Today is the feast of one of the most heroic saints of modern times: St. Maximilian Kolbe, who gave his life for a fellow inmate at Auschwitz. When a prisoner escaped the camp, 10 inmates were to be executed as a reprisal. One of them was the young father of a family, who pleaded for mercy. In response Fr. Maximilian offered to take his place and the guards acquiesced. After a prolonged starvation during which he supported his fellows on death row and which made his guards' patience run out, Fr. Maximilian was given a lethal injection, which killed him.
This much is generally known about him and it is indeed worthy of admiration and contemplation. Fr. Maximilian was also a person of great openness and learning, having spent many years in Japan, encountering Buddhism and Shintoism, and a person who stood up to the oppressive Nazi regime, having written articles and transmitted radio broadcasts calling for resistance, which ultimately got him sent to the death camp.
His act of heroism was not a momentary exception, but the fruit of a life dedicated to truth and love.
Here is what he has to say in his own words:
“No one in the world can change Truth. What we can do and 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 hetacombs 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?”