When they were emptying their sacks, there in each one’s sack was his moneybag! At the sight of their moneybags, they and their father were afraid.
Why was Jacob (Israel) and Joseph’s brothers afraid? As I pondered this thought it occurred to me that they were afraid because they had no compassion in them. Yes, even Jacob; for was it not Jacob who cheated his brother out of his birthright and stole Esau’s dying blessing from his own father Isaac. These men were hard. Yet, God still loved them and blessed them. Finding the money sacks still in with the grain meant to them that now they would have to pay for the grain with their lives-for nothing is free! This act of compassion from Joseph unsettled them. It upset their world; it toppled their assumptions of the world and they would never be the same. They were by this simple gesture being asked to radically change. To think in a new way: that is to realize that the dignity and loyalty that men seek; is not a birthright given to the firstborn or something to be gained taken by being the most powerful of men. That dignity and loyalty are the birthright of all persons; however, they can be lost by unbridled selfishness. Wisdom teaches us that in order to retain our dignity and the loyalty of others we must be persons of character and that we must lose our absorption with ourselves to contemplate and develop a sincere love for others.
This brings us back to McCain’s book which is a study of the right path to a life of dignity and loyalty. Anyone wishing to have a life of dignity and honor must first have a foundation of love that cares for others and become selfless (Mother Teresa). Then on this foundation of love they must develop the personal characteristics which give them a core of strength. They must start with having and giving hope in a better world to come (Winthrop) and then go forth with confidence (Elizabeth I). Next one must work hard with all one’s industry (Hoffer) and be prepared for setbacks thus being resilient (Lincoln) self-controlled (Washington) and having courage (Cavell) in the face of opposition.
Yet all these strengths if they are not tied to the will of God are all but vanity. To develop ourselves for God’s work to our core of strength, if we are to develop, we must act with a Firm Purpose devoting ourselves to the Idealism (S. Truth) of God’s Kingdom. Acting responsibly (Nelson) where we can and go about our days with all diligence (W. Churchill). We must protect the weak with all righteousness (Dallaire) striving for cooperation (Wood) with our brethren and being a participant in the work of good citizenship (Tillman).
Nevertheless now we must add to our foundation of love, core of strength and firm purpose an understanding heart. A person with an understanding heart must develop the personal characteristics of compassion, faith, mercy, tolerance, forgiveness and generosity.
Continuing our study of John McCain’s book “Character is Destiny” John highlights the life of Maximilian Kolbe as an example of a person who best portraits the characteristic of compassion.
Kolbe was a Polish priest who knew his mission was to give his life so that another might live, and who thanked God for the privilege. Kolbe had an ardent and invigorated religious faith which caused a vision of Mary, the Mother of God, which beckoned him to the faith and priesthood. She offered him two crowns, one of purity and one of martyrdom. He asked for both. With several other seminarians, he formed the Militia Immaculata, the Crusade of Immaculate Mary, with the purpose of “converting sinners, heretics and schismatics, particularly freemasons” to the love of Christ through the intercession of Mary. He threw himself into the work of the Militia Immaculata, founding chapters throughout Poland, and publishing a monthly magazine, the Knight of the Immaculate, determined to make Mary the “Queen of every Polish heart.” Poland’s brief episode of independence ended with Nazi Germany’s invasion in 1939, and the beginning of World War Two. The German Army had occupied Father Kolbe’s monastery, the City of the Immaculate. The monks and priests living there, including Father Kolbe, were arrested and deported to Germany in September of that year. They were released a couple of months later, appropriately on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, returned home, and renewed their ministry. They continued printing monthly issues of the Knight and their various other publications, including some that were considered antithetical to Nazi ideology. In what was perceived as a direct challenge to their Nazi rulers, Father Kolbe published a sermon under his own name in the Knight: “The real conflict is inner conflict. Beyond the armies of occupation and the catacombs of concentration camps, there are two irreconcilable enemies in the depth of every soul: good and evil, sin and love. And what use are victories on the battlefield if we ourselves are defeated in our innermost personal selves.”In February 1941, the Gestapo seized their printing presses and arrested Father Kolbe and his brothers. “Have courage;” he told them, “we are going on a mission.”
In May, Father Kolbe was transferred to Auschwitz, dressed in a prisoner’s striped uniform, and tattooed with the number 16670. All through his terrible ordeal he secretly carried out his ministry. He heard confessions, preached love and forgiveness, blessed the sick and dying, and prayed for them. When the desperately hungry prisoners pushed and shoved one another in the food lines, Father Kolbe waited for all to receive their meager ration of bread or soup before he took his. Often he went without any food. When he did receive his small portion, he shared it with others.
One day in July, a prisoner from Father Kolbe’s cell block who had drowned in a camp latrine and not been found was believed to have escaped. All the prisoners in the block were ordered to stand at attention in the prison yard, under the hot sun, for the entire day. If the missing man was not betrayed or found by three o’clock that afternoon, ten of them would be taken to the starvation cell, and left naked in that underground dungeon where no light was admitted, without cover to protect against the cold, and without any food or water until they all slowly died. After many hours and after many prisoners had dropped unconscious to the ground, weakened by hunger and the heat, Commandant Fritsch singled out his ten men. One of them, a member of the Polish resistance, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out in despair, “My poor wife. My poor children. What will become of them?” Unmoved by the cries of the unfortunate ten, Commandant Fritsch stared at the small part of humanity whose lives and deaths were disposed of at his whim. Mercy was unknown to him. But before he turned away, one prisoner who had not been selected left the line, walked quickly toward him, and spoke to him. Fritsch didn’t hear the words Father Kolbe spoke. “What does this Polish pig want?” he asked a guard. Father Kolbe repeated his request. He pointed at Franciszek Gajowniczek and said, “I am a Catholic priest. Let me take his place. I am old. He has a wife and children.” In the end, Father Kolbe died as he lived, with compassion for all; both guards and the condemned.