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Rising Above Adversity: The Eighth Beatitude

There’s extraordinary power in sacrifice— the enduring light of hope that can emerge from the depths of darkness. In today’s episode, we explore the heroic life of Maximilian Kolbe. A man who, in the face of indescribable evil, chose to embody the purest act of love—laying down his life for another. 

We will journey through his inspiring story, reflecting on what it means to truly live for others and how, even in the darkest times, the human spirit can shine with an unquenchable light. 

This episode invites us to ponder deeply on our own beliefs, the nature of sacrifice, and the enduring strength of love over despair. Join us as we grapple with these eternal questions, inspired by the legacy of a saint who showed us that, indeed, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”

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 WALK THE CAMINO get your free Trip Guide here 


Transcript

Welcome back to the Holy Rebels Podcast. I’m sooo looking forward to this conversation today. We’re at the end of a series about the 8 Keys to Happiness, also known as The Beatitudes. Each one of these keys is an invitation to explore what happiness means to you, and how you can experience more joy and fulfillment in your life. 

The Beatitudes are at the core of spirituality. They’re guiding principles that transcend religion and speak to the heart of our humanity. They’re not about following a set of rules or dogmas, but rather about finding happiness, true happiness. The kind of happiness that doesn’t depend on your circumstances. Rather, this kind of happiness is about your attitudes about life and how you live (or don’t’ live) true to your values. The Beatitudes are about finding happiness right now, no matter what’s going on. They shift your perspective, so you find meaning in unexpected places, even in the midst of difficulties.

That’s certainly true of today’s Beatitude.

But before we dive in, I have an exciting announcement! We’re coming up to our spring and summer pilgrimages at Dancing Spirit Tours, and we still have a couple spots left on our WALK THE CAMINO trip in Spain, coming up in May.

For those of you who don’t know, my father and I run a spiritual tour company called Dancing Spirit Tours. We’ve been guiding spiritual seekers on sacred journeys around the world for over a decade. 

Some of you who are listening to this have been with us to places like Spain, Italy, Iceland, England, Austria. Shout out to all the Dancing Spirits out there!

If you’ve ever dreamed of Walking the Camino, if a spiritual travel experience is on your bucket list, consider joining us this May because THIS Camino is in that it combines a spiritual curriculum and a hike.

Every day begins with a workshop about The Spiritual Exercises. This is a 500 year old spiritual decision making strategy that helps you cut through fear and embrace the life you’re called to live. 

It was created by Ignatius of Loyola, who wrote The Spiritual Exercises while he was walking this very route we’ll take. He was going through his own spiritual awakening experience. The Exercises are powerful because they merge your inner camino with your outer camino. So, they combine deep soul reflection with the trail you’re walking.

You get all the benefits of movement which helps to integrate your spiritual experience. It’s life changing, even for me, because every time I walk this path and go through The Spiritual Exercises, it’s so immersive and confronting in the best way possible. It helps you back on your path in life. It helps you decide what’s most important to you, and focus on that path. It gives you clarity, endurance, and courage.


Plus, the trail is stunning! It winds through the Basque region, past soaring mountains, orchards, a semi-desert landscape—so the land itself is as dynamic as your inner discoveries will be. It’s transformative. If you’re interested in joining me and an incredible community of awesome pilgrims, get a free trip guide to find out more. The link is in the show notes of this episode. Or send me a message and I’ll send you the information.

Okay, let’s get into our Beatitude and the story of Maximilian Kolbe.…. So, we’ve reached the final Beatitude! 8 of 8!  You’d  think after all the beautiful wisdom that come before, that the final one would be the most enticing.

We’ve learned beautiful beatitudes like:  “blessed are  the pure of heart, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the peacemakers”…. You’d think that the final beatitude would end with something uplifting like “blessed are you who have made it to the end, you will get everything you’ve ever wanted…” or something like that….  But its not. 

Instead, the final Beatitude presents a paradox that challenges our conventional understanding of blessing. It says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This Beatitude confronts us with the reality that standing up for truth and justice can lead to persecution. Yet, it also reassures us that such sacrifices are not in vain.

The promise of the kingdom of heaven is not a distant, abstract concept but a present and living reality for those who endure hardship for doing what is right.

This Beatitude invites us to reflect deeply on our commitment to our values and the depth of our conviction. It asks us to consider what we are willing to endure for the sake of righteousness and assures us that our efforts are more valuable than we can possibly imagine.

If you’ve been following along with our series, you’ve undoubtedly noticed the deeply paradoxical nature of the beatitudes. These teachings are rich in uncommon wisdom. They challenge us to approach life with a heart open to understanding.

