In 2016, I was blessed to travel with my son Gabe and STMA Catholic Youth Ministry to World Youth Day in Kraków, Poland. Southern Poland is a wonderful place for a Catholic pilgrimage; so many ancient and modern saints lived and died in so small a region that every day it seemed we visited another sacred site in another blessed city. The big three, of course, were 20th century saints: St. John Paul II, St. Faustina Kowalska, and St. Maximilian Kolbe.
In the case of St. Maximilian Kolbe, we were blessed to visit his religious community at Niepokalanów as well as the concentration camp where he gave his life at Oswiecim (Auschwitz). I say blessed truly, but not in the typical sense of the word. On a sunny summer day, Auschwitz is still and green and peaceful as an cemetery, but still more somber and hushed; the fences, ruins, and the dreadful sign above the gate, “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Will Free You), bear silent witness to the cruelty of which humanity is capable.
As we left the camp, we passed a small booth selling items commemorating the place—most prominently, a book entitled Hope Is the Last to Die by Halina Birenbaum. Born Halina Grynsztajn to a Jewish family in Warsaw, she survived the horrors of the Warsaw Ghetto during Nazi occupation, followed by four prison camps in succession: Majdanek and Auschwitz in Poland, and Ravensbrück, and Neustadt-Glewe in Germany.
I bought the book, as the most appropriate way to recall the place and what happened there. I finally found the courage to read it this Lent.
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The weekend before last, my oldest son and I visited my parents in Michigan in order to work with Dziadzi in his shop on an electric guitar Bren is rebuilding and to connect with the Russell Kirk Center as he contemplates life after the University of Mary and—possibly—graduate school.
It was a good visit, as always, but it included three beautiful surprises: two different species of flower descended from my great Busia’s flowerbeds and a beautiful family story. Continue reading →
Blogger’s Note: This is the latest in a collection of daily posts outlining my journey to the Sacred Heart over the past year or more. See an overview and links to past posts here.
Yesterday was Father’s Day. Providentially my re-consecration readings in 33 Days to Morning Glory were focused on Mary’s gradual discovery of her vocation not just to be the mother of Jesus, but the mother of the whole Church and all Christians. The book drew my attention to one scripture passage in particular, Matthew 12:46-50.
While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers appeared outside, wishing to speak with him. Someone told him, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, asking to speak with you.” But he said in reply to the one who told him, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.”
Fr. Gaitley explains that, among other things, this passage indicates the primacy of spiritual realities over physical realities, and in particular, spiritual parenthood over natural parenthood. Although the focus of his writing was Mary, on Father’s Day I couldn’t help but think in terms of St. Joseph and spiritual fatherhood. Continue reading →
Blogger’s Note: This is the third of three posts along my path to the Sacred Heart about the three Polish saints whose loving example pervaded World Youth Day in Kraków, Poland.
Pope St. John Paul II
“We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.” — Pope St. John Paul II
Born Karol Wojtyła in Wadowice, Poland, in 1920. Suffered the loss of his family, freedom, and country by the time he was 21 years old; risked his life under the Nazi regime to promote Polish cultural resistance and study for the priesthood. Recognized as a gifted theologian, pastor, and bishop; elected pope in 1978 and brought the Good News to 129 countries. Instrumental in the fall of dictatorships and Communism; wounded critically in an assassination attempt in 1981; credited Our Lady for preserving his life and met with and forgave the assassin. Served as pope until his death in 2005, despite declining health due to Parkinson’s and old age. One of the most recognized figures of the 20th century. View a more complete biography here.
My photo of a saint, taken at World Youth Day in Toronto, 2002.
Unlike yesterday’s saint, Faustina Kowalska, St. John Paul II is the Polish saint I know best. I’ve read countless articles and two biographies: Witness to Hope by George Weigel and Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves by Jason Evert. He was the pope during my return to Catholic church and for more than half my life so far. Additionally, he is the one (known) saint I’ve had the privilege of seeing and hearing in person, at World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Continue reading →
Blogger’s Note: This is the second of three posts along my path to the Sacred Heart about the three Polish saints whose loving example pervaded World Youth Day in Kraków, Poland.
St. Faustina Kowalska
“I do not want to punish aching mankind, but I desire to heal it, pressing it to my merciful heart.” — Jesus to St. Faustina
Born Helena Kowalska in Głogowiec, Poland, in 1905, to a poor, religious peasant family. Felt called to religious life at an early age, but went to work as a housekeeper to help support herself and her family. Accepted to the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy (OLM) in Warsaw in 1924, and in 1926, received her habit and the name Sister Maria Faustina of the Blessed Sacrament. Began having visions of Jesus as “the King of Divine Mercy” in February 1931, instructing her in His love and mercy, asking her to to paint His likeness with the inscription “Jesus, I Trust in You,” and to establish a feast of mercy in the Church. View a more complete biography here.
I have to admit, of the three Polish saints I am profiling, I know the least about Faustina. Unlike Maximilian Kolbe, whose zeal for saint-making, boundless energy, and prolific publishing career made him known even before his martyrdom, or John Paul II, who was the most well-traveled pontiff in history and one of the most recognizable figures of the 20th century, St. Faustina lived out her vocation and mystical experience primarily in private. Like many Catholic mystics, she suffered poor health, and she died at just 33 years old. She is one of a handful of saints for whom an autobiography exists; it was written at the urging of her confessor, is some 600 pages long, and is on my reading list for this fall. Continue reading →