For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly. Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.— Romans 5:6-8
It takes a great deal of courage and an even greater quantity of love to volunteer to die for another person, as did St. Maximilian Kolbe, whose feast day we celebrate Aug. 14. A Polish Franciscan, Fr. Kolbe was the founder of the Militia Immaculata and had established a major printing and radio apostolate dedicated to bringing all the world to Jesus through Mary. During the Nazi occupation of Poland, he was arrested and thrown into the Auschwitz prison camp, where he lived a life of outstanding Christian charity. He was truly a "practicing Catholic" — practicing throughout his ministry and imprisonment the sort of self-sacrifice that made him outstanding in death.
But the sacrifice becomes almost inconceivable when you realize Fr. Maximilian didn't know Franciszek Gajowniczek, the man for whom he would lay down his life. And yet he made the sacrifice. One prisoner had escaped. The Nazi guards at the camp had decided 10 must die in his place, and so they counted. Gajowniczek was the tenth. He fell to his knees in the midst of his fellow prisoners and begged for his life, talked about his wife and children, his sons, his beloved sons ...
And there was Fr. Kolbe stepping forward, hat in hand, to offer his life for a complete stranger.
The guards took him up on the offer. They put 10 men into a small room to slowly starve to death. And what did those men do? They sang. They prayed. They died in joy — all because Maximilian Kolbe was there, all because one among them wasn't losing his life, but giving it to the last ounce of his strength, giving them life, love, and hope.
And finally the Nazis had had enough. They sent in guards to administer carbolic acid to the last man standing in that terrible place — Fr. Kolbe, who extended his arm peacefully for the injection and died with joy.
Such is the life, the work, and the heart of a person who has given everything to Mary — they come to resemble her first Son, her only biological Son, very closely. They pour out their lives for others, knowing that all of mankind are brethren, whether they've accepted Christ's redeeming sacrifice or not. Saint Maximilian Kolbe could die as a martyr of charity because he had lived as an icon of Christ's charity. As he lived, so he died — and entered in God's own eternal life.
Let us pray that, through our total consecration to Jesus through Mary, the Immaculata, we may learn to love God and neighbor like St. Maximilian Kolbe, the Apostle of Marian Consecration.