Feast of St. Maximillian Kolbe
Today we celebrate a very special feast remembering a heroic contemporary of ours, Maximillian Kolbe. His story is well known, as is his willingness to die in the place of another, all out of love and compassion. Maximillian was a true martyr who is worthy of recognition today when acts of pure selflessness may be so rare. The life of this contemporary, courageous man of faith can inspire us all to try to do the same in the little day by day acts of kindness and charity toward our brothers and sisters. But the life of St. Maximillian Kolbe is a reminder to us of something else, as well. Through his profound act of faith in God and his willingness to sacrifice his own life for another, Maximillian also mirrors for us the unending, faithful love of God found in the covenant, a love that is unconditional and unending. Such was Maximillian’s love for God and neighbor; such is God’s eternal love for each and every one of us.
Our first reading for today’s feast comes to us from the prophet Ezekiel whose description of this kind of love is almost too raw and earthy to be a reflection of God’s holy covenant, yet it is! Take a moment, pick up your Bible, and return to the reading, the whole selection from EZ 16:1-15, 60, 63! Imagine the birth of a female child that is thrown onto the ground as something loathsome on the day of her birth! The abandoned child is left in the field in a way too horrid to imagine, yet this is what the prophet portrays! The Lord passes by and sees the child but does not yet act. Only later does the Lord lift up this abandoned life, bathing and clothing it, dressing it in fine garments and bestowing upon her the dignity and love that was so long denied her from birth. The Lord even dresses this child in silk and adorns her with fine jewelry made of gold and silver – what a contrast to how she was treated when she first tasted the gift of life! Ezekiel tells us the child was now renowned for beauty and splendor, so gifted was she by God’s unconditional love.
But as the tale continues this child upon whom so much was freely and lavishly bestowed becomes captivated with her own beauty, becoming if you can imagine, a harlot, so self-obsessed was she with all that she had been given by the loving hand of God. She forgot who lifted her out of the dirt and destruction making her one of God’s own beloved. This is the rough, earthy language that describes for us the remarkable and unconditional covenant love that God has with each of us. We are that child; we are that forgotten one lifted up and given new life. And yes, we are even that redeemed and saved life that has forgotten how we were redeemed, how we were saved, becoming harlots, absorbed with our own finery, our own beauty! And how does God respond to such ignorance? Listen carefully to the amazing words of Ezekiel: “Yet, I will remember the covenant I made with you…I will set up an everlasting covenant with you, that you may remember and be covered with confusion, and that you may be utterly silenced for shame when I pardon you for all you have done, says the Lord God.” Does the Lord abandon us, cast us back into the dirt of the field. Far from it! Rather, if we wake up and pay attention to our shame, the Lord pardons us. Our faithful God returns again and again to that faithful, unending love of the covenant. God will never forsake us even when we forsake God. What a great mystery to reflect on this day! And in love, we do what Maximillian did. We selflessly reach out and love one another!
Fr. Pat Brennan, C.P. is the director of Saint Paul of the Cross Passionist Retreat and Conference Center, Detroit, Michigan.