Some, like Christopher Hitchens, hold Mother Teresa to be an icon of trite, consumer-ready humanitarianism. This is probably true, at least on some level. My disagreement is with what I perceive as political about this view; a distaste for elevating Mother Teresa above any given saint is because the sentimental modernity that is apparently inherent to the narrative of Mother Teresa. This doesn’t mean that her life of selfless love is less inspiring or worthy of honoring. The modern media’s infatuation is not the exaltation of maudlin sentimentality, but the sigh of a spiritually thirsty creature in the spiritual desert that we inhabit.
Seventy-three years ago today, a friar named Maximilian Kolbe died from a lethal injection in Auschwitz concentration camp as a result of taking the place of a husband and father who was condemned to death. Like Mother Teresa, he led a life of poverty and service to his fellow man. After becoming a political prisoner due to broadcasting opposition to Nazi atrocities via radio, he was taken to Auschwitz concentration camp. The escape of another prisoners came to the attention of camp authorities, and the punishment was to select ten men to be starved to death in a small bunker. When one men selected made it clear that he had a wife and kids that needed him, Maximilian offered to be killed in his place. The purpose of the punishment, destroy the spirit and dignity of those condemned, was defied. When the nine others had expired from starvation, Maximilian remained, and was given the fatal carbolic acid injection. This is a moment when uncompromising peace stood toe-to-toe with uncompromising violence and managed a Pyrrhic victory, which is pretty damn impressive considering the match history between the two.
What political alignment can fit the story of Saint Maximilian Kolbe’s life of and death? I don’t think that’s a meaningful question. Doing the right thing is a personal impetus, and any political element can only pollute it. So whether you’re a socialist, libertarian, feminist, nationalist, or anything else, the indomitable spirit of peace and love that we remember in this man is a message that transcends such divisions. The universal appeal doesn’t cheapen it, it speaks to the message’s peculiarly human truth.