They beckon us to see beyond the immediate struggles and find the hidden treasures of joy and fulfillment that hardship can reveal.

This final Beatitude mirrors this pattern, suggesting that those who face persecution for their steadfast commitment to righteousness are, in fact, immensely blessed. This idea, although counterintuitive, underscores a profound truth that enduring adversity for Love’s sake, is not only the right thing to do, but also sacred. Your commitment to these principles, no matter the opposition, is what lays the foundation for a heaven-like experience on earth, both for you and for those around you.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Listen to the Greek to English translation of this Beatitudes. It’s this: “Happy are those who suffer because they refuse that which is temporary in favor for that which is eternal, for the reign of God is the same as this.”

You’re blessed when you’re willing to give up short-term pleasures for an enduring purpose. That is the central principle of all the beatitudes. It’s all about choosing lasting joy over quick, fleeting moments of satisfaction. This principle not only challenges our natural instincts, but also invites us into a deeper reflection on the values that truly enrich our lives.

By prioritizing principles like peace, kindness, and justice over fleeting pleasures, we align ourselves closer to the essence of what it means to lead a meaningful life. The courage to make such choices, despite opposition or misunderstanding, defines the path to true fulfillment. It’s a path marked by a profound understanding that happiness derived from depth, purpose, and commitment to higher ideals lasts far longer than any temporary gratification.

By the way, it’s essential to recognize that this call to peace and righteousness isn’t limited to any single group or belief system. It’s a universal calling that embraces everyone, regardless of your background, religion, or ideology. The essence of this movement is its inclusivity and the belief that everyone has a role to play in nurturing a more peaceful, equitable world.

If you’re part of this movement, and I’ll bet you are because you’re listening to the Holy Rebels Podcast, if you are committed to doing whatever you can to become the best version of yourself, then you already know that there’s going to be opposition, because unfortunately peace is not the mainstream idea of true power. The world’s idea of power is domination, it’s the opposite of peace. And persecution is a sign of that opposition. If you’re trying to promote peace, you will sometimes be undermined because of it. That can be overt—like actively being attacked, or subtle, such as experiencing feelings of isolation.

In contemplating the depth and paradox of this beatitude, particularly the call to endure for the sake of righteousness, there’s a compelling story in that of St Maximilian Kolbe. His life is a tangible embodiment of these profound teachings—a vivid illustration of self-sacrifice and the pursuit of peace against the odds.

Maximilian Kolbe was born in 1894 in Poland to a very spiritual family. His parents were both Third Order Franciscans, which is the same order that I belong to, so I can speak to the spiritual values Maximilian would have been raised to believe: to strive for kindness, contribution and compassion for others.

When Maximilian was a child he was driving his mother up the wall one day, as children do, and she said to him, “Oh, my sweet boy, what’s going to become of you?”

She meant well, but as a little child, this kind of struck Maximilian in his heart, and he immediately went over to the parish church across the street. At that time Little Maximilian loved the image of Mother Mary. He thought she was so gentle and beautiful. There’s a statue of Mary at the church, so he knelt before her in a childlike way, looked up at her warm smile and open arms, and asked “Well, Mother Mary, what will become of me?”

And in that profound moment of youthful curiosity, Maximilian was enveloped in a vision that would forever shape his destiny. It was as if the world around him faded, leaving him in a serene space of divine presence. There, before him, stood Mother Mary, her form radiating with an ineffable grace and warmth.

She smiled at him and extended her hands in which she held two crowns: one red, signifying martyrdom, and one white, symbolizing purity of heart. Mother Mary posed a question that would define Maximilian’s path, “My son, the red crown brings martyrdom and sainthood, and the white crown offers purity and devotion to God. Which do you choose?” Without hesitation, embodying the fearless spirit that would characterize his life, Maximilian says, “I choose both!” Mary’s smile broadened, a silent acknowledgment of the profound and heroic journey that lay ahead… then she vanished. This decision, made in the innocence of childhood, would echo throughout his life, guiding his actions and choices.

I want to take a moment here to share something about Mother Mary’s role, not just Maximilian’s life, but in the broader spiritual context. If you were to ask Maximilian ‘Who is Mary?’ He would tell you, ‘She is my mother.’

Mary isn’t merely a historical figure; she assumes a much grander, more intimate role. She is the archetypal Divine Feminine, a nurturing presence that extends beyond the being mother to Jesus. Mary symbolizes an archetype of maternal love, embodying trust, love, and forgiveness. When Maximilian looks at Mary, he sees a universal mother, an emblem of unconditional love and comfort for all humanity. This perception of Mary not only shaped his early faith but informed his entire life’s mission, embedding a profound sense of love and compassion at the core of his being.

