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I don’t know when I first heard the story of Maximilian Kolbe, but as soon as I did, I knew his example would have a profound impact on my life. When my son was born, we named him Maximilian Jude, and my dad, sender of most of my spiritual books, sent me Forget Not Love which is a biography of the great saint written at the time of his canonization.
It wasn’t until recently when I was talking to a friend about my son being named for this great saint that I realized many people don’t know Maximilian’s story. For some reason I had just assumed that even outside of Catholic circles his story of heroism might have leaked out. But if you don’t know his story, I will give an abridged version here.
Maximilian was born in Poland in 1894, and when he was 12 years old, Mary appeared to him, offering him two crowns. White meant he would live a pure life, and red meant he would die a martyr. Maximilian asked her for both. Later he became a Franciscan friar and devoted his life to spreading Marian devotion through a series of newspapers and radio programs. He founded several monasteries, including one in Poland that would become a major religious publishing house.
When World War Two began, Maximilian continued publishing work and refused to take a vow that would make him a German citizen. He and his brothers also hid 2,000 Jews on the grounds of their monastery. But it was his anti-Nazi radio comments that led to his arrest and eventual imprisonment at Auschwitz. While he was there, the guards were choosing 10 men to die in the starvation bunker, and Maximilian offered to take the place of a man weeping for his wife and children. The man Maximilian saved was reunited with his wife and present at Maximilian’s canonization.
Maximilian died after two tortuous weeks in a starvation bunker, where he helped keep his companions calm by leading them in prayer. When he was canonized, he was recognized as a confessor and a martyr, and the red and white canonization flags were flown. I can’t help but think back to Mary’s promise with the two crowns.
Forget Not Love gave me much more insight into Maximilian’s story before his heroic death. I learned more about his devotion to the Blessed Mother and more about his dedication to spreading the good news through modern communications, which is inspiring for me as I try to build up Catholic teachers through this blog. I felt more convinced than ever that we had given our son a powerful patron saint to learn from and live like. I also connected strongly with the story of Mary and the crowns, because while it didn’t have the same dramatic setting, my own faith was deepened drastically in a time of prayer I had at summer camp when I was twelve. I look to that moment as the time when I decided that my faith and my relationship with God are the most important things in my life. Everything has been different since that moment.
Popcorn rating: 3 There were times when the translation was clunky, and periodically the jumping back and forth from 1982 (When Kolbe was canonized) to his life was confusing.
Stars: 4. I was very inspired to pray the rosary more after reading this book. I also filled my amazon wishlist with books by Maximilian Kolbe.