It’s appropriate that we celebrated St. Maximillian Kolbe the day before the Assumption not only because that was the day he died, but because he was known for his ardent devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
When Kolbe was twelve years old, he experienced a vision of the Virgin Mary that foreshadowed his death. He later described it as follows:
That night I asked the Mother of God what was to become of me. Then she came to me holding two crowns, one white, the other red. She asked me if I was willing to accept either of these crowns. The white one meant that I should persevere in purity, and the red that I should become a martyr. I said that I would accept them both.
As a result, Kolbe is best known for how he fulfilled this verse:
“Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
Kolbe was martyred at Auschwitz when he volunteered to take the place of a man sentenced to death. Kolbe became the first to be proclaimed a “martyr of charity.”
The Old Testament reading at Mass on St. Kolbe’s feast day spoke of Moses in exalted terms, saying that no one else has ever known God as he did, face to face. In Exodus we read, “The LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” But I think it’s fair to say that Kolbe knew an even greater friendship through Christ, who lay down his life … for his friends. Jesus carved the path that Kolbe followed.
Kolbe wrote the following about friendship:
God sends us friends to be our firm support in the whirlpool of struggle. In the company of friends we will find strength to attain our sublime ideal.
We’re not called to persevere alone, so the friendship of Christ fuels our friendships on earth.
Kolbe had a devotion to Mary because he stood with her at the foot of the cross, where he meditated on what it means to be a true friend. As Cardinal Karol Wojtyla said before he became pope:
“The fact is, and all the survivors of Auschwitz know it, that from Assumption day, 1941, on, the camp became a somewhat less hellish place.”
Mary moved Kolbe to embrace the eternal friendship of Christ and share that friendship on earth.
This can be our charge. From this Assumption day forward, let’s embrace the friendship of Christ in such a way that we make our own world “a somewhat less hellish place.”