Tuesday, September 18, 2007

On St. Maximilian Kolbe aned True Humility

“The beginning of human pride is to forsake the Lord; the heart has withdrawn from its Maker. For the beginning of pride is sin, and the one who clings to it pours out abominations.” From Ecclesiasticus, I speak to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

I want to tell you this morning about a saint by the name of Maximilian Kolbe. Kolbe was born in Poland in the late 1800’s when it was still part of the Russian Empire.

At age 14, he and his brother decided to enter the religious life, and illegally crossed borders to enter a Franciscan monastery. By age 21, he had received his first doctorate. He had applied for a patent for a spacecraft design very much like the Space Shuttle, and became, in addition to astrophysics and engineering, proficient in philosophy, theology, and mathematics. By age 24, he had received his second doctorate, this time in theology.

In 1918, he was ordained a priest.

He went on numerous missions to Japan, founding a number of seminaries, and speaking and writing about the dangers of capitalism, communism, and imperialism. Maximilian Kolbe was not a man of humble talents, but he was a humble man.

Upon the Nazi invasion of Poland, Kolbe began to shelter Jews in his monastery. At one time, he had as many as 2,000 Jews under his care. He ran a radio station, under the call letters SP3RN, time and time again speaking out against Nazi aggression in Poland and the world. And, on February 17th, 1941, he was arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned in the Pawiak prison, famous among Russians as the final transfer point prior to Siberia. Kolbe, however, would be sent to a different kind of Siberia, the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz. On his arm was tattooed the number 16670.

Kolbe still managed to execute the duties of the priesthood well, even in such conditions. Bread and wine smuggled into the barracks would become, day after day, the Body and Blood of Christ, in his hands. He preached and taught the people hymns - all from memory. But, in July of 1941, a man from his barracks went missing, prompting the camp commander to take a horrific action. The guards entered the barracks, and seized ten men to send into a famous chamber - Block 11. Block 11, everyone knew was used for torture, including dehydration and starvation. One of the men chosen cried out for help and mercy. He could not fathom loosing his family, not being able to provide for them after all of this was over.

Maximilian Kolbe stood up to take his place. After three weeks of total dehydration and starvation, only three men were still alive in Block 11. They had sung hymns together. They had prayed together. One of the three was Father Kolbe. Finding him still alive after all this time, they injected him with carbolic acid to make room for more prisoners.

In 1982, when the Holy See canonized Father Kolbe, the man he saved with his own life - Franciszek Gajowniczek was there. At another memorial in the same year at Auschwitz, he said - “I want to express my thanks, for the gift of life.” Maximilian Kolbe took seriously the Lord’s call. “He who hum bles himself will be exalted.” He must have, at some point, in Block 11, remembered this text from Philippians, “ Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of
men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name.”

He knew that to be humble is to empty yourself.

There is a lot of self-emptying these days, but it is not after the pattern of our Lord Jesus. It is certainly not self-emptying for the sake of love. It is self-emptying for the sake of shallowness, of greed, of lust, and of power. We give ourselves over to every passion we find. We are forever filled with busy-ness not for the sake of any true good, but merely for the sake of being occupied. And what is the result? One more dollar, one more movie, one more tank of gas. What we wind up being is empty - not filled. We wind up being puffed up in emptiness, thinking in our pride that we have no need for God.

And to us, Saint Paul writes: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus - Jesus who emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.” Paul tells us that he took the form of a servant, or in Greek, doulos, which means very clearly “slave.” You might say that Jesus was not a slave. He went where he wanted to, he did what he thought best. To whom was he a slave? Do you not know that he emptied himself to the point of laying down his life, of putting his life into our hands? What did we do to him? We killed him. “He humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a Cross.” He emptied himself to the point where he had nothing left! Do you know that? That there, on the cross, he had nothing left? But, the cross is certainly not empty, no it is the source of life for the Christian.

If we want to overcome the pride that will kill the soul, then we must empty ourselves in the same way he did. Maximilian Kolbe understood this. His stomach hadn’t taken in food for three weeks - yet he was completely full. You and I cannot imagine the pain of a death like that. We can hardly imagine the hunger pangs of three days of starvation. Yet, he took it joyfully. You might say - well, the chances are that I will not die like that. That sort of danger is not coming to my neighborhood anytime soon. And you’re right. The Nazis do not patrol our streets at night. Militant Muslims have not sought to enslave us as they enslave many of our brothers and sister in other places. But the call to imitate Jesus in self-emptying love should be just as clear to us as to anyone else.

We live in a society that is completely shallow. It lacks any depth of thought, and depth of reason, and most certainly it lacks any depth of love. We hear the word “love” very often, but it nearly never means the love of sacrifice, a self-emptying. When we hear about love, we hear about prideful love, the love of things, the love of sex, the love of success, the love of comfort.
Often, all of this is simply a love of “my way.” When we prefer “my way” to God’s way - that is pride, the opposite of love, and the opposite of humility, humility that is necessary for self-emptying, self-donating love. This pride is nothing more than a forsaking, and abandonment of God, his will and his word. It is interesting, by the way, that many Christians are called arrogant and prideful simply for being faithful. I can tell you that in our current battle over the supremacy of the Scriptures, orthodox, faithful Christians have been labeled proud and arrogant over and over and over again. This is Satan’s twisting of the meaning of a word.

Pride is the abandonment of God. It is not a word for being sure or certain of something, most especially the teachings of Christ and His Church. This abandonment of God is not something that has taken place on a limited basis. It is not the disease of “some” or “few.” It has taken hold at every level. It takes hold every time you and I commit sin, every time we say “forget God, I’m going to do what I want.” It is not only on an individual basis, but a matter of the orientation of our whole society. We live in a society that has literally abandoned God. It has forsaken the Creator of all life. How is this made clear? Open the paper. Watch the news. Take a drive down Southlake Boulevard. Ask yourself: does what I see seek to bring glory to God, or to me? Does all of this bring a drink to Jesus, thirsty on the cross, or does it fulfill my desires, my thirsts, my hungers, my lusts. Is it all about me? The answer should be immediately clear. The answer is that consumerism, materialism, and wealth have nothing to do with Jesus. Jesus died poor, homeless, and unpopular. He had emptied himself.

If we want to be humble, we must empty ourselves, and that cannot happen while seeking to fill ourselves with the things of this world. We must learn the power of simple selflessness. We must learn the power of self-donating love. For some of us, this will mean doing the dishes when we’re tired. For some, this will mean lending a hand to our neighbor when we have something else to do. For some, it might mean giving money we would rather spend on ourselves to someone who really needs it. For some, this might mean caring for an elder, maybe a mother or father, who can no longer care for themselves. Some, like Father Kolbe, might be challenged to empty themselves even unto death. But, this is the way to uniting our purposes with that of God Our Father - it is the way to eternal life. It is self-emptying, self-donation, the gift of Jesus that saves us. Our own self-emptying, our own gift of self that is the proper response. There is no other way toward humility than this.

Do you want to be filled?
Truly filled?

I usually take my car to the carwash. But, every once in a while, I’ll do it myself. I have a bucket that sits outside, and I use that for the soapy water. But, what I usually find is that it is full of dirt and grime. Before I fill the bucket with soapy water, I have to rinse out the bucket. If I didn’t, I would be washing my car with dirty water. It is the same with us. We must empty ourselves in order to be filled. We must be emptied of all selfishness and pride, of all sin and abandonment of God. The result is worth it. The result is a heart that delights in loving God and delights in loving its neighbor. This is true humility.