Choose me.

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?


  1. Illya

    The prisoner that Kolbe saved made it his life’s work to make the cause for sainthood known. And it was largely through his efforts that Kolbe became a saint. In fact, he was present in Rome wqhen Kolbe waas declared a saint. So, his gratitude was translated into action.

    1. philangelus

      Thank you for looking that up. I didn’t have the courage to do it.

  2. Dorothy Kernaghan-Baez

    Wow…..this is so profound. I wandered onto your blog from MyOBSaidWhat…..You seem seriously cool!

    1. philangelus

      Oh, thank you! Welcome!!!

  3. Megan

    “how do you live every day of the rest of your life knowing that someone died in order to save you?”

    It occurs to me that we could all ask ourselves that. I’m not trying to be hyper-pious there, it just struck me suddenly. I certainly don’t do well at living in that knowledge.

    1. Megan

      (commenting again to subscribe)

    2. philangelus

      Whoops, I’m replying to these in inverse order. 🙂 What I said below applies here too, but for many years to me, the Cross didn’t feel like “Wait, don’t take Jane. Take me.” Because all humanity gets covered by that sacrifice, for a long time I felt as if I just got included in the bundle price. You know, the way you don’t really want CSPAN 2, but it’s included in Expanded Cable. So Jesus bought the Expanded Humanity Deal, and there were a few Premium People he was thinking about specifically, but Jane was in the third tier channels and you can’t just cull out Nickelodeon 2 because there’s nothing you really wanted on that channel.

      It’s not a good way to live, and it’s not personal enough to say every morning, “Wow, Jesus died in order to save me, so I’d better get my coffee and make it worthwhile.”

      1. Megan

        To use a word you used below (maybe I should be commenting down there :)), no, it definitely isn’t as striking or personal. Even now, having said what I did in my comment, I don’t get shivers thinking about Jesus on the cross the way I do thinking about Maximilian Kolbe in Aus…Auch…that concentration camp. I’m just feeling out the idea that maybe it SHOULD give me shivers, once in a while.

  4. MyBrokenFiat

    As everyone else pretty much said… holy wow that was profound.

    But to point out the obvious, we are all called to do exactly what Gajowniczek did for Kolbe. Gajowniczek spent his life preaching the holiness of the man who saved him. We are called to preach the perfection and love of the Man-God who saved us… volunteering His Life to ransom ours.

    Methinks I’ve got a new blog to stalk… 😉

    1. philangelus

      Thanks for visiting! I know what you’re saying, but for many years I felt as if the Cross were far removed from me. In other words, Jesus died for you and for Megan and Dorothy and Illya…but I sort of got thrown in as part of the package. “Well, I guess I’ll take Jane too, if she comes along with the rest.”

      In general, we as humans are not conscious of the danger to our souls, not the same way we would be if we were in a line of people being dropped into Hell. There’s something more striking about a man volunteering to have you pulled out of the line of men chosen to die and that man being put in your place. Kolbe offered his life specifically for that man. It would be harder to ignore and harder to rationalize.

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