Saturday, August 14, 2010

Create A Clean Heart In Me, O God.

Memorial of Saint Maximilian Mary Kolbe,
priest and martyr
Reading I
Ezekiel 18:1-10, 13b, 30-32
The word of the LORD came to me:
Son of man, what is the meaning of this proverb
that you recite in the land of Israel:

Fathers have eaten green grapes,
thus their children’s teeth are on edge”?

As I live, says the Lord GOD:
I swear that there shall no longer
be anyone among you
who will repeat this proverb in Israel.
For all lives are mine;
the life of the father is like the life of the son,
both are mine;
only the one who sins shall die.

If a man is virtuous —
if he does what is right and just,
if he does not eat on the mountains,
nor raise his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel;
if he does not defile his neighbor’s wife,
nor have relations with a woman
in her menstrual period;
if he oppresses no one,
gives back the pledge received for a debt,
commits no robbery;
if he gives food to the hungry and clothes the naked;
if he does not lend at interest nor exact usury;
if he holds off from evildoing,
judges fairly between a man and his opponent;
if he lives by my statutes
and is careful to observe my ordinances,
that man is virtuous —
he shall surely live, says the Lord GOD.

But if he begets a son who is a thief, a murderer,
or lends at interest and exacts usury –
this son certainly shall not live.
Because he practiced all these abominations,
he shall surely die;
his death shall be his own fault.

Therefore I will judge you, house of Israel,
each one according to his ways,
says the Lord GOD.
Turn and be converted from all your crimes,
that they may be no cause of guilt for you.
Cast away from you all the crimes
you have committed,
and make for yourselves
a new heart and a new spirit.
Why should you die, O house of Israel?
For I have no pleasure
in the death of anyone who dies,
says the Lord GOD.
Return and live!
Apparently there was a saying among the Israelites:

Fathers have eaten unripe grapes
and the children’s teeth are set on edge.

In addition to today’s reading, we can also find the saying in Jeremiah (31:29). The meaning was clear enough. Whatever wrongs the ancestors had done, their offspring would pay the penalty. We see that the idea was still prevalent in the time of Jesus. One day as he walked along, Jesus saw a man who had been blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, was it his sin or that of his parents that caused him to be born blind?” To which Jesus replied: “Neither.” (John 9:1-3)

However, both Jeremiah and Ezekiel (not to mention Jesus) reject the idea. Jeremiah says: “Through his own fault only shall anyone die: the teeth of him who eats the unripe grapes will be set on edge” (Jeremiah 31:30). While Ezekiel, quoting Yahweh, says: “I swear that there shall no longer be anyone among you who will repeat this proverb in Israel. For all lives are mine: the life of the father is like the life of the son, both are mine; only the one who sins shall die.” In other words, if any people suffered (as the Israelites were suffering under Nebuchadnezzar at this time), the blame could not be put at the door of their parents or grandparents. Everyone is responsible for the effects of their own wrongdoing - “only the one who sins shall die”.

There then follows a list of actions which can be expected from the virtuous, actions which were constantly violated by the inhabitants of Jerusalem leading eventually to the utter destruction of their city and its Temple and their being either slaughtered or carried away to Babylon in exile.

Among the good things listed are:

--  Not eating on the mountains.
This referred to performing idolatrous rituals on the shrines in the mountains.

-- Not raising their eyes to the pagan idols, which Israel was now worshipping.

-- Not having adulterous relations with a neighbour’s wife.

-- Not having sexual relations with a woman during her menstruation.
(Contact with blood was always forbidden to the Jews.)

--  Not oppressing people.

--  Giving back a pledge which had been offered
when money was paid back after a loan.

-- Not committing robbery.

-- Feeding the hungry and clothing the naked.

-- Not lending at interest or demanding extra payment for a loan.

--  Judging fairly in a dispute between two people.

-- Living by Yahweh’s statutes and observing his ordinances.

Such a person (irrespective of how badly his predecessors behaved) is a good person and will surely live.

