyond armies of occupation and the hecatombs of extermination camps, there are two irreconcilable enemies in the depth of every soul: good and evil, sin and love. And what use are the victories on the battlefield if we are ourselves are defeated in our innermost personal selves?”
-- St. Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish Franciscan Friar and martyr, who volunteer to take the place of a stranger selected to die in the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II.
Known as the Apostle of Consecration to Mary, because of his profound devotion to the Blessed Mother, after having received a vision of her in his childhood, in which, he would later write she offered him two crowns; a white one for persevering in purity and a red one for martyrdom. She asked if he was willing to accept either of the crowns and he accepted both. He was devoted to her since and, after becoming a priest, started the Militia Immaculata, or the Army of Mary, that intended to convert the world through the intercession of the Virgin Mother.
In early 1941, while operating a shelter for 3,000 Polish refugees, two thirds of which were Jews, with several Franciscan friars, Fr. Kolbe was arrested after writing the words above ("No one in the world can change Truth...") in a newspaper the group published. He was sent to a prison in Warsaw, where, seeing him with Franciscan habit and rosary, he was regularly beaten and challenged by the S.S. guards to denounce his faith.
In May of that year he was sent, along with 300 prisoners, to Auschwitz, where, as most people know, over four million people; men, women and children, including St. Edith Stein, a Carmelite nun, were put to death.
There, Fr. Kolbe was put in striped prison garments and branded with a number (#16670) like everyone else, and again prompted the ire of the guards, who wanted to break him but couldn't. Eye witnesses who survived said that prisoners would often gather in secret to hear his words of encouragement and faith.
In late July, three prisoners escaped. The guards chose ten men to be starved to death as a deterrent to the others. One of the men was a husband and father, who cried out, "My wife! My children!" Fr. Kolbe volunteered to take his place.
After two weeks of enduring the agony and torment of starvation, he was put to death by lethal injection on August 14, 1941 and thus, fulfilling the martyrdom promised to him by Mary.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus states, "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
Well, it is obvious, Fr. Kolbe demonstrated great love. He was Beatified by Pope Paul VI in 1971 and Canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1982.
During his canonization, Pope John Paul wrote, "Men saw what happened in the camp at Auschwitz. And even if to their eyes it must have seemed that a companion of their torment "dies," even if humanly speaking they could consider "his departure" as "a disaster," nevertheless in their minds this was not simply "death." Maximilian did not die but "gave his life...for his brother." In that death, terrible from the human point of view, there was the whole definitive greatness of the human act and of the human choice. He spontaneously offered himself up to death out of love."
Therefore, in the internal conflict of St. Maximilian Kolbe's soul, as he once wrote, he chose love over sin and good over evil and his victory went beyond any on a battlefield. It was a victory of the eternal "crown of righteousness," as St. Paul wrote, that can only come from God...
The Church celebrates his feast day on August 14th.
For more on St. Maximilian Kolbe (see here)...