Most of us meet Her in our darkest hour, when we most need  to know that God is Mother, as well as Father. That God is a tender, nourishing, uniquely feminine gentleness as well as a great masculine fire of law and truth.

So, Maximilian has a special relationship with the figure of Mother Mary from then on. In fact, he was so taken by Mary that eventually he joins the Franciscans and became a priest.

 He makes his first profession at the young age of 24 and was sent to Rome to study. 1917 was the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Freemasons in England. They were demonstrating in Rome, in Vatican square. Maximilian happened to be there when he saw a group of men carrying an image of Archangel Michael being stomped on by the Devil and they were yelling “The Devil will rule in the Vatican. The Pope will be possessed by the Devil”. Obviously that’s a disturbing thought. It shocked Maximilian. If darkness could claim such power over people, couldn’t the forces of light and goodness do the same?

He remembered the vision of Mother Mary offering him the crowns.. It wasn’t just a memory; it was a call to action. It was this reflection, stirred by the provocative protests he witnessed, that inspired the birth of the “Militia Immaculata”—a movement dedicated to promoting hope, kindness, and altruism.

Maximum founded the “Militia Immaculata” on October 16th, 1917. This date is extraordinarily significant because parallel to his profound spiritual experiences, another miraculous event is unfolding.

In the remote village of Fatima, Portugal, a celestial phenomenon captivates the world. Over the course of six months, three young shepherd children report visions of Mother Mary, known famously as the Fatima Apparitions. These encounters are not mere folklore; they carry a divine message of hope and peace. Mother Mary conveys that through purity of heart and unwavering faith, humanity can find solace and refuge in the Divine.

She promises that, despite the turmoil and despair encircling the globe, peace will ultimately prevail. Remember this is the period during WW1.

This poignant message resonates deeply with Maximilian, reinforcing his belief in the power of goodness and the profound role Mary plays as a conduit for achieving peace.

Maximilian is filled with a passionate urgency to help as many souls as possible, as fast as possible. And the fastest easiest way to do that was to introduce a soul to the gentle loving spirit of Mother Mary.

Mother Mary, as a facet of the Divine is so powerful because she is familiar. When you look into her eyes you see that she has witnessed the spectrum of human emotion. She embodies an intimate understanding of sorrow, fear, and the profound yearning for love. She embodies vulnerability, but also unconditional forgiveness. The Mother aspect of God speaks directly to our souls, reassuring us that there’s no way to sever the bond between you and your Creator.

Sharing this perspective of the Divine is Maximilian’s mission. He wants to unveil to the world a Divine presence that is unfailingly tender, one that assures us that we are eternally embraced, loved, and understood, despite our flaws and failures.

While in Nagasaki, Japan, he was faced with the task of establishing a new friary. Conventional wisdom and the advice of his friends was to build the friary in the bustling city center. Yet, Maximilian, felt a strong divine nudge to choose the unlikeliest location for the friary— the side of the mountain. His decision was met with disbelief and ridicule; it defied practical logic.

However, he believed Mary was asking him to do it, so the friary was constructed in that very spot. This choice, seemingly illogical at the time, would later be praised. In 1945, when the atomic bomb devastated Nagasaki, the friary on the mountain was one of the only buildings to survive the blast. Maximilian’s faith in Mary’s guidance had not only shaped his spiritual path but had tangibly protected his Franciscan community from annihilation.

Upon returning to Poland, Maximilian embarks on a new chapter. He establishes a publishing company dedicated to spreading messages of faith, hope, and love far and wide. Maximilian sought to harness the power of the printed word to illuminate hearts and minds. This publishing house became a beacon of light amidst the growing conflict and despair of WW2.

The Nazi’s didn’t like that very much. They arrest Maximilan and send him to Auschwitz.

Auschwitz was probably the most sinister place ever designed. Created not just to kill the body but also to extinguish hope and crush the soul. Maximilian and his fellow prisoners are subjected to backbreaking labor—digging, hauling trees, and endlessly shifting mounds of stones from one place only to move them back the following day. This relentless cycle of work was a deliberate assault on hope itself. Because the labor was devoid of purpose, it was a mockery of the human need for meaning and purpose.

Above the entry gates of Auschwitz is a sign that says, “Arbeit Macht Frei”, which means “Work Sets You Free”. As prisoners toiled beneath the banner bearing a hollow promise of freedom, they soon realized the horrific truth: in this place, true freedom was indeed a distant, unattainable thing, often only granted by the mercy of death.

