St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe
He was born on January 8, 1894 in Lodz, Poland, and given the baptismal name Raymond. His mother concerned by his mischievousness asked him one day what would become of him. It was this question posed by his mother that would have a lasting effect on him, for he in turn posed the question to his Blessed Mother in Heaven, who presented him with two crowns, one white and one red, and asked him if he was willing to accept either. The white signified purity and the red martyrdom. He accepted both and this free willed acceptance influenced all of his future decisions, including entering a junior Franciscan seminary, in 1907 with his elder brother Francis.
He excelled in mathematics and physics leading some to think he would pursue a career in science. Others realizing his love for his country as well as the military thought he would serve his country in military affairs, but Maximilian saw a much bigger battle that needed to be fought and that battle was against the flesh, the world, and the devil.
He was a physically frail man, having contracted tuberculosis early in his life, but this did not deter him from founding the Immaculate Movement (Militia Immaculatae) whose purpose was to convert sinners, heretics and schismatics, and to draw all men into a great love for the Immaculata, just a year after his ordination His declining health forced him to return to his beloved Poland, where in spite of his health he formed circles and cells all over Poland to spread devotion to Our Lady, beginning a monthly publication titled, “Knight of the Immaculate,” whose aim was to illuminate truth and show souls the true way to happiness.
He started a small printing operation and eventually another to grow the publication, spreading love for the Immaculata. He later established a seminary, and a radio station, all of which had a great effect on the people far and near. He helped form a community of Franciscan men, at that time the largest in the world. With missionary zeal he traveled to Japan where he built a monastery, along with anther publication titled “The Japanese Knight,” and then journeyed to India, founding the third Niepokalanow, developing the movement further.
He was recalled back to Poland where because of the outbreak of the Second World War, suffering abounded. He formed a shelter for 3,000 Polish refugees, among which were 2,000 Jews. He and his brother shared with them everything they had. They were under great suspicion for all that they were doing and in his last publication that he was permitted to print that cost him his freedom, for in it he taught the people that no one could change truth and that what each one of us must do is seek truth and serve it alone. His words proclaimed that the real conflict is the inner conflict that lies within, and that within the depths of every soul there lies two irreconcilable enemies, good and evil, also known as sin and love. And what good is there in a worldly victory if our innermost being is defeated.
Shortly thereafter he was arrested and taken to prison, later he was transferred to Auschwitz. It was here as in every other place he had gone before that he gave witness to all who came in contact with him. Influencing them with his calm demeanor in spite of being in an ocean of suffering as well as intense personal suffering. He heard secret confessions, fed the starving from his own meager ration, suffered severe beatings and great insults to his dignity not only as a person made in the image and likeness of God, but to the dignity of the ministry in which God had called him; so completely did he give himself for the good of all men.
It was in this camp that he would give his life for a fellow prisoner for the sake of the man having a wife and a family. Ten men were chosen to die for one man that escaped. Father Kolbe was not chosen as one of the ten but instead voluntarily took the place of a man chosen. He was sent with the others to a starvation bunker where he ministered to them, praying, singing, and teaching them of the great love of God, and the Blessed Mother. One by one they died with the last being Maximilian Kolbe, they injected him with carbolic acid to hasten his death, receiving from Our Lady’s hands his final crown, the red one of martyrdom!
On October 17, 1971 he was beautified, and on October 10, 1982 he was proclaimed a saint.
St Francis of Assisi
St. Francis of Assisi was born in 1181 and given the Baptismal name Giovanni, after St. John the Baptist. His father, after returning home from business was furious upon learning of his sons’ birth and baptism, renaming him Francesco in honor of his beloved France. Francis was raised as a privileged young man, filled with charm and great leadership skills. Being drawn to the things of the world he lived a life of vice, and harbored within himself a great desire to become a worldly knight so to earn the prestige that his ego so longed for, and so he did. It was his response to a call for knights for the fourth Crusade that Francis thought would allow him to fulfill his dream.
Francis proudly rode off to battle in his new armor seeking the glory that the world bestows those it considers to be heroes, but after a days ride to the battle ground he had a dream in which God told him to go
back home. Upon his return all were furious including his father and for the first time he was laughed at, humiliated, and called a coward.
His conversion was a long one in which he grew in prayer and wept for his sins, but it was not until his providential meeting with a leper, a castaway, someone devoid of the worldly beauty that so attracted him and full of deformity, filth, and stench that he was more and more transformed. Francis dismounted his horse and kissed the man full of sores, at that moment his heart was full of joy.
As he continued searching he was led to an ancient church, San Damiano, where while he was praying Christ on the cross spoke to him, asking him to rebuild his church. Thinking that He meant church in which he was standing in, he at once set to work to accomplish what was asked of him. It was at this time that he, in front of the Bishop stripped himself of all of his worldly clothing and relinquished everything back to his earthly father, taking for himself, in a most profound way, God as his father.
It wasn’t long before companions joined him, seeking to follow his simple way of life, sleeping outdoors, begging for food, and loving God. In looking for ways to give direction to them he opened the Bible three times, taking for his rule of life Christ’s command from the Gospel to sell all that one has and give it to the poor, to take nothing for their journey, and lastly, His demand to take up the cross daily. He was determined to live by the Gospel, and sent his companions out to preach two by two. All of Francis’ actions came from his heart.
In time he was removed from authority within his own order as many complained that their life was too hard. He humbly stepped down and contented himself with his role as a simple brother. Towards the end of his of life, Christ rewarded him with great sufferings and humiliations, culminating in a greater share of Christ’s passion, receiving the stigmata, the wounds of Christ on his body that he bore until his death on October 4, 1226.
St. Clare of Assisi
Clare was a beautiful Italian noblewoman whose heart burned with desire to imitate Francis in his quest to live a poor, humble life for Jesus. One evening she ran away from home, went into a chapel outside of Assisi where she gave herself to God.
Francis cut off her hair and gave her a rough brown habit with a plain cord tied to her waist to wear. Soon after, her sister Agnes joined her as well as other young women who desired to become brides of Jesus.
Her little community, full of joy, forsook the wearing of shoes, did not eat meat and lived in a poor house in which silence reigned.
And although she suffered great pains for most of her earthly life, no pain seemed to ever touch her spirit, for her joy was full in serving the Lord.
Her Feast Day is August 11.
"We need to be clear:
The quality of a civilization can be measured by the respect it has for its weakest members. There is no other criterion."