Commentary on Wisdom 3:1-9 or 1 John 3:13-18; Ps 115; John 15:12-16
Not surprisingly, the Gospel reading speaks of Jesus’ commandment to love. It comes from the long discourse that Jesus has with his disciples during the Last Supper, recorded for us by John.
It contains what we may regard as the core of Jesus’ teaching – the command that we love each other in the same way that Jesus loved us. This love is universal and unconditional and is a deep desire for the well being of every other person. It is to be at the heart of all our living.
And Jesus goes on to say that “no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”. Which, of course, is just what Jesus did for us. To love as he loves is to be ready to do exactly this. And who are our ‘friends’? They are those who have this love also.
Later in the passage Jesus says that we have been chosen by him to go out and bear fruit, fruit that will endure. Earlier, Jesus had said, “I AM the True Vine”. His disciples are those who are branches taking life from the vine and bearing fruit, lasting fruit.
We can see how all of this applies so aptly to Maximilian. Here is someone who unhesitatingly was ready to give his life for a brother, a stranger whom he did not really know. This is the love that Jesus speaks of. And, of course, it is an act that has not been forgotten. It bears fruit to this day and inspires us to imitate such great unselfishness and care for the brother and sister.
There is a choice of two First Readings. The first of these comes from the Book of Wisdom and speaks of good people who suffer. To the less wise, their deaths seem meaningless and pathetic. “They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead and their passing away was thought an affliction… but they are in peace.”
What they suffered was small in comparison with what they achieved. “Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace he tried them and found them worthy of himself.”
Again, these are words which well describe the sacrificial offering Maximilian gave of his life for the sake of Francis and his family.
In the alternative First Reading, from the First Letter of John, we are told not to be surprised if we, because we are disciples of Jesus, are targets of hatred. In fact, because we love and care for our brothers and sisters, we are truly alive. It is those who are without this love who are dead. In fact, everyone who hates his brother or sister, is a murderer.
And how do we know what true love is? We look at Jesus and see how he laid down his life for every one of us. Similarly, then, says the writer, we must be prepared to surrender our lives in love for brothers and sisters.
All those in Auschwitz were, for one reason or another, objects of hatred by the Nazi regime which was determined to exterminate them. They included Maximilian and all those imprisoned with him. But he responded not be returning that hatred but by reaching out in love and in particular by his offering of his life for a fellow prisoner.
It is actions like his which shine out like stars in a world of utter barbarity.