An Easter reflection, by Revd Paul Child, Parish Giving Advisor
Maximilian Maria Kolbe was a Polish Catholic priest and Conventual Franciscan friar. In 1941 he became known as prisoner 16670 after arrest by the German authorities and placement in the Auschwitz concentration camp.
At the end of July 1941, a prisoner escaped from the camp. To try and prevent further escape attempts Karl Fritzsch, the deputy camp commander, selected ten men to be starved to death in an underground bunker. When one of the selected men, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out, "My wife! My children!" Fr Kolbe volunteered to take his place.
While underground Fr Kolbe led his fellow prisoners in prayer, but after they had been starved and deprived of water for two weeks, only the priest and three others remained alive. The guards wanted the bunker emptied, so they gave the four remaining prisoners lethal injections. Fr Kolbe is said to have raised his left arm and calmly waited for the carbolic acid to enter his bloodstream. He died on 14 August 1941, his act of sacrificial generosity completed.
At Easter we think of the ultimate act of sacrificial generosity. Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, willingly gives his life not just for one man, but for each one of us. Jesus lays down his life as a ransom for many, and through his life, death and resurrection we find ourselves gifted everything we will ever need. But so often, in amongst the repetition of the story and the pressures of daily life and the clamour for chocolate eggs we miss that this extraordinary act is not only the foundation of our salvation, but the foundation of our generosity.
We love because he loves us. We give because as we grow as disciples we realise what it is to have a need that it is impossible to fulfil ourselves. We learn a new way of life, and we are inspired, compelled, to share it with others.
So our financial giving is not a tip we offer to God for spiritual services rendered. It’s not a tax on church life: pay as you pray. To give generously is to be caught up in the overflow of God’s grace because, when we give, we reflect the nature of God himself.
This challenges us to re-frame our approach to living and giving generously. When we think about what we give, dare we ask for the spiritual gift of generosity? Dare we ask God to shift our thinking from “how much of what is mine will I choose to give away?” to “how much of what God has given me will I choose to keep?”
Franciszek Gajowniczek remained in Auschwitz until October 1944 before being moved to Sachsenhausen, from where he was liberated by the Allies. After spending almost five and a half years in concentration camps he was reunited with his wife Helena in Poland, and lived until he was 93 years old. He would declare that as long as he had breath in his lungs, he would consider it his “duty to tell people about the heroic act of love by Maximilian Kolbe."
When we are truly generous with our time, our talents and our treasure, we proclaim the indescribable act of sacrificial love shown to each one of us through Jesus Christ our risen Lord. Amen.