Monday, August 12, 2013

Who is Maximilian Kolbe?

In 1941 a prisoner at Auschwitz, Maximilian Kolbe, a Catholic priest, took the place of one man condemned to death. In July, 1941 a prisoner from one of the barracks at Auschwitz, the infamous Nazi prison camp, had disappeared. To discourage further escape attempts, the deputy camp commander picked ten men to die by starvation. Franciszek Gajowniczek, a Jewish man, was one of the men chosen. On knowing his fate he cried out in agony, "My wife! My children! I will never see them again." Nearby, Maximilian Kolbe stepped forward, "I am a Catholic Priest from Poland. I would like to take his place because he has a wife and children."
The Nazi camp commander could have refused or could have taken both to Block 13 for starvation but for some reason he agreed and Kolbe was thrown into the cell with the nine others whereas Gajowniczek remained in the barracks. Perhaps the commander considered Gajowniczek as more use alive as he was younger than Kolbe and would be able to work longer. Ironically, the missing prisoner, that had started the incident, was found dead in one of the latrines.
After three weeks of dehydration and starvation, only four of the men in Block 13 remained; one of them was Kolbe. Since the cell was needed for others, the guards gave each of the men an injection of carbolic acid.

Who Was Maximilian Kolbe?
Born Raymond Kolbe in 1894 in Zdunska Wola, Poland (then part of Russia) his parents were poor weavers. Kolbe had four brothers. In 1907, Kolbe and his elder brother illegally crossed the border into Austria-Hungary to join the Order of Conventual Franciscans. He took the name "Maximilian" at his first vows in 1911 and in 1912, he was sent to Rome where he studied philosophy, theology, mathematics and physics. He earned his doctorate in philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University and was ordained in 1918.

Before Auschwitz
During his time in Rome, Kolbe witnessed demonstrations against the Pope and decided to establish the Militia of the Immaculata (Army of Mary) to pray and work towards conversion of enemies of the Catholic Church. The organization published pamphlets, a monthly magazine (circulation of over one million) and a daily newspaper.
Kolbe also went to Japan where he founded a monastery near Nagasaki. He had been advised to build the monastery on one side of the mountain but instead built it on the opposite side. When the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, the monastery was not destroyed but would have been if it had been built on the other side.
He returned to Poland because of tuberculosis and there Kolbe provided shelter to a number of refugees, including 2,000 Jews. For this reason and because of the anti-Nazi literature he published, he was arrested on February 17, 1941 by the Gestapo.

Imprisonment at Auschwitz
Kolbe was transferred to Auschwitz on May 25, 1941. In the prison camp he heard confessions and acted as a spiritual guide to all those who came to him. He offered to die for Gajowniczek in July of that year. After the war, Franciszek Gajowniczek returned home to find his wife alive but his two sons dead. He died in 1995 at the age of 95.

Maximilian Kolbe was beatified in 1971 and canonized on October 10, 1982 by Pope John Paul II. The Jewish man he saved from death, Franciszek Gajowniczek was among those in the audience.

Hallam, Elizabeth, (Editor) Saints. New York: Simon and Schuster 1994.
Marytown, National Shrine of Saint Maximilian Kolbe website, Accessed August 23, 2010
Jewish Virtual Library Website. Accessed August 15, 2010.
Auschwitz - Denmark website. Accessed August 15, 2010.
photo Seibo no Kishi、Extra Issue of Jan. 1983

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Why all the Fuss Over the Pope? Is the Pope Infallible?

The Catholic Church teaches that the Pope is infallible. Many people wonder why this is so and where this teaching originates. Doesn't it give too much power to one person? How can an ordinary 'human being' be infallible? Does it mean that the Catholic Church believes that the pope is not an ordinary human being?

