St. Maximilian Kolbe: “Only Love Is Creative”
By Dawn Eden
One of the observations I make in my new book My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints is that saints are sometimes patrons of particular physical or mental conditions not because they actually had them, but because they had experiences similar to them.
For example, St. Maximilian Kolbe is a patron of recovering drug addicts—not because he ever in his life abused drugs, but because he was killed by a lethal injection from a Nazi “doctor.” Likewise, St. Denis is a patron of migraine sufferers because he suffered the ultimate headache—decapitation.
In that light, I propose certain saints in MyPeace I Give You as patrons for those who suffer from effects of post-traumatic stress — not necessarily because they suffered from it (though many saints, such as the wounded soldier Ignatius of Loyola, may well have) – but because they endured pains familiar to sufferers.
Take St. Thomas Aquinas, who, after an intensely distressing incident in which his brothers tried to force him into a sexual situation with a prostitute, fell to his knees—“weary and frightened, and almost despairing.” He began to pray, and, while praying, fell asleep. To me, as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse who has suffered from flashbacks, Thomas’s experience is very familiar—the adrenaline rush, followed by sadness and a kind of full-body exhaustion as though my life has been sucked out.
Whether or not Thomas actually underwent a flashback is not important; what matters is that he knew how it felt, and so, like a good friend who has been there, he can sympathize with me when I suffer. More than that, I can learn from the way he responded to his trauma. Instead of giving in to despair, he chose to deepen the self-offering he had already made to God, in union with Christ. The example of his life and the support of his prayers give me confidence that there is no suffering of mine that the Lord cannot use to draw me closer to Him.
In a similar way, at times when I have felt trapped by mistakes I have made, St. Maximilian Kolbe’s story and loving intercession strengthen me. It is true that his suffering, unlike mine, came not from his own sins, but rather from the sins of others. Yet, he can sympathize with me because he knows how it feels to be hemmed in. For that reason, he is specially equipped to show me how, in the midst of afflictions, I may yet attain victory through Christ (1 Cor 15:57).
As I write in My Peace I Give You, it was through the intercession of Kolbe, the Polish Franciscan priest who gave his life for a fellow prisoner at Auschwitz, that I first discovered and experienced the love of the Communion of Saints. What struck me most deeply about that “martyr of charity,” then and now, was how, all the while he was incarcerated and brutally treated by the Nazis, he demonstrated a profound sense of freedom.
Kolbe was truly free, because he was free to do good, free to love, free to cling in prayer and devotion to the Immaculata—Our Lady, whose grace spurred him to bring the light of Christ into the darkest places.
One of my favorite stories about St. Maximilian is how, after having volunteered to take the place of a fellow Auschwitz inmate who was condemned to die in a starvation cell, he transformed his environment with his presence. Crammed into a small, dank room with nine other men, deprived of clothes, food, and water, Kolbe convinced his fellow cellmates to join them in prayers, the rosary, and hymns. Nazi guards patrolling the prison, expecting to be confronted with the desperate moans and sobs of dying men, were shocked to find instead that it sounded as though they were in a church.
The ships Pornchai Moontri carved in prison (an Asian custom). The ship on the right is named “St. Maximilian”. Pornchai didn’t know the story about the red and white crowns of martyrdom and purity which Immaculate Mary offered to Father Maximilian when he painted this ship!
A surviving witness—an inmate who had been called to act as translator—later reported that the Nazi guards marveled in wonder at Kolbe. Their ideology had taught them to strive to be godless “supermen,” defining themselves by the brute power with which they could subjugate others. In the naked, starving priest, the Nazis were stunned to discover a true man, one who could face death with a smile because he was dying not for hate, but for love.
During the weeks before his martyrdom, Kolbe gently corrected a fellow prisoner who spoke of hating the Nazis. “Hatred is not a creative force,” he said. “Only love is creative.” St. Maximilian showed that the ultimate creativity is to be joined at the heart with the creative love of God, whose mercies are “new every morning” (Lam 3:22-23).
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We all thank Dawn for making her way to Holy Souls Hermitage in this way.
I asked Dawn to write this post particularly for the imprisoned priest Father Gordon MacRae (whose story on TheseStoneWalls is HERE) and his fellow prisoner, the Catholic convert Pornchai Moontri, whose story is summarized in the following links:
(1) Pornchai’s Story by Pornchai Moontri (This version has his correct prison number)
(2) Pornchai Moontri – The Duty of a Knight – To Dream the Impossible Dream by Pornchai Moontri
(3) Pornchai’s Path to the Narrow Gate by Ryan Anthony MacDonald
(4) The Paradox of Suffering: An Invitation from Saint Maximilian Kolbe by Father Gordon MacRae
Now, I’m sure Dawn would appreciate a comment or two in the combox. It’s always great to have encouragement, especially when writing such a book, which involved Dawn telling her own story of being abused (with zero graphic details, which I think is great!). She’s very brave and generous in cooperating with our Lord in bringing great good out of the great evil she herself suffered. I, for one, think abuse victims have a great deal to offer all of us. Suffering can be an opportunity to learn much about the friendship our Lord holds out to us.
Be sure to get Dawn’s book. It’s inexpensive a tremendous read.
Dawn’s book is something that will also help to bring the entire abuse crisis full circle.
This is a must read, not only for victims of abuse, not only for those who very often counsel abuse victims (such as priests, who are also very much the intended audience of Dawn), not only for those who know abuse victims, but for all in the Church today. This is the situation we are in and we are all in this together.
Dawn’s book is totally unique. It provides what has never been a part of the solution in the abuse crisis, reverence before the Immaculate Mary’s Son, Jesus, who, by His grace, is so very present in His saints, and who is so very present to all of us.
Whenever Pornchai tells his story, he is loathe not to mention his great mentor and friend and cellmate, Father Gordon MacRae. I, for one, also think that Father Gordon will benefit greatly from Dawn’s book, for although he was not abused as a youngster nor did he ever abuse anyone, he was terribly abused in prison. His being there, falsely accused and wrongly convicted, for now going on 18 years, is like a continuous rape of his very priesthood. It’s got to stop, and it’s got to stop now. Meanwhile, one can learn ever more, every day about the Heart of “the creative love of God, whose mercies are ‘new every morning’ (Lam 3:22-23).” I think Father Gordon will very much love reading Dawn’s book (should Pornchai let him have it)!