In this post-feminist age where men are still learning remedial masculinity, we have a model of heroic manhood which we would do well to emulate. In the early twentieth century Poland gave us that manly priest, John Paul II, but also his hero, Maximilian Kolbe, priest, missionary, spiritual father and martyr of brotherly love. St. Maximilian’s feast day is August 14th, the vigil of his beloved Virgin Mary’s Assumption and the day which commemorates the conquest of virile love over the totalitarian creeds of his generation.
As men, we could all learn a simple lesson from Maximilian Kolbe in a fundamental area of virtue: namely, chastity. Men today don’t connect chastity with manliness because they are indoctrinated by a sexualized society against the sacrifice it requires. But chastity is the proof of a man’s virtue, not its destruction. Whether it is pre-marital chastity that respects unmarried women, periodic abstinence in marriage that respects wives, or permanent celibate chastity for God’s kingdom, a man must learn it or live in a state of perpetual adolescence. Even as a child Kolbe was asked by Our Lady to choose between a white crown of purity and a red crown of martyrdom, and he showed his penchant for magnanimous sacrifice by choosing both! Men will be chaste not just when women demand it of them but when they see it as a heroic way to prove their manhood, and Kolbe’s example stands out for any of us who have eyes to see.
Upon this foundation of chastity St. Maximilian built a kingdom for Christ. This kingdom was not the raw expression of ego that so many men flaunt but a kingdom of love to which he devoted his life and all his vital energies. He was not yet a priest when he formed an organization for the conversion of all Freemasons in the world—no minor project there. He then established the largest monastery of religious men in the world and gave them all the task of bringing souls to Christ. After that, he learned Japanese and went there because he saw that the largely un-evangelized Japanese had souls to save too and someone had to do it. He identified himself as that someone. Nor was he known to have ever accepted a benefit or privilege beyond what his men received, even when he was technically entitled to it as their superior. He ate with them, prayed with them, slept on the floor like them and then went to several Nazi prison camps with them. He was first but made himself the last and the servant of all. This was a man’s man.
If the real identifying mark of a man is his ability to forgo his own desires for the good of others, then the sacrifice of one’s life for another surely qualifies as the highest measure of manhood. This saint did not even know the man who cried out about the loss of his wife and children when he was chosen for death in that concentration camp, but Kolbe stepped out of line right then and took the man’s place as if it never occurred to him that he had just agreed to the most horrible death imaginable, death by starvation, or to having carbolic acid shot into his veins to finish off the devilish deed. His act of selflessness was so spontaneous that it seemed as just another sacrifice in his day, but in reality it was the ultimate sacrifice. “I’m just a priest,” he told the Kommandant of the camp. “I’ll go instead of him.” “Greater love hath no man than this: than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13).
Will today’s men learn from this man about manhood? Woe to us if we do not! In a world where feminist dogmas and intimidations shame men from living the heroism to which they are called, Kolbe beckons men to stand up, throw off this present totalitarianism and step out of line for those who need men most.