What Does Infallibility Mean?
Part of the problem stems from the fact that the meaning of the words 'infallible' and 'infallibility' are often misunderstood. Infallibility does not mean 'without sin'. That is impeccability. The Pope is not impeccable as all human beings have inherited original sin (the Virgin Mary is a special case which deserves an article of its own). The Pope goes to confession just like any other Catholic.
Infallibility does not mean 'all knowing'; that is omniscience. The Pope does not know what the weather will be like tomorrow (unless he listens to the weather report which may be wrong) nor does he know who will win the World Cup, although he may cheer for his favourite team.

What is Infallibility and When Does It Apply?
Infallibility is defined in the dictionary as 'the inability to err'. Does this mean that the Pope is never wrong? Of course, the Pope can be wrong about some things but not when certain conditions are applied. So when does infallibility apply?
• Infallibility applies only in matters of faith and morals
• Infallibility applies only when the Pope is speaking 'ex cathedra', that is, from the 'chair of Peter', in other words, as the Bishop of the Church over all Bishops.
• The Pope cannot change established doctrine. For example, the Pope cannot change the Doctrine of the Virgin Birth.
• The Pope cannot deny a truth revealed in Scripture. For example, the Pope cannot say that Jesus did not die on the cross.
Why is the Pope Infallible?
As Jesus and His disciples were at Caesarea Philipi Jesus asked His disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Jesus replied, "Simon, son of Jonah, you are a happy man because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. So now I say unto you: You are Peter and on this Rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatsoever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven, whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven." Matthew 16:18-19  In giving Peter (which means 'rock') the keys to the kingdom of heaven, Jesus was recalling the office of the Prime Minister which had existed in Israel during the time of King David and his words echo those of Isaiah 22:22.
Jesus promised "But when the Spirit of truth comes, he will lead you into complete truth." (John 16:13) It stands to reason that if Jesus established his Church on earth, he would also provide a way to keep that Church true to his teachings.
The Pope is only 'infallible' because Jesus promised to keep the Church true to him by sending the Holy Spirit. Although it is true that the Holy Spirit can guide Christians individually, we see in the world today many different interpretations of Scripture and many different denominations have arisen because of these interpretations. They all claim to have the guidance of the Holy Spirit. They cannot all be true. For example, some denominations say that baptism is for adults who have ‘accepted Jesus as their Saviour’ only, others say that baptism is for babies as well as adults and is a sign of their entrance into the family of God. Which is true? And how do we know which is true? Both groups would claim that their doctrine is found in Scripture.

When Has Infallibility Been Claimed?
It may be surprising to many that ex cathedra statements by the Popes have been very rare. In the past one hundred and thirty –four years there have been only three infallible proclamations made (not counting canonization of saints):
1854 – Doctrine of Infallibility by Pius IX
1870 – Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception by Pius IX
1950 – Doctrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin by Pius XII
These dogmas were universally held by the Church centuries before and can be found in the writing of the Church Fathers. In these most recent times and because there was a questioning of the doctrine they were ‘defined’ by these proclamations and not 'invented' by them. For example, on the infallibility of the Pope, Cyprian of Carthage (256 AD) wrote: "Would heretics dare to come to the very seat of Peter whence apostolic faith is derived and whither no errors can come?" (quoted in Keating, page 217)
Some point out that there have been bad popes - those who were openly sinful. It is true that there have been 'bad' Popes who often were appointed by kings or wealthy and powerful people. However, the Holy Spirit kept these Popes from writing error in the same way he has kept 'good' Popes from writing error. No bad pope ever changed doctrine - although, except for the restraint of the Holy Spirit, they could have. Perhaps they were too busy sinning to have time to write any papal bulls or encylclicals!
To summarize, infallibility means that the Holy Spirit prevents the Pope from officially teaching error in his official capacity as the Bishop of Rome ie Pope. 

Catechism of the Catholic Church. New York: Doubleday. 1995
The Jerusalem Bible. New York: Doubleday and Company. 1968
Houghton –Mifflin Canadian Dictionary Markham, Toronto, ON: Houghton-Mifflin Canada Ltd. 1982
Keating, Karl. Catholicism and Fundamentalism. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. 1988