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St. Maximilian Kolbe: Tribute to a Seed
January 8, 2021
St. Maximilian Kolbe was born Raymond Kolbe on this day in 1894. Today marks the 127th anniversary of the birth of this great saint and patron of the The Catholic Gentleman.
“No one in the world can change Truth.” – St. Maximilian Kolbe
My father collected comic books for as long as I can remember. So naturally, I became an avid reader of comic books as well. When I was fifteen years old, my father purchased the Big Book of Martyrs, the latest in a series of graphic novels published by Paradox Press. Contained within its pages were stories of various Christian martyrs throughout history.
I picked the graphic novel out from of the shelf and began flipping through the pages. I felt a natural admiration for those men and women who were killed for insisting upon their beliefs and values. As a Muslim, I naturally felt pity for the men and women who had laid aside their lives for a faith which I knew to be errant. It struck me as peculiar that in the Christianity, a martyr was usually a person who was subject to persecution, whereas in Islam, a martyr more often meant a man who had been killed in battle. Truthfully, most of the martyrs’ stories didn’t leave much of an impression on me at all.
The Big Book of Martyrs became my first encounter with St. Maximilian Kolbe. On my father’s side of the family, my grandfather, as well as all of my great-uncles and a great-aunt, were veterans of the Second World War. I was (and still am, of course) very proud of them for having done their part. Any story set during World War II automatically grabbed my attention, and within the pages of that obscure graphic novel there was one. I had effortlessly forgotten the bulk of those martyrs’ stories, and I could probably count the number of saints whose names I was able to recite on a single hand, but the story of St. Maximilian Kolbe stood apart.
The Virgin Mary’s offering of two crowns, a white crown for purity and a red crown for martyrdom, had left an impression on me. That in Auschwitz St. Maximilian had volunteered to take the place of a stranger, a family man (who ended up surviving the Holocaust) whom the Gestapo had randomly selected for execution after a prisoner escape, had left a strong impression on me. His endurance in the prison cell, leading the doomed prisoners in prayer while they were deprived of food and water, left a strong impression on me. That this priest had survived two weeks of deprivation, so that the Gestapo guards resorted to killing him with lethal injection instead, and that he had even lifted up his arm to allow them to, left a very strong impression on me.
Yes, I was very much impressed by this Franciscan friar, so miniscule in valor, and yet so grand in courage. I had even told myself, as a young Muslim, that if I were ever to produce films when I got older, then surely I would produce a biographical picture of the great St. Maximilian Kolbe. If I remember correctly, the working title in my fantasy film (which was to be shot in black-and-white) was Charity, and I knew that it was destined to become a classic!
A few of the events which hastened the deterioration of my faith in Islam had already happened by the age of fifteen. But I still had no suspicion, none whatsoever, that I would be anything else besides a Muslim in my faith life. My conversion from Islam to Christianity was not so much a story of actively seeking truth as it was one of unwittingly stumbling upon Truth. The Holy Spirit is not wanting for cleverness. Coincidence is a myth. The story of Maximilian Kolbe, which I had stumbled upon, was one of the seeds planted in my consciousness, a lurking suspicion that there may be something to this “Christian thing” after all. I was later baptized in a non-denominational church, in 2007, and received into the Catholic Church, in 2012.
“The most deadly poison of our times is indifference. And this happens, although the praise of God should know no limits. Let us strive, therefore, to praise Him to the greatest extent of our powers.”
While I was an Evangelical Christian, I occasionally heard allegations from well-meaning friends, those who had inadvertently been taught false ideas about the Church, that Catholics are not Christians. The exemplary faith of St. Maximilian Kolbe was among the prime examples which prevented myself from acquiring such notions. In the time since I’ve become Catholic, St. Maximilian Kolbe’s unabashed love for the Virgin Mary was among the inspirations for me to pick up the practice of praying the rosary daily. And the Militia Immaculatae, which he had founded in 1917, remains a powerful force for the cause of Consecration to Mary to this very day. Time has in no way diminished the power of his life, the words and example which he bequeathed, to inspire us.
St. Maximilian Kolbe had no way of knowing that towards the end of the century, a young Muslim born more than forty after his martyrdom would stumble across his story, that his example would be among those inspirational seeds to lead that young Muslim to find a home in the Catholic Church. A life well-lived has reverberations. He is a reminder to live life well, for the sake of posterity, for those whom we will never get to meet on this side of life.
O St. Maximilian Kolbe, Martyr of Charity, Patron Saint of a Most Difficult Century: Thank you!
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