Tag Archive: franciscan

Heroic Self Sacrifice


FotoAsuwitchTomorrows  Saint is the remarkable St Maximiliam Maria Kolbe, a Polish Franciscan who famously gave up his life in place of another in the Nazi death camp Auschwitz.    Before his arrest Kolbe was famous in Europe for his ministry in promoting the veneration of the Immaculate Virgin Mary. He had founded the monastery of Niepokalanów near Warsaw, a seminary, a radio station, and several other organizations and publications.

German Stamp commemorates Kolbe (with Auschwitz stamp on it)

German Stamp commemorates Kolbe (with Auschwitz stamp on it)

His arrest by the Gestapo was partly due to his heroic effort in sheltering Jews, with over 2000 being hidden in his monastery.  It was after three prisoners successfully escaped from the camp, that he deputy camp commander, picked 10 men to be starved to death in an underground bunker in order to deter further escape attempts. One of the selected men, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out, “My wife! My children!”, so Kolbe volunteered to take his place.  After two weeks of dehydration and starvation, only Kolbe remained alive. The guards wanted the bunker emptied and they gave Kolbe a lethal injection of carbolic acid.

Something that brought this amazing story vividly alive to me was listening to an interview on the internet.  Saint Cast is an excellent website run by a marathon running brain surgeon from America, Paul Camarata.  A few years ago he posted a fascinating audio file – of an interview and translation of  an eye-witness to this event.  One of the saint cast listeners – found that a member of his parish in Uppsala, Sweden, a guy called Tadeusz Raznikiewicz, was an eyewitness to the last days of St. Maximilian Kolbe.


This amazing interview can  be listened to by visiting the saint cast website here >  Eyewitness acount to Kolbe’s last days 


Doubting Thomas


English: The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Ca...

English: The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio.  (Photo credit: Wikicommons)

I have always had a soft spot for the apostle Thomas, who would only believe that Jesus was risen if he could put his fingers in his side (see below).  Todays feast of St Thomas gives me great envouragement.  Its easy to be critical of Thomas’s lack of faith – but remember how devestating it was for the apostles when Jesus was arrested. Sure they were all cowards and ran away, but it is easy to forget how they had given up everything to follow him, they had staked everything on him, and for him to die in such a humiliating and public way was traumatic for them. They would have been shocked, disillusioned, disorientated. So when the risen Lord appeared to them, I can symapthise with Thomas’s reaction, once bitten – twice shy he didn’t want to get his hopes up again after they had been torn apart.  It is wonderful how gentle Jesus is with Thomas and his unbelief, without irritation He allows Thomas to put his hands in the wounds in His side to prove it really is Him – the risen Christ. Do we have the courage to take our doubts and our unbelief to the Lord in prayer?

Hands with Stigmata, depicted on a Franciscan church in Lienz, Austria

Another thing worth meditating on is the fact that the Glorified Body of the Risen One still bears His wounds. He has not risen like some super her0, rippling muscles and six pack – He retains the terrible marks of His torture and death.  Some people have said our culture could be defined as one that escapes from pain at all cost, we try and shut it out, medicalise it till it has no meaning. However suffering is part of the human condition, and the more we try and make it an alien part of our experience the more persistent is seems to become – a paradox that the Buddhists understand so well. We can react to suffering in two ways, bitterness and anger or with some kind of acceptance and hope. It is no accident that many modern ‘spiritual classics’ have been written by people who have gone through breakdowns or breakthroughs. Suffering can open our hearts, make us more compassionate and soften our pride and arrogance.  So in the ‘glorious wounds’ of Christ perhaps we can see that this openness is a privileged path for grace to work.  The mystical phenomenon of stigmata has long fascinated me, although it seems to be a gift given to Franciscans more than Jesuits!  Francis, Padre Pio, maybe that says something about Franciscan humility and openness and Jesuit pride!!

Todays Gospel – John 20

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve,
was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”
But Thomas said to them,
“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands
and put my finger into the nailmarks
and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
Now a week later his disciples were again inside
and Thomas was with them.
Jesus came, although the doors were locked,
and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands,
and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”