On the other hand (again irrespective of how well a predecessor behaved) if a person violates all these things, he shall surely die. “His death shall be his own fault.”

The reading concludes by Yahweh saying that he will judge “each one according to his ways”. We are then urged to turn away from and be converted from all wrongdoing and there will be no reason to find a person guilty in any way.

“Make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit… For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies… Return and live!”

Perhaps we do not exactly think like the Israelites of those days did but how many times have we been guilty of laying the blame for things we did on other people. “You made me do it!” There is in our society a strong tendency to find scapegoats, to concentrate certain areas of wrongdoing on one or a small group of people.

Today’s reading reminds us that we are wholly responsible for the guilt of our wrongdoing but at the same time let us hear again those words of the Lord: “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies.” Jesus told us: “I have come that they may have life - life in greater abundance.” Let us open ourselves to receiving that life.*
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Psalm 51
Create a clean heart in me, O God
A clean heart create for me, O God;
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me.
Create a clean heart in me, O God.
Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.
I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners shall return to you.
Create a clean heart in me, O God.
For you are not pleased with sacrifices;
should I offer a burnt offering, you would not accept it.
My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.
Create a clean heart in me, O God.
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Matthew 19:13-15
Children were brought to Jesus
that he might lay his hands on them and pray.
The disciples rebuked them, but Jesus said,
“Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them;
for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
After he placed his hands on them, he went away.
This short passage is an echo of what we already saw at the beginning of the discourse on the Church (Matthew 18:1-4). Parents were bringing their children for Jesus to bless. The disciples, with the officiousness of minor officials, thought they were doing their Master a favour by protecting him from such trivial nuisances.

Jesus scolds them; the children are to be allowed to come to him. “It is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”

Not to children alone but to those who have the qualities of the child: the simplicity and openness, the teachability, the freedom from prejudice, the readiness for change and adaptation. Only such people are ready to hear the message of the Gospel in its fullness.

The passage leads naturally into the next one about the rich man who asked Jesus what he should do to enter eternal life. For all his wealth, he would prove to be wanting in this particular area of openness.*
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Saint Maximilian Mary Kolbe

Maximilian Kolbe was born Rajmund on 8 January 1894 in Zduńska Wola, which was at that time part of the Russian Empire. Rajmund was the second son of Julius Kolbe and Maria Dabrowska. His father was an ethnic German and his mother of Polish origin. He had four brothers, two of whom died very young. His parents moved to Pabianice where they worked first as weavers. Later his mother worked as a midwife (often without charge) and ran a grocery and household goods shop in part of her rented house. Julius Kolbe worked at weaving mills and also grew vegetables on a rented allotment. In 1914 he joined Józef Piłsudski’s Polish Legions fighting for Poland’s independence from Russia and was captured. Regarded as a Russian subject, he was hanged as a traitor in 1914, aged forty-three.

In 1907 Rajmund and his elder brother Francis decided to join the Conventual Franciscans. They illegally crossed the border between Russia and Austria-Hungary and joined a Conventual Franciscan junior seminary in Lwów. In 1910 Kolbe entered the novitiate. He professed his first vows in 1911.

In 1912 he was sent to Kraków and then on to Rome where he took final vows in 1914, adopting the names Maximilian Maria, to show his veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In Rome he studied philosophy, theology, mathematics, and physics. He took a great interest in astrophysics and the prospect of space flight and the military. While in Rome he designed an airplane-like spacecraft, similar in concept to the eventual space shuttle, and tried to patent it. In 1918 he was ordained a priest. He earned a doctorate in philosophy in 1915 at the Pontifical Gregorian University and a doctorate in theology in 1919 at the Pontifical University of St. Bonaventure. During his time as a student, he witnessed demonstrations by Freemasons against Popes Pius X and Benedict XV. This inspired him to organize the Militia Immaculatae (Army of Mary) to work for the conversion of sinners and enemies of the Catholic Church, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

In 1919 he was diagnosed as having tuberculosis and returned to a newly independent Poland.

