Fr. Robert Bengry: Humility
St. Maximilian would suffer and die in the stead of a fellow prisoner in the Nazi extermination camp Auschwitz. A prisoner escaped and ten randomly selected men were sentenced to die of starvation as a deterrent. Fr. Kolbe was not one chosen, but volunteered to save a man with children and a wife. Father offered prayers and consolations as each succumbed to their collective death sentence. After two weeks, only St. Maximilian remained. It was decided his death would be hastened with a lethal injection. Of course his body would be lost with the millions burned to ash and so what remains of him as first class relics are hairs preserved by his brother Friars.
Two hairs. It seems so odd that these insignificant (and barely visible strands) would mean anything: but they do.
Each of us are enfleshed souls. God created the world, the universe and everything in it. And it was good. When we fell from grace through pride, God would prepare all of creation, through history, for His coming for us as one of us. When the time was right, Mary, the Mother of God would willingly give the Christ flesh and God would take humanity into himself in a very special way. He would redeem us by His suffering upon the cross and by His mighty resurrection. And all these two-thousand years, Jesus has come to us over and over again spiritually and materially through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. He promised that, at the end of time, there will be a new heaven and a new earth and we will have raised up perfected bodies... all of this to say, among other things, matter matters. Even two insignificant hairs of a godly man matter. Your hairs matter too — because you matter.
There is no humility without humiliation. St. Maximilian suffered many in his saintly life especially in the death camp. The Nazis attempted to reduced all of the victims of their regime to matter that did not matter. Humans said to be lower than cattle; sub-humans they would claim of Poles and most especially the Jewish people—God’s chosen. So many millions, including St. Maximilian, would die unthinkable in-human deaths.
But in that humiliation, heroic humble acts: the sheltering of the little, the lost and the lowly. The giving of one’s self for the other. Laying down one’s life for friends and strangers.
St. Maximilian Kolbe’s story and witness to Christian discipleship is so very moving. Those humble human hairs stand against a world view that tried to destroy the dignity of all humanity through a pride that would insist that some people matter more than others, and some aren’t people at all.
The Church keep and venerate relics because the saintly virtues, and the body and blood of Christ received worthily, sanctify the soul and the body. Holiness is not some abstract notion separate from the places, people and things of the world — it’s all wrapped up together.
God made you: your eternal soul and your body too. He made every hair. And so, in all humility, treat what God has made as matter that matters. And above all, remember your friends and enemies, the people you like and dislike, well they matter too — so treat them as though they do.
St. Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us.
— Fr. Robert Bengry
The photograph: From the Bengry collection. Copyright 2019. All Rights Reserved.