There is something awe-inspiring about the influence we have on one another. All of us, even the smallest, can influence the other. Bette Reeves said, “If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito!!” During the recent pilgrimage in central Europe, all of us were impacted by the beauty of the saints we met.
In Prague we met Saint Vitus, the patron saint of the dancers! St. Vitus’s Cathedral is the largest and the most important church in Prague. All the kings and queens of the Czech Republic were crowned there.
His story is unique. Born in Sicily in the third century, he was converted to Christianity at age twelve by his tutor Saint Modestus and his nurse Saint Crescentia. His father was indignant and had the three arrested and scourged. How unlike many of us, who would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism!
Freed from prison by angels, they fled to Lucania, then to Rome. There he exorcised Emperor Diocletian’s son of an evil spirit. However, when Vitus refused to sacrifice to the pagan idols, his cure was attributed to sorcery, and he and his household were arrested again. Tortured, and condemned to death, they were thrown to the lions; the lions would not touch them, so they were thrown into boiling oil. However the boiling oil did not harm them, because just at that moment an immense storm destroyed several pagan temples in the region! Again he managed to escape!
For obscure reasons, in the sixteenth century, in Germany they believed that anyone could obtain a year’s good health by dancing before the statue of Saint Vitus on his feast day. His connection with such “dancing” led to his patronage of dancers, and later to entertainers in general and in particular.
We can now dance with a saint!!
In Poland we met Maximilian Kolbe. A Franciscan priest, in 1941, he was arrested by the Gestapo, charged with aiding Jews and the Polish underground.
In his popular magazine “Knight of Mary Immaculate”, just one week before, he had written, “The real conflict is inner conflict. Beyond 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 battle-field if we ourselves are defeated in our innermost personal selves?”
Three months later, he was deported to Auschwitz, a concentration camp. When they arrived there, they were ironically told that the only way out of the camp was through the chimneys of the ovens. We were there. We saw the camp. We saw Maximilian’s cell. We saw the ovens!
In July, a prisoner escaped, and men from Kolbe’s bunker were paraded in the blazing midday sun, knowing what to expect. One man from each line was selected at random, including a sergeant, Francis Gajowniczek. He cried out in a despairing voice, “My wife, my children, I shall never see them again!” Maximilian Kolbe decided instinctively to take his place and stepped forward. Heroism is like that, a simple stepping forward.
Father Kolbe and nine others were led off to the death chamber of Cell 18. He was starved to death! He died singing songs to the Virgin Mary!
In Germany we met Saint Boniface, known as the apostle of Germany. Born in England around the year 680, he was ordained a priest at the age of thirty. He was well educated in history, grammar, rhetoric, and poetry. He joined the Benedictines and was placed in charge of the monastic school. With every prospect of a great career and the highest dignities in his own country, he felt compelled by the zeal of the Gospel to cross over to Germany where paganism reigned supreme.
After some years of evangelization he decided for a frontal attack against the pagan superstitions, which seriously affected the stability of his converts. In front of an awe-struck crowd, Boniface and two of his followers attacked with axes Thor’s sacred oak. Thor, the god of thunder, was one of the principal Teutonic deities, and this ancient oak, which stood on the summit of Mount Gutenberg, was sacred to them. The terrified tribesmen, who had expected a punishment to fall instantly on the perpetrators of such an outrage, now saw that their god was powerless to protect even his own sanctuary. If only we can learn this lesson once and for all!
At the age of seventy he was still going around Germany reorganizing the Church he was instrumental in creating. In Fulda, he was attacked by a band of robbers. He refused to defend himself. He and fifty two of his companions were killed instantly. Beside him the Christians found a bloodstained copy of St. Ambrose on the “Advantage of Death”, the book the Bishop was reading and, which it is said, he lifted above his head when the blow fell.
Amazing how one man can change the whole history of a nation. Perhaps you and I cannot change a nation, but we can be the instruments God uses to change one other person. Then, we would not have lived in vain!
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.