Today we celebrate the Memorial of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, who is a remarkable example to us of what it looks like to lay down one’s life out of love for God and one another. Maximilian Kolbe was a Franciscan missionary priest who founded the Militia Immaculata, a movement that encourages total consecration to the Blessed Mother, and he died in the Nazi concentration camp in Auchwitz, where he offered up his life in place of another prisoner.
This amazing act of self-sacrifice is a reminder to all of us that there is a higher purpose to our lives than simply seeking to fulfill our own desires and securing a comfortable future. In the Office of Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours today, Saint Maximilian Kolbe writes about God’s plan to use us as His instruments, and the freedom that comes from obedience to His will. He says, “It is he who, declaring his adorable will to us through his representatives on earth, draws us to himself and whose plan is to draw others to himself through us and to join us all to himself in an ever deepening love. […] Obedience raises us beyond the limits of our littleness and puts us in harmony with God’s will.”
Our society today balks at this kind of obedience, this surrender to God. Our society preaches that freedom comes from following our own desires and placing ourselves at the center of our own worlds. We know, however, that true freedom comes not in doing what we want, but in doing what we ought out of love. I think one of the most difficult things for us is surrendering not to God’s will in the general, abstract form, but surrendering to God’s imagination of how He desires to use us as His instruments in this world. One of the deepest desires of the human heart is to be useful, to have purpose, to be used by God in a meaningful way. Our place of surrender, of obedience, is in allowing God to work in our lives and to use us in ways that we don’t always expect or want at first. I’m sure that being a prisoner in Auchswitz and giving up his life in the way he did was not what Saint Maximilian Kolbe had planned for his vocation. I doubt he realized at the time how great of an impact that act of love, that act of active acceptance of God’s invitation, would have on the world for generations to come.
So too does God desire to use you and me in ways only His imagination knows. In today’s First Reading from the Book of Joshua, God reminds the Israelites of how He has faithfully taken care of all their needs as they follow after Him, just as He takes care of ours when we follow Him in our own lives. Where will our eyes be set when He invites us, each day, to lay down our lives out of love, so that He can work through us to touch the lives of others? Will we be focused on ourselves and securing our own daily comfort, or will we be ready and open to respond to His call? Pope Emeritus Benedict said that, “The world will offer you comfort. But you were not made for comfort; you were made for greatness!” Let’s follow after Christ, follow after Saint Maximilian Kolbe, in living lives of greatness through surrender to the unconventional and even surprising ways, big and small, that Our Lord will invite us to love. Only in this way can we experience true freedom, peace, and joy. In the words of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, “Let us love our loving Father with all our hearts. Let our obedience increase that love, above all when it requires us to surrender our own will. Jesus Christ crucified is our sublime guide toward growth in God’s love.”
In being crucified to our own will with Christ, we too will rise with Him in the joy of the Resurrection.