One of the first people to make me doubt my long-held convictions that I was the only one going to Heaven was Ms. Angie Lazarus. Ms Lazarus was my college English, Lit, and Creative Writing teacher from 2013 to 2015. She loved God, loved others, and shared wonderful insights from the Bible she picked up from her years of study, trips to the Holy Land, and appreciation for her tradition.
There was just one problem.
She is Catholic.
In my fellowship, people who attend a Catholic church, or “kiss the ring of the pope” as one disgruntled commenter said on my Facebook page, are not real Christians. They baptize infants, have an unscriptural hierarchy, and countless other unacceptable “innovations.”
Ms. Lazarus forced me to reexamine and challenge my exclusive view of Christianity.
Not through force or theological discussions, though we shared a few of those.
She challenged my worldview by simply living.
During this time, I was going through a rough patch. I had undiagnosed clinical depression, and my spiritual life was tumultuous.
As Ms. Lazarus has done for many others, she listened, gave advice, and was an amazing friend during this time. She was aware of our differences and, possibly, the radical transformation that was taking place within me, something that I didn’t even know was going on. So, she suggested a patron saint to me.
I’ve never had a patron saint, never wanted a patron saint, and I thought they were silly and sinful.
But the story blew me away.
Maximillian Kolbe is the patron saint of amateur-radio operators, drug addicts, political prisoners,
families, journalists, prisoners, and the pro-life movement. He was a Franciscan friar who refused to sign the Deutsche Volksliste, which would have given him the rights of a German citizen. He continued to work as a priest, sheltering Jewish refugees at the monastery, distributing anti-nazi publications, and organized a temporary hospital.
In 1941, German authorities shut down his monastery, and they imprisoned him in Auschwitz.
Just a few months after arriving, a prisoner tried to escape the death camp, and the commander starved ten men in an underground bunker as punishment. When one of those chosen cried out for his family, Kolbe volunteered to take his place.
In the bunker, Kolbe continued his work as a priest. He led the prisoners in prayer as they all died from starvation or water deprivation. Eventually, only Kolbe remained, so the guards killed him with lethal injection. When they arrived at his cell, he raised his left arm and calmly waited for the deadly injection.
Franciszek Gajowniczek, the man for whom Kolbe died, lived until 1995. Though his sons died, he reunited with his wife and made it his mission to tell people about the heroic act of love by Maximillian Kolbe.
When I read this story and think of the sacrifice Kolbe made, I can’t help but think of a few passages.
For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.Romans 5:7
Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.John 15:13
Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.Luke 17:33
How silly our doctrinal debates, exclusive views, and narrower than narrow approach to Christianity seems when we come face to face with wonderful men and women of God like Maximillian Kolbe!
Thanks again for such a wonderful story. This is a narrative about one who put others first. He was devoted to God and to others. Apparently, he had accepted Jesus as his savior. One cannot but recall Jesus’ words as found in Matthew 25:31-46. The original context if Matthew 25 had to do with the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. Many within the Churches of Christ think that God has a torture chamber in which He will burn people forever and ever–no cessation from pain for the least infraction of their denominational doctrines. What is wrong with us??? For many Christians, the Gospel of Christ is about crossing every “t” and dotting ever “i” according to doctrinal issues they have inherited from preachers in the pulpit–nothing about loving one another. Within many fellowships, God is pictured as a motorcycle cop waiting to catch someone for the least infraction of the law in order to send them to a supposed burning hell. God is not like that and cops are not like that. The story of this man is about one who loved God and his neighbor.