I’d like to share with you a story of St. Maximilian Kolbe. He was a Franciscan priest who was martyred in Auschwitz during the Second World War. Here’s how that happened: one of the other prisoners had been condemned to execution, but St. Maximilian offered to go in his place, since the condemned man had a wife and family.
Before the war St. Maximilian had founded a community of almost 700 religious brothers in Poland. They formed what was called the “Knights of the Immaculate”. They created what was considered state-of- the-art media at the time, which included a printing press, radio station, college, and an airfield. Their most popular publication was a magazine that had more than a million subscribers worldwide.
Now here’s the part of his story that I want us to focus on: During his lifetime Maximilian Kolbe suffered from chronic tuberculosis which slowed him down but never stopped him from doing what God asked him to do. He used to tell members of his community that when he died and went to heaven, he would be able to help them more than he was able to here on earth. Why? Because in heaven he would be able to use both hands to help them; here on earth, he could only use one hand. He had to use the other to keep himself from falling.
This was a great insight that St Maximilian had regarding human weakness, and his own weaknesses. And as holy as we might consider him to be, Maximilian Kolbe had to struggle just like the rest of us. We are always beset with temptations, difficulties, and problems. We seem to be always on the verge of turning away from Christ through selfish or sinful words and deeds.
The important thing here is to see that St. Maximilian did not allow himself to become discouraged by his weaknesses, and we have to do the same. It’s St. Paul’s image in his letter to the Corinthians: the old Adam vs the new Adam. We have to remember that discouragement comes from the evil spirit. And Jesus is always telling us not to listen to the evil spirit!
St Paul says that no matter how long we live, no matter how “holy” we become, in this life we will have falls and struggles and obstacles. But those struggles can offer us opportunities for transformation if we are willing to let go of our sinfulness.
Thomas Green, the great Jesuit spiritual director offers this profound insight. He says that the last thing we are willing to let go of is our sins. Doesn’t that sound strange? Yet, when we think about it, we might be holding on to them through our feelings of guilt or regret without even realizing it! And some of this gets all mixed up with our own hurts and losses from the past. Consider this: Suffering may seem to break you, but unless your lives are not only broken, but broken into, then your tears are wasted. You need your past to help you realize where you have been, but you need to be careful not to let your past keep you there and prevent you from connecting to the future. This is the cry: years ago I was unfaithful, had an abortion, embezzled, was alcoholic, abusive to my family, and so on. And the terrible thing just hangs there and we can’t forgive ourselves. There is nothing redemptive about this. Remember this prayer, and keep repeating it to yourself, “God is greater than my own accusing heart. God is greater than my own accusing heart”.
Here’s a great prayer to help fight discouragement:
I asked God for strength that I might achieve;
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health that I might do great things;
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy;
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men;
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for,
But everything I had hoped for. Almost, despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered. I am among all people, truly blessed.