At Westminster Abbey’s great west entrance there are ten statues that celebrate the lives of twentieth century martyrs. To be honest, I was more than a little surprised when we visited there and I stumbled upon these memorials as I stood outside at the end of evening prayer. Having just been inside and having prayed next to tombs, monuments and memorials to people like William Chaucer, William Shakespeare, Sir Isaac Newton, Mary Queen of Scots, Edward the Confessor, (the list is extensive), it was a surprise to see likenesses of Dr. Martin Luther King, Dietrich Bonheoffer, Esther John, who were names well known to me because of recent history. Wow, modern day saints on the wall of this ancient abbey were an impressive juxtaposition. It is a great testimony to the idea that God is still speaking, still revealing and still inspiring hope. As I stood in awe of this magnificent place and thinking about the brave acts of Martin Luther King and Dietrich Bonheoffer, I began to think about how God speaks so powerfully to us even today. We look way back and talk of God’s love expressed through the lives of the Saints, but we forget that the community of saints still dwells among us and we are called into that community.
One of the martyrs on that wall is Maximilian Kolbe. Kolbe was a Franciscan who was killed at Auschwitz for helping Jews hide from persecution. They tried to starve Kolbe with 10 others. When he was the last man left living the Nazis killed him with an injection of carbolic acid. During his time of imprisonment he maintained his faith and was a strength to fellow prisoners. Last Saturday (August 14) was the commemoration of Maximilian Kolbe and Dietrich Bonheoffer. When reading about Kolbe I was thrown back to July and that moment in front of the Abbey. How wonderful that Westminster Abbey recognizes the work that God continues to do by erecting statues to those that have paid so much in testimony to their faith.
I read these words of Kolbe – “A single act of love makes the soul return to life.” His life was marked by acts of love. What about our lives? Do we realize that God wants us to live among the community of saints? Are we aware that our actions can be an important part of what God wants to accomplish today? I write this not because I think we should see ourselves as self important, but because even in the act of loving we have so much opportunity to bring about change and hope in the life of another human being. Kolbe reminded what a Christian witness is all about. He did that us not just by dying as a martyr, but by living as a saint. We need to remember that our lives need to be about witness. That witness may be as simple as a ‘single act of love.’ The act of love brings the soul to life…Kolbe does not specify which soul. Could be the soul of the one loving or the one being loved. Either way – loving brings life.
I wonder who will be memorialized at Westminster Abbey 50 years from now. Stay tuned!