If you visit Auschwitz, you can walk through these gates and you can experience a small fraction of the disorientation felt by the prisoners… after passing through the gate, you’re standing on the inside, look behind you. The sign is now a mirror image. You can’t read the words anymore because they’re backwards, like you’re in a backwards nightmare. The twisted letters represent the upside down nature of the place.

Except one tiny detail! Look at the sign and you will notice a small, almost inconspicuous detail, yet it holds a profound narrative. See, the gate was actually made by prisoners under the watch of the SS. It contains a deliberate defiance, a message for prisoners who come after them… As they crafted the notorious slogan, they carried out an act of silent rebellion; they inverted the “B” in “Arbeit.”

This reversed letter is not a flaw in craftsmanship—it’s an emblem of human resistance amidst the darkest of times. Against the backdrop of immense suffering and dehumanization, the misshapen letter stands as testimony to the prisoners’ unyielding spirit, a symbol of an intense struggle against the grotesque distortions of humanity perpetrated by the Nazi regime.

Maximilian and 1.3 million prisoners entered through these gates. And maybe some of them noticed the reversed B, and perhaps it gave some of them hope. Hope is what gives you the strength to survive.

It’s very hard when you are being persecuted, not to let the spirit of evil corrupt you. We’ve all experienced injustice. Some of us have faced situations that are horrible enough that we start to question Goodness Itself, whether it exists, whether we’re strong enough to get through our troubles.

It’s during these moments, when faced with seemingly insurmountable adversity, that the true test lies not just in enduring but in preserving your humanity. It’s imperative not simply to survive, but to emerge without letting the ordeal corrupt you into bitterness. This is the challenge Maximilian faced; it was a call to rise above the darkness, to remain unstained by the evil inflicted upon him.

You can not allow persecution to turn you into a monster.

Thankfully, Maximilian was a remarkably spiritual man. When he saw someone struggling, he would say, ” Offer your pain to Mary. She will make use of this.”

Whenever he had a moment of rest, Maximilian would pray with people and give them words of encouragement.

One day, the harsh reality of life in Auschwitz presented itself in the cruelest of rituals. The work crew returns to find that one of the prisoners is missing. There was a policy in the camp: for one escape, ten would pay with their lives. This is supposed to deter anyone from attempting to escape because if you got out, you would know that 10 other prisoners would die.

Under the sweltering summer sun, the men of Maximilian’s block were forced to stand at attention for hours. The camp commander then began his grim selection, moving through the ranks with a chilling indifference. “You, you, you,” he pointed, each word a death sentence for those chosen to be the 10 prisoners who would be sent to their deaths.

The tension was palpable, each man grappling with a fate beyond their control, until the 10th man was selected: Franciczek Gajowniczek. The Commander pointed “You” and a despair-filled cry rang out, “My wife, my children, I’ll never see them again.”

Maximilian, who was a few rows back, stepped out of formation and walked right up to the Commander, “I wish to take this man’s place,” he declared, his voice resolute. The Commander’s gaze, cold and unyielding, “Who are you?”

“I am a priest,” came the reply,

met with the chilling dismissal, “I don’t care what pig dies.”

In that short exchange, Maximilian’s fate was sealed, and Franciczek’s life spared.

When men were chosen to starve in the bunker, you could hear them from quite a ways away. That would further the anxiousness of the surrounding prisoners. You could hear them crying, swearing, cursing. Sometimes prisoners would try to eat other prisoners, you know, bite them, out of desperation, driven by the primal instinct to survive at any cost. Drinking their own urine. It paints a harrowing picture of human suffering at its extreme.

Yet, it was amidst this chaos and horror that Maximilian kept hoping for some semblance of peace and dignity. He envisioned transforming the despairing cries into a collective prayer, turning the dismal bunker into something more humane that represented life in the outside world.

Under his guidance, Maximilian led them to sing hymns to pray together… and now instead of hearing the cries and shrieks of desperate prisoners, you could hear the chanting of cheerful hymns. The starvation bunker became like a little chapel. This deeper part of hell became the spiritual haven of Auschwitz.

Something extraordinary happened. Maximilian’s influence reached beyond the starvation bunker. Prisoners who were on the outside heard the singing. A makeshift choir formed outside the starvation bunker’s walls.

These moments of shared faith and communal singing are a sign, aren’t they? The human spirit is so resilience. A dark corner of Auschwitz momentarily transformed, becoming a beacon of light, as the haunting sounds of despair were replaced by a chorus of hope and solidarity. That’s something.

