No greater love!

Today, the liturgical calendar offers us the memorial of the great saint and martyr St. Maximilian Kolbe. During my time in Poland, I was blessed to be able to visit Niepokalan√≥w, the friary which he founded and guided upon returning to Poland after his priestly ordination. They have a very informative website here. I remember being struck by the peace of the place and it was a very poignant moment visiting and praying in the study and room where St. Maxmillian lived. I also recalled how this is where, during the Second World War he provided shelter to refugees from Greater Poland, including 2,000 Jews whom he hid from Nazi persecution in his friary in Niepokalan√≥w. The place was pregnant with the history of our times. I was also surprised to discover that the friars who live there work as firemen for the city. In the early days the Friars operated a printing press printing journals and books to promote our Lady. Often the Nazis would set fire to the books and then prevent the fire engines from entering the monastery to put out the fire. This happened again and it was then that the Saint decided to establish their own ‘fire department’, which is still operational. The fire trucks have an interesting logo of a friar in full habit holding a fire hose whilst our Lady watches over him!

Our Polish junioriate group visiting the Friary of Niepokalonow, Poland,  2009.
(I'm in the white on the fair left!)

Tomorrow in Ireland, the bishops will gather in the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock and consecrate the country to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Yesterday, the Holy See also announced that on the 13th of October, feast of our Lady of Fatima, Pope Francis will consecrate the whole world to the Immaculate Heart. The power of the intercession of Mary continues through the centuries. During his time as a student in Rome, St. Maximilian witnessed vehement demonstrations against Popes St. Pius X and Benedict XV in Rome and was inspire to organise the Militia of Mary Immaculate (Army of Mary) for the conversion of sinners and the enemies of the Church. He used modern printing and administrative techniques and also the radio to spread the faith and to speak out against the Nazi atrocities. Those of you familiar with the history of the Pauline Family will see the similarity in how Blessed James Alberione, our Founder, rose up against fascism at the time of Mussolini, using the same means of communication that he used to counteract the message of violence and hate by spreading the message of the Gospel through printing, radio and other efficient means. The Church continues to be attacked from all sides but we find protection in the maternal care of our Mother Mary. We also call upon the saints, especially St. Maximilian Kolbe who is patron saint of drug addicts, political prisoners, families, journalists, prisoners and the pro-life movement. Pope John Paul II declared him the “The Patron Saint of Our Difficult Century”.

Yes, it is a difficult century but prayer can change everything! Today, the Gospel reminds us that ‘wherever two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus, there he is in the midst of them’. Religion is not a numbers game. It is not about filling churches with thousands of people. However with the advance of modern technology, it is easier to come together to pray. In the past I have guided Lectio Divina online and organised virtual Rosaries where people from all over the world came together on skype and prayed together. Many people send us sisters prayer requests through email, Facebook, Twitter, text message. People often say ‘WWJD’, that is, ‘what would Jesus do?’ I ask myself, what means would He use today to bring the message of hope to the world? What means would St. Maximilian Kolbe use? Fr. Alberione? We can use these means of communication to create prayer networks and be the leaven in the digital world today.

However, in the face of all these modern electronic gadgets, nothing can substitute person to person contact. Human interaction allows us to read all that the words do not say. The eyes of a person allow us a window into the heart and the soul of those whom we sit with if we are willing to connect at a deeper level. We see that St. Maximilian incarnated the perfect model of human interaction. He gave his life for another prisoner in Auchwitz and went to the gas chamber in his place. This was the fulfilment of the Gospel text: “No greater love does a man have than to give his life for his friends”. The Lord might not ask us to ‘give our life’ literally to point of death but each day does give us the opportunity to ‘give our life’ for another. It is being present with all our mind, heart and will when we talk and spend time with a friend, a family member, a stranger. It is listening to a small child who in simplicity has their story to tell. It is being patient with an older sister who struggles to find the words which Alzheimer’s has stolen from her. This is unconditional love which asks for nothing in return.

Again the saint leads by example and leaves us his words: “Let us remember that love lives through sacrifice and is nourished by giving. Let's remember that not everything which is good and beautiful pertains to genuine, essential love, because even without those other things love can be present, indeed a perfected love. Without sacrifice there is no love. Sacrifice the senses, taste, hearing, and above all, the mind and the will in holy obedience. I wish for you and for myself the best appreciation of sacrifice which is the unconditional willingness to sacrifice.” (Letter of St. Maximilian to Fr. Konstanty). Are we willing to become martyrs of unconditional love in our everyday lives? Let us ask Mary whose own heart was pierced with the lance of suffering to intercede and walk with us.