Year 1941, in Auschwitz concentration camp, a prisoner had escaped. The commandant announced that 10 men would die. This was to serve as a warning for those who were planning to escape. The commandant picked his choice randomly. He ordered: ‘This one, that one’ as they were being marched away to the starvation bunkers. Number 16670 dared to step from the line. “I would like to take that man’s place. He has a wife and children.” “Who are you?”asked the commandant. “A priest”, he answered. The commandant, dumbfounded, kicked Sergeant Francis Gajowniczek out of line and ordered Father Kolbe to go with the nine. These ten people were slowly starved to death. By the eve of the Assumption four were left alive. The jailer came to finish Kolbe off as he sat in a corner praying. He even lifted his fleshless arm to receive the bite of the hypodermic needle. It was filled with carbolic acid. They burned his body with all the others.
Friends St Maximilian Kolbe was just like us human beings. He was unknown before he offered his very life to save the life of that family man. But because of what he had done, of laying down his life for the other person to live, he is now well-known and remembered forever as one of the greatest saints in the 20th century. For as our gospel today tells us: ‘Anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.’
Losing our life for God and for others is really the cost of discipleship. This is the cost we have to bear if we follow Jesus. It is even said that if we have not experienced the hardship, the difficulties, the trials, the risk and the challenges in following Jesus, it is worth checking if we have followed the real Jesus. This does not mean however that we are to look for troubles, or to pray that problems will come to us or that we will be tested. We don’t have to, because if we are serious in our Christian discipleship, these things are inevitable and would certainly come.
But what it means to follow Jesus? What it means to be a disciple now?
One: According to Blessed John Paul II, this means ‘becoming conformed to him (Christ) who became a servant even giving himself on the Cross’ (VS 21). It also involves ‘holding fast to the very person of Jesus, partaking of his life and his destiny, sharing in his free and loving obedience to the will of the Father’ (VS 19).
Two: John Paul II continues: ‘Jesus calls us to follow him and to imitate him along the path of love, a love which gives itself completely to the brethren out of love for God.’ (VS 21)
Concretely it means that to follow Jesus is to love our brothers and sisters with the kind of love that Jesus has for them, that is a ‘love willing to die for the beloved.’
Jesus is the concrete example and a prototype of this kind of love. Therefore, as his disciples or followers we must also love this way. This kind of love is the real love and must therefore be our main force or source of power in everything we do. Without this kind of love, we could not imagine what kind of world we would have. Fr. Patrick O’Sullivan writes in his homily one day that without love everything would lose its real meaning and significance. He said:
Justice without love is legalism.
Faith without love is ideology.
Hope without love is fanaticism.
Forgiveness without love is false humility.
Courage without love is recklessness.
Generosity without love is extravagance.
Care without love is cold duty.
Fidelity without love is servitude.
Three: To express boldly and courageously (in our time) that we are followers of Jesus Christ, wherever we are, whoever we are. Each one of us has our own unique way of discipleship as God called us. We don’t have to do exactly what St Maximilian Kolbe had done. The Prophet Jeremiah in our First Reading offers us one way to really be a disciple of God, i.e. to live out and share with courage and love the Word of God continually despite of insult, derision or even if we become a laughing-stock for others. St Paul in our Second Reading today has also offered us another way to be a disciple of Christ, i.e. to live out our Christian faith in our daily lives and in our dealing with people and society. To do this, St Paul clearly gives us an advice: ‘Not to model ourselves on the behaviour of the world around us (which is contrary to the will of God) but rather to have Christ as the standard, the ultimate norm of our Christian living.
This is how to truly be a disciple of Christ: to proclaim the love of Christ and to show it in our lives and what we are doing. If we love one another according to that love which Jesus has shown us, then like St Maximilian Kolbe, we can also with confidence, offer our life in order for the others to live, because we know that if we lose our life for the sake of Jesus, then we’ll find it again and even enjoy it in eternity.
Our prayer today therefore is: That the Spirit of Jesus enables and empowers us to love the way he does, so that we may become worthy to be called his real disciple.