“A true martyr is not an opportunist who dies to get a reward of eternal life. A true martyr is a humanist who dies to save a life.” ~
We cannot buy our way into heaven. Some people half believe that one might be able to do so. That is why they volunteer to help others or donate large sums of money to charity. They think that their good works, if plentiful, will assure them a spot in the Kingdom. As we have heard at times in the Gospels, though, Jesus would most likely say, “They are already repaid.” For, if they do things for benefit or gain, they will receive a lot of earthly praise. But if their hearts are not in the right place, that is all they will receive.
A true martyr, on the other hand, is someone who is willing to lay down his own life for the life of another. Not for reward. Not for an entrance ticket into heaven. But simply for another because that is what Jesus asked us to do. No one has greater love than this, to lay down his life for a friend. I call you friends. That is what Jesus told His disciples.
Maximilian Mary Kolbe heard that message and embraced it. While incarcerated at Auschwitz, there was an escape. The Nazis had a simple rule: for every one person who escaped, ten prisoners would die. Ten prisoners were randomly selected to be placed in the starvation bunkers. One of them pleaded with the commandant, stating that he had a wife and children. Kolbe, hearing the man’s pleas, approached the commandant and asked for permission to take the man’s place.
When the commandant asked Kolbe who he was that he would make such a request, Kolbe’s response was simple and to the point, “I am a Catholic priest.” Kolbe was allowed to take the man’s place and he was put into a starvation bunker with nine other prisoners. He led them in song and prayer the entire time and ministered to them as they died.
When Kolbe was the only one left, the commandant needed the bunker for ten additional men. He ordered Kolbe to be put to death. Kolbe held out his arm so that they could inject carbolic acid into him and kill him. Kolbe did not choose to die because it was a sure fire way into heaven. He became a martyr because he responded to the man’s pleas. Franciszek Gajowniczek, the man that Kolbe had stood in for, survived the Holocaust and died in 1995.
FAITH ACTION: Pray for those who are persecuted for the faith that they have the courage of the martyrs to hold firm.