November 19, 2017 – A View from the Rectory Window

In the sanctuaries of our churches you may have noticed the addition of an icon of Saint Maximilian Kolbe. It is my hope that when you come before these icons you do not view them as ‘nice pictures’.

For, an icon is not a painting in the sense we normally regard pieces of art; nor is it just art with a religious theme. When you look at an icon, it is meant to make you aware that you are in the presence of God. An icon is a window out of the obvious realities of everyday life into the realm of God. Every paint-stroke has a meaning hallowed by centuries of prayer. Icons are religious images that hover between two worlds, putting into colors and shapes what cannot be grasped by the intellect. Icons are a visual form of prayer in line and color that seek to tell us something true about God and the saints.

Icons have been called windows to heaven or doorways to the sacred.

When you are standing in front of an icon, it is as if you are looking through a window into the heavenly world of the mystery. But this is a two-way window. As you look through the window, you are also being seen with the eyes of love by those in the icon. It is like you become a part of the mystery that the icon seeks to express.

An icon is meant to help us open ourselves to God’s love. Rendering the invisible visible. Icons are the visual equivalents of the Divine Scriptures.

In the Church of the Resurrection, alongside the icon, is a relic of Saint Maximilian Kolbe. The veneration of relics is an ancient custom dating from the reverence shown at the graves of the martyrs even in the time of the apostles. Miracles have been worked by God in association with relics. Not that some magical power existed in them, but just as God’s work was done through the lives of holy people, so did His work continue after their deaths. Just as people were drawn closer to God through the lives of holy people, so did they (even if through their remains) inspire others to draw closer even after their deaths. In all, relics remind us of the holiness of a saint and their cooperation in God’s work; at the same time, relics inspire us to ask for the prayers of that saint and to beg the grace of God to live the same kind of faith-filled life.

The story of how Saint Maximilian’s relic was obtained is this: Someone was cutting Maximilian’s hair (usually it’s a friar; once it was a barber in Rome when Maximilian was a seminarian; another story places the haircut in Japan; yet another has the haircut happening after Maximilian’s death and before his cremation in Auschwitz). The anonymous barber, recognizing that Kolbe would one day become a saint, decides to preserve the hair clippings (or beard clippings). Maximilian Kolbe finds out about this and is outraged (or amused or disturbed) and tells the barber to throw the hairs into the stove. The barber obediently throws the hairs into the stove. But some of the hair doesn’t burn, or the barber snatches it out of the fire after Maximilian leaves the room, or the barber obediently throws the hair into the stove, but the crafty fellow doesn’t light the fire! And so these relics of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, cremated in Auschwitz after giving up his life for a fellow prisoner are preserved.

I believe it is God’s special favor that this relic now adorns our church. May Saint Maximilian Kolbe inspire us and pray for us.

Father Pete