Here his main work was teaching Church history in a seminary. Another attack of tuberculosis was followed by the re-siting of his printing presses at Niepokalanow, near Warsaw. Here Maximilian founded a Franciscan community which combined prayer, cheerfulness and simplicity of life with modern technology, as well as a seminary, a radio station and several other organisations and publications. He was also very active in promoting the veneration of the Immaculate Virgin Mary. His movement had its own magazine, Militia Immaculatae, in which he particularly condemned Freemasonry, Communism, Zionism, Capitalism and Imperialism. Not long after, the presses were moved to Grodno, circulation increased to 45,000 and new machinery was installed.

Between 1930 and 1936 he went on a series of missions to Japan, where he founded a friary on the outskirts of Nagasaki, a Japanese newspaper and a seminary. Because, against local advice, the friary was not built on the ‘propitious’ side of the mountain it was spared the devastation caused by the atomic bomb in 1945. After founding another community at Nagasaki in Japan, Maximilian was recalled in 1936 as superior of Niepokalanow, which grew to number 762 friars.

When the Germans invaded Poland in 1939, Kolbe, realising that his monastery would be taken over, sent most of the friars home, warning them not to join the underground resistance.

During the Second World War the friary provided shelter to refugees from Greater Poland, including 3,000 Poles and 1,500 Jews. Maximilian was also active as a radio amateur, attacking Nazi activities through his reports. For some time his newspapers continued publication, taking a patriotic, independent line, critical of the Third Reich. Kolbe, who had refused German citizenship, was finally arrested on 17 February 1941 as a journalist, publisher and ‘intellectual’. Gestapo officers were shown round the whole friary and were astonished at the small amount of food prepared for the friars. He was imprisoned in the Pawiak prison and on 25 May was transferred to Auschwitz I as prisoner #16670. In the camp the heavy work of moving loads of heavy logs at double speed was enforced by kicks and lashes. Maximilian also had to remove the bodies of those who died of torture. At the same time, he continued his priestly ministry, hearing confessions in unlikely places and smuggling in bread and wine to celebrate the Eucharist. He was noted for his sympathy and compassion towards those even more unfortunate than himself.

In July 1941 a prisoner from Kolbe’s barracks vanished, prompting the deputy camp commander to pick 10 men from the same barracks to be starved to death in the notorious Block 13 as punishment for his escape. (In fact, he was found later to have drowned – deliberately? – in the camp latrine.)

When one of those selected, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out in distress at having been chosen, Maximilian volunteered to take his place. He stepped forward, saying: “I am a Catholic priest. I wish to die for that man. I am old; he has a wife and children.” During the days in the death chamber of Cell 18, he led his companions in songs and prayer. After three weeks of dehydration and starvation, only Kolbe and three others were still alive. He was finally put to death on 14 August 1941 with an injection of carbolic acid.

He was beatified by Pope Paul VI in 1971 and canonized on 10 October 1982 by Pope John Paul II, a former archbishop of Krakow, the diocese where Auschwitz was located. Among those present was Franciszek Gajowniczek, the man whose place Kolbe had taken.

Maximilian Kolbe is the patron saint of drug addicts, political prisoners, families, journalists, prisoners and the pro-life movement. Pope John Paul II also declared him the “Patron Saint of Our Difficult Century”

Franciszek Gajowniczek

He died on March 13, 1995, at Brzeg in Poland, 95 years old – and 53 years after Kolbe had saved him. But he was never to forget the ragged monk. After his release from Auschwitz, Gajowniczek spent the next five decades paying homage to Father Kolbe, honoring the man who died on his behalf.

In December 1994, the 94-year-old Pole visited St. Maximilian Kolbe Catholic Church of Houston. His translator on that trip, Chaplain Thaddeus Horbowy, said: "He told me that as long as he . . . has breath in his lungs, he would consider it his duty to tell people about the heroic act of love by Maximilian Kolbe."*

The Irish Jesuits

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