Friday, September 02, 2005


One of the great needs of our modern Church is for role models who will inspire us in the pursuit of virtue. Both Priests and Laity alike need role models. It is precisely for this reason that the Church stresses the lives of the saints in the liturgy.

To inspire and motivate Priests, the Church celebrates the Feast of Saint Maximillian Kolbe on August 14th. August 21st is the feast of Pope Saint Pius X who truly was a model Priest. Pope Pius' motto on his Coat of Arms was, "To Restore All Things In Christ."

Let us reflect today on the story of St. Maximillian Kolbe, the saintly Franciscan Priest who had great devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In a special way, Our Lady is the Mother of Priests because they share in the Priesthood of her Divine Son.

Father Kolbe also possessed the indispensable characteristic of a holy Priest, zeal for the salvation of souls. Like Jesus Christ, our Lord, he was prepared to lay down his life for his sheep. He proved this in a dramatic way.

On July 31, 1941, Father Kolbe was a prisoner at the infamous Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz. One day a prisoner escaped. In retribution, the commanding officer ordered that ten men were to be shot. The unfortunate ones were selected at random. One of the men broke down crying and said: "I have a wife and children." He pleaded for mercy. But mercy was not to be had!

His cries fell on deaf ears in that infamous place which knew only cruelty without pity. Suddenly one prisoner broke ranks and came forward. Hat in hand and standing at attention he said: "I will take that man’s place." In amazement, the commandant asked: "Who are you?" The man answered: "I am a Priest." It was Father Kolbe. Notice that our hero did not say I am Maximillian Kolbe. Rather, he said: "I am a priest!" How well Fr. Kolbe knew the words of Our Divine Savior: "Greater love than this no man has than to lay down his life for his friend."

Gleefully, granting Father's wish, the Nazis flung him upon the cross of the starvation bunker. There, he was left to die like an animal. But he died like a saint. Father Kolbe, in imitation of Our Blessed Lord, laid down his life for his friend, a friend that he did not even know. Truly, Father Maximillian Kolbe was, Another Christ.

This is the model that holy Church places before us Priests. The Priest's life is not his own. He must do the work of the Church for the salvation and sanctification of souls. This is precisely the reason that celibacy is a demand of the Priesthood. Priests must live, not for themselves, but for Christ's faithful. Very few are called to give the witness that Father Kolbe gave. Yet, every Priest is called to lay down his life for his flock.

Saint Paul puts it this way "Every high Priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weaknesses, and so, for this reason, must make sin offering for himself as well as for the people. No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God" (Hebrews 5: 1-4).

Saint Maximillian Kolbe, pray for us and especially pray for our Priests.

Father Richard J. Rego


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