What do we have to do to truly be a disciple of Jesus? Who will be chosen to enter into God’s eternal kingdom? In essence, that is what Jesus is asked when someone questions him as he's teaching in the towns & villages on his way to Jerusalem: “Jesus, will only a few people be saved? Will I be among them?” In Jesus’s response to this question posed to him by the crowds, perhaps he is telling us that it is entirely another question that we need to be asking instead.
Back in the early years of the 20th century, there was a little boy named Raymund Kolbe living in a poor village in Poland. Raymund was a very mischievous young boy, always getting into trouble and never obeying his parents. His mother, losing patience with him one day, cried out: Lord, what is going to become of my son Raymond? Reflecting upon what his mother said, Raymond prayed to our Blessed Mother: Mother Mary, what is to become of me? Mary responded to him in a vision. Out Lady came to him holding two crowns: one white, the other red. She asked him if he was willing to accept either of these crowns. The white one meant that he should persevere in purity, the red that he would become a martyr. He said that he would accept both of these crowns.” The next year, at the young age of 12, young Raymond entered the order of the Conventual Franciscans, where he took the religious name Maximilian. He was ordained a priest at the age of 24. He undertook missions to China, Japan, and India, where he founded Franciscan monasteries. He promoted a deep love and devotion to the Blessed Mother wherever he went. Finally, he returned to Poland, where as a young priest he had founded a monastery just outside of Warsaw. The publishing house and radio station that ran out of the monastery were very influential in Poland. We think of how today we use apps, blogs, cell phones, and websites as the latest technology to evangelize to the world in our own era. This young Polish priest had the same idea back in the early decades of the 20th century, using the newest technology available to him at the time to reach out to others. After the German invasion of Poland, the radio station and publishing house started speaking out against the Nazi regime. The monastery was shut down and Father Maximilian Kolbe was arrested. He was eventually sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp, becoming prisoner #16670. His cell became a chapel where he invited all of the other prisoners to pray the rosary, to sing hymns to the Blessed Mother, and to celebrate the Eucharist. Because he was a priest, he was subject to harassment by the camp guards, who singled him out for beatings and lashings. Just two months after his arrival at Auschwitz, a prisoner from Kolbe’s barracks escaped. As punishment to the other prisoners, 10 of them from that barracks were chosen to be sent to a special bunker where they would be starved to death. Kolbe was not one of those who were initially chosen. However, when he learned that one of the men had a large family with a wife and children, in order to spare him, Father Maximilian Kolbe volunteered to take his place. During their time in the bunker, Kolbe led the other prisoners in prayer and tried to reassure them of God’s fidelity to those who live as disciples of Christ. He was the last of those 10 prisoners to remain alive after 2 weeks of confinement, so in order to end his life, the guards injected him with carbolic acid. He died on August 14, 1941, 75 years ago last Sunday. The prison guards cremated his body on the next day of the feast of the Assumption of Mary, our Blessed Mother to whom he was so devoted. During Maximilian Kolbe’s canonization in 1982, Pope John Paul II called him the patron saint of the 20th century, a century that saw so much war, violence, and crimes against humanity. We commemorate St Maximilian Kolbe’s feast day last Sunday, August 14.
Idon’t think that Father Maximilian Kolbe worried about the question that was asked in the Gospel by someone in the crowds: Will I be saved? Who else will be saved? How many will be saved? As Jesus says in the Gospel, some of the people in Jesus day who followed him were thinking: Jesus, we listened to you as you taught in our streets and in our synagogues. We ate and drank with you. We shared meals with you. We were part of your group of disciples. We were part of your “in-group”, your followers. Certainly we will be saved. Certainly we did enough to be able to enter into God’s kingdom. Jesus calls us to a life of discipleship. He calls us to go beyond the surface, to let his teachings penetrate our hearts, to be open to conversion, change, and transformation. So, instead of asking questions about whose going to be saved and worrying about that, perhaps we need to concentrate on deepening our relationship with Christ, to grow closer to him and the values of his Gospel. We were saved in the past in our lives, at the moment of our baptism, at the moment of our initiation into the faith, into our lives of discipleship. We are saved in the present moment, as Christ calls us to on-going conversion, to renewal and new life. And we will be saved in the future, in the grace that God’s offers us each day. We are invited to enter the door of faith each and every day of our journey as pilgrim people here on earth. Some days, that door may seem very difficult to enter, very narrow. I love the image that Pope Francis gave us when the Jubilee Year of Mercy started last December. The Pope kicked off the Jubilee Year by opening the special door in St Peter’s in Rome that is only opened during special Jubilee Years. And he did so not just by swinging open those large, heavy doors. He took a hammer and tore down the brick that was closing off that door, opening it for the pilgrims to enter as they visit St Peter’s. Some days, there will be a lot of bricks for us to tear down as well. With God’s mercy and grace, we will have the strength to do so.