During the homily Pope Paul VI described the life of Maximilian Kolbe. He was a Polish Franciscan priest who was arrested by Nazis in February of 1941 for publishing unapproved literature. They sentenced him to hard labor at the Auschwitz concentration camp. In August of that same year a prisoner escaped. When he was not recaptured the Nazis took a reprisal. They lined up the other prisoners and picked out ten to die in the starvation bunker. One of the men selected was a farmer named Franciszek Gajowniczek. He was in Auschwitz only because he was Jew. When Franciszek was selected, he cried out, "My wife, my children!"
Hearing that cry Fr. Kolbe stepped forward. He said to the guard, "I am a Catholic priest. I have no family like this man. Allow me to take his place." The guard hesitated, then agreed. Maximilian Kolbe, along with the nine others, was placed in the starvation bunker for a slow and agonizing death. After fourteen days, four were still alive and only one was fully conscious--Fr. Kolbe himself. The Nazis needed the starvation bunker for other prisoners so they injected Fr. Kolbe and the three others with carbolic acid.
Pope Paul then solemnly declared that Fr. Kolbe who had died only thirty years before was now Blessed Maximilian Kolbe. After the applause died down, the Holy Father had a surprise which sent a thrill through the whole congregation. The man seated next to him was none other than Franciszek Gajowniczek. He survived the concentration camp and has devoted his life to telling others what Fr. Kolbe did for him.
If Franciszek Gajowniczek has that much gratitude to Fr. Kolbe, how much should we have this evening to Jesus? What Maximilian Kolbe did for that Jewish prisoner, Jesus has done for each one of us. He died in our place.
We come to Jesus this evening to venerate the Holy Cross. In just a few minutes Deacon Ted will lift high the cross and sing, "This is the wood of the cross, on which hung the Savior of the world." And we will respond, "Come, let us worship." Then we will come forward to reverence the cross by kissing it.
You notice that our crucifix is covered. We do that because we can get so used to Jesus on the cross; we can take him for granted. When the crucifix is presented, it should give a kind of shock to see what Jesus suffered for us.
We come to Jesus with the full weight of our sins. Our present Holy Father, Pope John Paul has reminded us that part of the burden of sins is our human solidarity. As we prepare for the third millennium, he is calling us to a kind of repentance based on solidarity. I am sure you have heard about the document: We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah (the Jewish holocaust). We are asked to repent of the anti-Semitism which has caused so much suffering to our Jewish brothers and sisters, especially in this century.
In our own country we have been reflecting on our terrible national sin of slavery. Most us might say, "Well, my ancestors were not slave owners. They weren't even in the United States at the time of slavery." That's not the point. We are part of this American society now and we bear some of the burden for its past sins.
But there is a potential danger here. It is easy to imagine what we would have done in the past. "Well, I would have spoken out against slavery. I would have resisted the Nazis." But we are not so clear what we should do about present evils, like abortion. What we are doing in the face of the death of almost 1.5 million innocent children each year in our own country? Have we just gotten used to this holocaust? Are we afraid people will call us fanatics or anti-choice if we speak up or get involved politically? And what are we doing to really spend time with our children, our young people, so they will have some good guidance--and support?
My brothers and sisters, we come to the cross this evening burdened with sins of the past, but even more with the present sins of our society. We live in a consumer society which can so easily deaden us. And let's not forget own personal sins. Sometimes people tell me in confession that if others really knew their sins, no one would like them, not even their mother. But the fact is there is someone who knows every one of your sins, better than you do yourself. He not only loves you. He shed his last drop of blood for you. For you. Even if you were the only person every created by God, Jesus would have died for you alone. That is the reason for your great worth. Tonight at least we can take off our masks of "self-worth" and "self-esteem" and recognize where our real value lies.
Like Franciszek Gajowniczek to Fr. Kolbe, we come before Jesus with grateful hearts. In humble gratitude we kiss his feet and thank him. Jesus, you died for me. Help me to live for you.
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
See also: An Eternally Unbridgeable Chasm
The Fiery Furnace
Jesus Teaching Concerning Heaven
Some Good News on Teen Pregnancy and Abortion
Hitler's Pope: Comic Book Approach to Church History
He Approached the Victim: "It's much more likely one of your relatives will lose his life by surgical abortion than by heart attack."
Germaine Greer on Birth Control
Human Cloning: A Catholic Perspective (How the Unthinkable Became Inevitable)
Boston Globe's Misleading Article on Catholic Church
Deflating Darwin's Dangerous Idea
Stephen Jay Gould: Gorbachev of Darwinism?
Test Tube Offspring Want to Know Father
Erickson vs. Bartell Drugs
Call No Man Father
What is Original Sin of Sex?
Bicentennial Man (Hidden Assumptions)
Bogus Knights of Columbus Oath
Ossuary of James, Son of Joseph, Brother of Jesus