Even though Sunday trumped yesterday’s feast of St. Maximilan Kolbe, our priest talked about him during the homily because he darned well felt like it. I love this guy. He’s old, ready to retire, and if he has something good to say, he doesn’t let little things like Sunday get in the way.
Maximilan Kolbe was an all-around cool guy (do I hear Heavenly laughter? is that an unusual way to describe a Catholic saint?) but he’s most known for how he died. He was in Auschwitz.
The commandant announced that 10 men would die. He relished walking along the ranks. “This one. That one.” As they were being marched away to the starvation bunkers, Number 16670 dared to step from the line. “I would like to take that man’s place. He has a wife and children.” “Who are you?” “A priest.” No name, no mention of fame. Silence. The commandant, dumbfounded, perhaps with a fleeting thought of history, kicked Sergeant Francis Gajowniczek out of line and ordered Father Kolbe to go with the nine.
The whole story grips me because at the same time I can imagine myself both as Kolbe and as Gajowniczek. The men in prison, being starved to death in a lightless cell: wow.
But then I think of Gajowniczek and I wonder, how do you live every day of the rest of your life knowing that someone died in order to save you? That someone volunteered to die in order to save you? Volunteered because you were a father and a husband, and he knew you were needed?
Then when you come home after a rough day at the office and your wife hasn’t made dinner yet, and you’re angry, do you feel awful because a man died just so you could be there with your wife? Do you have a lousy day and then feel lousier because you’re not grateful for the flat tire, the rejected credit card and the fact that your kid’s braces need to stay on another six months?
Every day, do you ask yourself how you made this other man’s sacrifice worthwhile?
I don’t know. I haven’t looked up the life of the man he saved because I feel in-the-crosshairs whenever I think about it. How do you live a life so as to thank the person who saved it?