I can still remember the sound of my shoes (still have them) clicking on the polished granite (marble?) floor as I approached the altar to kneel and begin the vow formula. The vow cross is hanging over the desk just to my right. I could have never written the script for the things that have happened since vow day. Ignatius Hung, SJ of the Chinese province is one of my closest friends. He had just arrived in Boston from Taipei a day earlier and was brought along to the vow Mass. Only a few years after we became friends did he confess that he was confused by the "old man with white hair" pronouncing vows.
If I live to celebrate 25 years in the Society (11 years to go) I'm going to have a party because it is unlikely I will live to 25 years as a priest. No desire to live to 83.
Memorial of St. Maximilian Kolbe
14 August 2012
Matt 18:1-5, 10, 12-14
It is always a happy coincidence when the gospel for the day fits the memorial of a particular saint. Today, the 19th Tuesday in Ordinary Time, is also the memorial of St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish Conventual Franciscan priest who was born on Jan 8, 1894. He died in Auschwitz in 1941 as the result of the heroic act of a shepherd that emerged from a mystical experience he had as a child.
The story holds that, after being scolded for some childhood mischief, Mary appeared to him while he said his bedtime prayers. She was holding two crowns, one red and one white. She asked if he were willing to accept either of them, the white indicating he should persevere in purity and the red indicating martyrdom. He replied he would accept them both.
Despite chronically poor health due to tuberculosis he founded a number of friaries, published a monthly review and, in 1930, became a missionary to Japan. Ahead of his time, he entered into dialogue with—and befriended--Buddhist and Shinto priests. He was called back to Poland just as WW II was rumbling in the background. He was arrested, along with other Franciscans, in 1941. After some time in Pawiak prison he was sent to Auschwitz. The details of his treatment in prison are ugly.
In July 1941, just over a year before the death of Edith Stein, whose memorial we celebrated last week, three prisoners escaped. Using standard Nazi sociopath logic, ten prisoners were chosen at random from a line-up. They were to be put into “The Bunker,” an airless underground space where they would die from starvation and dehydration. When he was chosen as one of the ten Franciszek Gajowniczek cried out, “Oh my wife, my children. I shall never see them again.” Kolbe stepped from the line and negotiated to take Gajowniczek’s place.
The ten men languished in the bunker for two weeks without food or water. They prayed aloud with the voices gradually fading out as, one by one, they died until only Kolbe, the tubercular, remained. Because the executioners needed the bunker he was taken to the sick bay where he was injected with camphor—an early form of physician assisted suicide ala Jack Kevorkian. He died quickly.
Was his childhood experience of Mary a dream? An hallucination? A delusion? All or none of the above? One cannot say. Ultimately it doesn't matter. Unlike the apostles in today's gospel, indeed, unlike the vast majority of us, Maximilian Kolbe was not concerned about his relative position in heaven or on earth. He accepted the crowns of purity and martyrdom with the kind of yes that is only possible from a child. In time that child became the shepherd who died in place of one of the sheep.
There is a follow-up. Kolbe was beatified in 1971 and canonized by fellow Pole John Paul II on 10 October 1982. Franciszek Gajowniczek attended both ceremonies. A survivor of five years in the camps, he died in 1995 at age 94, 54 years after Kolbe took his place in the bunker.
As per Gajowniczek’s translator when he visited the U.S., “He told me as long as he had breath in his lungs he would consider it his duty to tell people about the heroic act of love of St. Maximilian Kolbe.” Today we recall that child who became a shepherd and a martyr.
Barry Slaven, a friend from med school, sent an e-mail where he noted he was going to get a software program for creating black and white photos. He is a fantastic photographer who got me interested in it when we were sophomores. He enjoys taking pictures inside churches. He noted that oftentimes those photos work better in black and white. He envied my access to "HOWs" which, it turns out, means houses of worship. Sometimes I can get to places a layman can't or at times when a church is inaccessible to others.
The first two are from Campion Center. The first is a small chandelier taken from the second loft with a zoom lens.
The second is the stained glass and columns. The glass is interesting in that much of it is merely opaque with stained motifs rather than the heavily leaded and highly colored stained glass found in many churches.
The next two come from the Cathedral of St. Matthew on Rhode Island Ave in D.C. The Cathedral was the site of JFK's funeral. The first is some of the lamps.
I'm not certain what to call the second light but it caught my eye.
Below is a staircase in St. Anselm's Monastery in NE D.C. not too far from Catholic U and the National Shrine. Some monastic cowls were hanging off to the side. I did an 8-day retreat there. It is small and very lovely. A very welcoming community.
The next is choir stalls in the late November afternoon sun.
The final one is the Crypt in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The day after I returned from Australia I celebrated Mass at the altar. The altar is very far from the tabernacle. At this particular Mass I ran out of hosts. After walking all the way back to the tabernacle I realized the key was on the credence table next to the altar. Back to altar, grab key, back to tabernacle, genuflect, get ciborium and return to give communion to the last dozen or so people. I blamed jet lag.
Off to Syracuse on Firday to attend vows on Saturday. Long trip but worth every mile along I-90 once the first man kneels and begins the formula.
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD