When Max met Max
Most people don’t think of pilgrimages beginning in a worn, blue Dodge Grand Caravan, but that is where ours started. On Friday, Aug. 14, we loaded up all five kids and headed 75 miles south from Wauwatosa, Wisconsin to Libertyville, Illinois.
Libertyville rests in the shadows of Six Flags Great America, about eight windy miles once you exit the interstate. It is a pretty community with few attractions, and the one we were destined to find could not be found on the city’s “things to do” list.
When we pulled into Marytown, the name for the National Shrine of St. Maximilian Kolbe, none of us knew quite what to expect. Today was Max’s feast day. We considered it a feast day for both big Max (Kolbe) and our little Max (Dorrington). And, it was time we visited our son’s namesake to thank him and God for the precious gift of our red-headed fire ball-of-energy we named Maximilian. It was time Max met Max.
So, how did we get to this otherwise random place? This story really starts in a back room of our Church, Christ King, at 6:30 a.m. on a frigid spring morning 17 months ago. For a few years now, a group of about 30 men have come together every Thursday morning. We catch up, talk sports, discuss families and pray. I remember when I first came and was worried it would be a bunch of over-the-top religious geeks who studied the Bible front to back. Turns out, most of us are just normal guys trying to better dads, bosses, neighbors and husbands.
On this morning, we were watching a video of a saint I had never heard of named Maximilian Kolbe. My wife was eight months pregnant and we were stuck on boys names. I guess that happens when you get to number five. As I heard the story on the video, I was incredibly inspired. So often when you hear of Catholic saints, you learn about people that walked the earth 400 years ago. Max Kolbe is a modern-day saint. He lived and died during the horrible Holocaust in World War II.
I’ll share the short version. Maximilian, who was a Catholic priest, was a prisoner in Auschwitz. He was subject to continuous harassment and beatings but was said to be a constant source of peace in the death camp. One day, the Nazis were choosing 10 men to die of starvation in an underground bunker. One of the men they chose shouted out, “My wife, my children!” Maximilian came forward and said, “Take me instead.” And, they did. Two weeks later, he was the last of the nine underground to die.
I sat there in awe. And I instantly thought, “Do I have that kind of courage?” What would I have done?
After the video was turned off, I texted my wife.
“How about Max?,” I wrote.
She responded immediately. “I really like Max.”
Our Max was born on April 28, 2014.
Fast forward back to our Libertyville pilgrimage, and we were all very moved by the Mass said in Maximilian’s honor. More than 15 Franciscan friars changed from their standard brown robes into red clerics, symbolizing the blood that comes when a martyr sacrifices his life. The Knights of Columbus started the procession with their swords and purple and white hats.
A large painting of St. Maximilian sat in front of the altar, which showed him wearing his priest attire as well as a striped uniform from his concentration camp.
I know our 16 month old toddler won’t remember this day. But, we can only hope and pray that he is ready in the future when he is faced with life’s most adverse moments and challenging decisions.
It is in those moments, that we all inevitably face, that we hope he remembers the courage of Saint Maximilian Kolbe.