As a young seminarian I knew that St. Maxamilian Kolbe was a martyr who died in a concentration camp during WWII. I also knew that he did so by offering his life for that of a man who had a large family. And I knew that he had a great love for the Blessed Mother and spread her devotion far and wide. This knowledge alone caused me to have a devotion and love for him. Martyrdom, Mary, and the fact that he lived in modern time impressed me. What I did not know was that he suffered tremendously for his decision to offer his life for that man. I had always pictured in my mind a Nazi guard getting ready to shoot the man and St Maximilian stepping forward to take the bullet for him. That was not the case at all. In imitating Christ and offering his life for that of the man, St Maximilian enraged the Nazis. They accepted his offer of his life and began to starve him to death. Starvation is a long and brutal death. In fact It was taking so long for St. Maximilian to die that the guards could wait no longer (the pleasure in their victory was dissipating) so they killed him with a lethal injection. There are two lessons here for our spiritual life. While not many of us could suffer martyrdom, we all can learn from St. Maxamilian the need for patience in our spiritual life. This is the first lesson.Once he had offered his life I am sure he wanted to die. However his holy desire, inspired by the Spirit took time to be fulfilled. And it was not ordinary time. Although it was a time of grace for him, it was excruciating and terrifying and painful to say the least. You see even when we are following the impulse of the Holy Spirit and doing God's Will we must always be patient even in the midst of frightening situations and terrible suffering. Why not the bullet, the quick death? Surely in offering his life St Maximilian was doing God's Will and so was pleasing to Him. Why the starvation? I have no idea. My heart was moved with a love for this Priest before I ever knew of the true manner of his death. So too in our spiritual lives we may never know the reason for our suffering, or why it is lasting so long. All to often we want God to execute his plan within our time span. After all we are doing His Will so we think come on Lord its your will lets get it done.
To be brought to the starvation bunker must have frightened St. Maximilian just as suffering and its prospect frightens us. However his fear was certainly tempered by the presence of the Blessed Mother. Surely she was his consolation during his long suffering. So this is what we too must cling to. Mary is with us in our suffering and in our fear. No matter how long nor how deep it may be. She will console and strengthen us as she did St. Maximilian. In essence the Holy Spirit will teach us patience through Her intercession and care for our souls.
The second lesson for our spiritual life is that the guards reveled in the suffering of St. Maximilian, but their pleasure in his suffering could not outlast the sustaining love that pours forth from the side of Christ. That is the Holy Spirit who through Mary comforted him. The lesson then is that even as we suffer and struggle in this life Christ sustains us with the gift of the Holy Spirit and comforts us with the presence of his Mother. In this we live in imitation of Him as St. Maximilian did in his life and most importantly in his glorious death.