Tuesday, August 14, 2007

a full jewel box kept closed

Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish priest who died as prisoner 16770 in Auschwitz-Birkenau, August 14, 1941. I remember when he was canonized in 1982 the press made a great deal out of his having worn at Auschwitz the pink triangle usually given to gay men. He had specifically asked to be given this badge of the "lowest of the low" in the camp, in order that he might share more fully and more humbly in the sufferings of his fellow prisoners.

The humble self sacrifice which St. Maximilian Kolbe carried out in life he also fulfilled by the manner of his death. In August 1941, when a prisoner escaped from the camp, the Nazis selected 10 others to be killed by starvation in reprisal for the escape. One of the 10 selected to die, Franciszek Gajowniczek, began to cry: "My wife! My children! I will never see them again!" At this, St. Maximilian stepped forward and asked to die in his place. His request was granted.

How does one rise to such heights of self sacrifice? Kolbe wrote the following:

"Be recollected; whoever pours himself out on exterior things quickly loses the graces he has acquired. A full jewel box is always kept closed. Humility: Avoid all those words which can draw down on you glory, esteem or the appreciation of others....Willingly accept every opportunity for humbling yourself.... Welcome occasions of being disregarded and humiliated, first with patience, and then willingly, without raising any difficulties, and then finally with joy

That will be perfect humility.

Make acts of humility, beginning with a rather small number of them; then increasing these continually, and make more and more progress. This, in fact is how one acquires a good habit and makes it grow strong. Humility is the foundation of the virtues."

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