Maximilian Kolbe became a Franciscan novice at the age of 16. Earlier in life he had a vision of the Blessed Virgin offering him two crowns, a white one of purity, and a red one of martyrdom. Maximilian said “I choose both.” The Blessed Virgin smiled and departed from him. Maximilian devoted his life to purity through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin. He founded the Mission of the Immaculata to combat religious indifference, which he saw as the greatest problem in society. By the time the Nazis overran Poland, the mission numbered as many as a million people.
Maximilian was twice arrested by the Nazis and the second time taken to Auschwitz. One day a fellow prisoner escaped, and the commandant decided to put ten men to death, whom he chose by arbitrarily pointing men out as he walked among their ranks. Just after the tenth man was chosen, Maximilian stepped out of the ranks and asked to take the place of one man, who had a wife and children. The commandant asked “what about you?” to which Maximilian replied, “I am a priest.” Because the regime at the time was striving to eliminate all the leaders of the people, Maximilian’s request was granted, and he died in the starvation chamber some three months later.
In today’s first reading, the prophet Ezekiel exhorts the people to return to God and live. St. Maximilian was a man who, like his Savior, died so that others may live. He witnessed to the triumph of love over death, a love that will, in God’s time, lead to eternal life.