St. Maximilian Kolbe is heralded as the Saint of Auschwitz. In a remarkable act of love and humility, the Polish priest offered his life for a father when faced with execution in the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Holocaust. While we often define our saints by one ultimate act – their martyrdom, a profound miracle, or a moment of boldness for God – St. Maximilian, like our other saints, is so much more than one supreme moment of magnanimity. St. Maximilian Kolbe was a mover, a shaker, a deal maker, and an innovator, especially when it came to Catholic media. Allowing his full story to illuminate his sainthood will help us all become more in tune with our own call to do more – to be more – for the glory of God.
If we only think about St. Maximilian as the Saint of Auschwitz, it can be limiting, but oddly freeing. It’s easy to think, “Wow, what an incredible act of love for the other!” while knowing that most of us will never have that moment of choice in our lives. It’s easy to be inspired by him and revere him for his great courage rather than internalize how this might affect us day to day. We see the grandeur of other saints too and we forget that they were normal people with interests and complicated lives like ours. Keeping them on a pedestal, while probably enhancing our prayer life, hinders us from relating to the saints and allowing their example to influence the monotony of our daily lives.
In the last ten years, there is a sort of movement in the Catholic Church today to fully illustrate the life of the saints, and most of this is done through Catholic media.
My first experience with this was when I saw Word on Fire and Bishop Robert Barron’s “Pivotal Players” series, which tells the stories of twelve pivotal saints in the places where they grew up sharing how they became the people that made them saints. My husband and I hosted several people from our young adult group at our house to watch this series together and then discuss how these saints are relevant for our lives today.
Of course this bore tremendous fruit, not only in the beautiful conversation and personal stories, but in a small group fluctuating between six to ten people each week, two couples emerged from that group who ended up getting married. We were thrilled that they not only met in our home, but that the stories, legends and lives of the saints was the catalyst for them discovering their vocation as husband and wife. That series grounded these wonderfully holy saints to be real for us; their miracles continue as hearts are moved by learning about who they are.
This brings me back to St. Maximilian Kolbe. After watching this series, I started taking time on a saint’s feast day to read the blurbs about who they are, where they came from, and their supreme act. I would take the short five minutes to envision that time, their challenges, and how they rose above conflict for their ultimate “yes” to God’s call. For St. Maximilian, I challenge you to take some time to read his story today or watch some videos about him. There are also some great films about his life.
Something about him that animates my work (MAX Studios is named after St. Maximilian Kolbe) is his awareness of the importance of media. This was the early 1900s (St. Maximilian died when he was only 47 years old) and you can imagine all the new media that was coming out at that time. St. Maximilian attended the Olympic games in 1936. He went to Berlin, not to see the competition, but because there was an exhibit showcasing television and technology. He said, “While building churches that are beautiful and spacious is important, without Catholic media, these churches will be empty.” How true is that even for today? That simple story resonates with our current time with such gravity that we have to take it to heart.
Catholic media, while it can be contentious or annoying depending on your preferences, it’s undeniable that it bears fruit. In unexpected ways, the stories of the saints like St. Maximilian Kolbe – in written format, in dynamic video, in interesting podcasts – have tremendous meaning that supersedes time and space because the Holy Spirit moves through these narratives. In our Catholic storytelling, the saints become normal people, so that all people can see their universal call to holiness, and that call is realized through recognition of one’s vocation as called by Jesus Christ.
I think back to those marriages that emerged from that small group. Maybe those couples would have met under other circumstances, but how incredible that a part of their story is an attraction to one another after studying the lives of our most revered saints – through the proliferation of dynamic Catholic media.
Take time to know the saints who are honored in our church because their lives still perpetuate miracles beyond their earthly death. I believe St. Maximilian Kolbe is challenging us in this day and age to use Catholic media to its fullest to bring people to see their vocation in Jesus Christ as the ultimate calling. We have so much at our fingertips, that to engage in Catholic media, especially in community to share and discuss, it brings to life and grounds our rich and vibrant Scripture and Tradition.
Today, we remember St. Maximilian Kolbe – a true innovator and evangelist. Now, go explore and share some Catholic media to celebrate him.
National Shrine of St. Maximilian Kolbe
Pivotal Players | Word on Fire
The Amazing Story of St. Maximilian Kolbe by John Clark | Magis Center
VIDEO: St. Maximilian Kolbe w/ Bobby Angel | Ascension Presents