Three years ago, I made a pilgrimage to Poland and visited Auschwitz on the Memorial of Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe. Visiting a concentration camp is a sobering experience, but praying there on this feast day created a light of hope. Polish Catholics have a great devotion to Saint Maximilian Kolbe, the Franciscan priest who heroically offered his life for Franciszek Gajowniczek, saying: “I am a Catholic priest; take me and spare this man.”
Hundreds of people attended an outdoor feast day Mass to remember prisoner #16670 who was martyred on August 14, 1941. There was a torrent of rain that morning which seemed very fitting, like tears pouring down from the heavens. The eerie streets of the concentration camp were filled with prayerful pilgrims holding colorful umbrellas over their bright ponchos and rain boots. I had hesitated to go, but ended up quietly walking through the puddles of the gravel roads to Block Eleven. Here the bishops and priests concelebrated Mass on a simple stage right outside of the building where Saint Maximilian died from a lethal injection of carbolic acid in basement cell number eighteen.
The rain showers steadily continued for the whole Liturgy of the Word. The only thing I could understand from the Archbishop of Krakow’s homily was the name of this beloved Saint and the name of this horrible place. Then as the offertory began, the rain cleared and umbrellas closed. The pilgrims knelt together in the mud during the Consecration, physically encountering the messiness of this place. As I knelt there in the mud before the Blessed Sacrament, I had a memorable encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist.
In the quiet of my heart, during the Eucharistic Prayer, I sensed Jesus’ delight and His desire for me to be at this particular Mass. St. Maximilian’s continual surrender bore great fruit in the Kingdom of God and I could see the way his priestly heart brought Christ’s Light to the darkness of that concentration camp. As I knelt in the mud, I sensed that the Heart of Jesus experienced great joy to be with me in my mess and that his Eucharistic Presence strengthened the Light of Christ within me. Jesus is not afraid of the muck. The stable in Bethlehem and the cross on Calvary were both places of resplendent glory. I experienced His glory during that Mass as I knelt in the mud, beheld the Lamb of God, and welcomed his Eucharistic presence into the messiness of my heart.
At every Mass, Christ comes in glory and gives his life to us in the Eucharist. He desires to meet us right here, in the mess of our suffering and pain. Jesus wants us to give everything to him at Mass so that he can gently pierce through our darkness with his radiant light. As we receive the Body and Blood of Christ with joy, he makes his home within our hearts.
“If Jesus can come with his presence to the suffering of Auschwitz, surely he desires to come with his healing power to every suffering within our hearts.”
During this Eucharistic Revival, let us pray that each one of us will be renewed by a personal encounter with the Eucharistic presence of Jesus. May we know Christ’s intimate desire to meet us in the mess. If Jesus can come with His presence to the suffering of Auschwitz, surely he desires to come with his healing power to every suffering within our hearts.