for Sunday, October 2, 2022
Today's first reading comes from the Prophet Habakkuk. Habakkuk lived
around 650 years before the Lord. It was a time of violence. The Babylonians had
conquered the Assyrians and were threatening or attacking the rest of the world,
including the Kingdom of Judah. The Jews themselves were continually assaulting
each other. Hatred and violence were seen as part of life, even accepted.
Habakkuk's society was not all that much different than ours, where violence
and might are glorified and the weak are kept in their place. This is Respect Life
Sunday. Although Roe vs Wade has been overturned as a federal law, many states
still allow unique lives to be murdered before birth. Some Catholics who are adamantly
opposed to abortion have no difficulty with capital punishment as though lowering
ourselves to the level of the killer is acceptable. Do they seek justice or do they seek
vengeance? The two are not the same. Violence is all around us. Our young people
go to middle school, high school and college afraid that some of their classmates
might turn on them. Fights are part of their lives and turf wars are fought not just with
fists but with weapons. Our girls have to live with the reality that they must always be
alert to the possibility of a sexual attack. That is horrible. Our boys also have to live
with this reality.
Add to this the latest horrors that the media delights in shoving down our throats
because, they claim I'm afraid correctly, that people really want to hear about and even
see the gory details. Put it all together and People of God join Habakkuk and cry out,
"How Long, O Lord, I cry out to you, 'Violence,' but you do not intervene." Destruction
and violence are all before me. There is strife and clamorous discord.
Habakkuk's prayer is answered by the Lord. He is told to write this down, it is
certainly going to happen, you can record it even before it takes place: "The rash one
has no integrity, but the just one, because of his faith, shall live." What does that
mean? Integrity is the strength of personality that allows someone to be wholesome,
sincere, one with himself or herself, one with others, and one with God. The just one,
because of his integrity and faith, lives with the Lord.
Prisoner 16670 knew this message and lived it. He was a Franciscan Father
named Maximilian Kolbe. Fr. Kolbe was a brilliant journalist in the Catholic Church in
Poland during the 1920's and 30's. At one point, his publication, The Knight of the
Immaculata, ran 750,000 copies a month. He traveled to Asia and founded
monasteries in Japan and India. He built a Marian Shrine in Nagasaki which, about six
years later, would be one of the few structures to survive the atomic bomb. When he
returned to Poland, he spoke out against the Nazis who had invaded his country and
were rounding up the Jews. At one point his monastery housed 3,000 Polish refugees,
two thirds of them Jews hiding from the Nazis. The Franciscans were arrested by the
Nazis and Maximilian Kolbe was sent to the death camp of Auschwitz. There he was
branded, tattooed actually, Prisoner 16670. Destruction and violence were all around
him. But he kept his faith in God and lived as a man of faith. In July of 1941, a number
of prisoners escaped from the camp. The Nazi's lined up the other prisoners to carry
out their policy of punishing those who remained for not alerting the guards. Ten
prisoners were to be killed for every prisoner who escaped. Francis Gajowniczek, a
married man with young children was one of those chosen for death. Maximilian Kolbe
stepped forward and said, "Take me, instead." He was put into the starvation
barracks. Three weeks later, still alive, on August 14, 1941, he was killed with an
injection of carbonic acid. He was beatified by Pope St. Paul VI in 1971 and canonized
by Pope St. John Paul II in 1982. St. Maximilian Kolbe knew violence. He experienced
it. In the middle of violence, though, he remained a man of integrity, a man of peace.
He lived his faith joining his patron, Francis of Assisi, in praying that he might be an
instrument of the Lord's peace. And he has been justified, honored by God and man,
by God in heaven and by man on earth.
How do we deal with the violence around us? We have been conditioned by a
violent society to respond to violence with violence, even escalating the situation. So
we rejoin a nasty word with a vicious word, we respond to a dirty deed with an even
more horrible one. That is not the way of Christ. St. Maximilian Kolbe responded to
violence with sacrificial love. The people in Auschwitz who survived the horrors, and
who were present as Fr. Kolbe was dying, told the world of their experience of God in
the middle of violence. They spoke about a man of peace, an instrument of peace, who
was what he said he was, a man of God. They spoke about his integrity.
So what, then is it that we are called to do? We are called to have faith in God
to set our world straight. We are told to have an active faith in God.
But we are weak. Our faith is weak. We know that God's solutions are infinitely
better than ours, but we decide to take matters in our own hands. We need faith. We
are like the man in the Gospel of Mark chapter 9. Jesus came upon a crowded noisy
scene involving some of his disciples. At the center of the crowd there was a the man
and his son. His son suffered from what we now realize was a form of epilepsy.
Jesus asked, "What's going on?" The man explained his son's plight, how the boy
would have what the people of his time were convinced were sudden demonic
possessions. Actually, they were seizures. The boy would become rigid and foam
from his mouth. Sometimes he would hurt himself, one time falling into a fire, another
into water. Then the man said that he brought his son to Jesus' disciples but they were
unable to do anything for him. The man then said to Jesus, "If you are able to help
him, can you do something for him?" Jesus responded, "If I am able? All things can be
done for the one who believes." Then the man said the words that all of us can call
out, "I do believe, help those parts of me that do not believe." And Jesus cured the
In the middle of a violent world and recognizing our own weakness, we come
together today to pray for faith and for the courage to live our faith. Violence is not
more powerful than God. We have to put our trust in God. God can and will destroy
whatever the violence is that is assaulting us. If we have faith, even as little as a
mustard seed, we can and will move mountains or even say to the local mulberry tree,
"Be uprooted and thrown into the sea," and it will obey.
We call out to God today:
"Give us, O Lord, the faith to be People of God, People of Sacrificial Love," and
help us join you in the destruction of evil in our lives and in the world. May we be true
to whom we are, disciples of your son, Jesus Christ. May we be people of integrity,
one with ourselves, one with others and one with you, our God."
Readings of the day:
This material is used with permission of its author, Rev. Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino, Diocese of St. Petersburg, FL. Visit his
Reflections are available for the following Sundays: