Before we leave Saint Maximilian Kolbe in the liturgical rearview mirror, a brief mention of the essential nature of the priesthood. Would-be seminarians used to be asked – perhaps they still are – what is the essential nature of the priestly office. The proper answer, of course, is to offer sacrifice – of the Mass, yes, but also of themselves. That is why they wear black, to signify the potential imminence of their ‘laying down their lives for their flock’. Thus did Father Maximilian, when a man chose to die bewailed the fact that he had a wife and children; the priest offered himself, an offer, rare as it may have been, almost never accepted by the blank prison guards. But this time was somehow different, and the priest’s offer was accepted. He suffered slow starvation with nine other men, and over the days of their passion, he led them in prayers and hymns, to buoy up their spirits. We may be confident they all went to heaven, by the grace of this priest.
After two weeks, only Father Kolbe, strong and used to fasting, we may suppose, was left alive. He was dispatched by an injection of carbolic acid, a fragrant offering to God, perhaps one that led to the conversion of the commandant, Rudolf Hoess.
For another powerful story on the essence of the priesthood, peruse George Weigl’s take on Blessed Karl Leisner.
All priests – and all of us, really – could learn something foundational on the nature of their vocation, what it means to lay down one’s life, and to give one’s soul, so that one may gain it back for eternity.