One by one the prisoners passed away, voices became lesser and lesser.

After three weeks, the Nazis wanted to clear out that room. They wanted to erase the traces of the defiance and unity sparked by Maximilian’s presence. A guard ordered a nurse into the dim bunker, with the purpose of ending the lives remaining within.

Among the weakened, barely alive prisoners, she encountered Maximilian. He was laying on his back on the cement floor, with a serene glowing light that seemed to emanate from within him.

Approaching him with a mixture of fear and curiosity, she squeaked “Don’t look at me, priest. Don’t look at me”… Then she heard him whisper, “Don’t look at me with fear,” with a gentle smile on his lips. Raising his arm as if bestowing a blessing, he made it easier for her to do what she came to do. With a hesitant hand, she administered the lethal injection of carbolic acid, ending his life swiftly. Even in his final moments, Maximilian’s grace and faith remained unshaken, casting a lasting light in the darkest corners of human history.

You know, Maximilian had a strange dream ever since he was a child. He dreamt that he was soaring high above Poland, gazing down on its lush fields, vibrant flowers, and scattered buildings. This recurring vision always left him pondering its significance – Why? Why am I seeing myself floating over Poland? Well, in his death on August 14. 1941, his body was cremated at Auschwitz, and as his ashes ascended through the chimney, they were caught by the wind, scattering over the very landscapes he once dreamt of flying above. In this ethereal way, Maximilian’s vision attained a profound fulfillment.

Maximilian had a saying, “If it’s not within your control, be assured it is the sure will of God.”

Anything that happens to you, if it’s outside of your control, it is part of the plan. Even the bad things. When the Nazis came and they knocked on the door to take him away to the horrible concentration camp where he’d be treated as less than a human, Maximum said, “Ok, God, I will do this.” When it was his time to take the place and the other man, he saw in that situation an opportunity to carry out the will of God. And so no matter how bad the circumstance, all things work for the good of those who carry within their hearts the Love of God. And how much better for those who Love. And that is your choice. It’s not an easy choice. It’s a choice that goes against our base instincts for power, status, wealth, sometimes even survival. BUT it is a choice that if you make it, the Kingdom of Heaven, so to speak is yours, because you will be filled with a Force of Love for Life Itself, a force so powerful that no earthly pleasure compares. Nothing compares.

You can see that in people who have made this discovery. They are happy through their suffering. People like Maximilian Kolbe.

With his final breath, he held up his arm and said, “Yes God, thy will be done.”

And because of that, he became not just a saint, but an inspiration for millions of people to strive for humility, selfless service and Trust in the way your life is unfolding.

This story is an extreme example of what this beatitude means “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs”.

There’s a cost to seeking peace. There’s a cost to asking God to come and work in our midst, because if we want The Divine to work in our midst, that means that we’re not just doing this lovely little ritual on a Sunday in Church if we’re Christian, or celebrating the Saabath if we’re Jewish, we’re not merely basking in the peaceful aura of yoga class. That’s not the fullness of spirituality. Its good, but it’s not where the rubber hits the road.

Spirituality is who you are when nobody is watching you. Spirituality is the choices you make when there is no reward for you. Spirituality is just you and God. It’s the unmeditated connection you have to the greater meaning and purpose of your life. It’s how you answer those little tugs at your soul when God calls you to do something.

You have to stay true to that deep knowing within you. You have to go out into the world and become the person you’re called to be.

And sometimes that means doing seemingly impossible things to create peace.

That’s harder than ever right now because we live in a world that is opposed to peace.

So there’s a cost. But there’s also a reward. Incredible. rewards. My prayer for you is that as you live these beatitudes in your life to the best of your ability, that your eyes are open to the incredible rewards in the pursuit of peace. Yours is the kingdom of heaven, no matter your religion. Peace is yours. Love is yours. Hope is yours.

When you come to a moment where you face persecution, you face this question: Is God worth this? 

Is God worth losing my job, my home, my career, my family, even my life? When you are in that kind of situation, which people are forced to be in all the time. We’re unbelievably privileged at this moment in time in the West. I pray you are never in this situation, but if you are ever faced with such a situation, you must answer the question: Is it worth doing the right thing, even when it will cost me everything?

Maximilian Kolbe would tell you: yes, it’s worth it—because the reward is greater. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs”.

May we all find the courage to be lights in the darkness.

Thank you, my friends, for being with me. 

And for those of you feeling inspired by Maximilian Kolbe’s remarkable testament to love, I encourage you to take a step on your own spiritual journey by walking The Camino with us.

This ancient pilgrimage is more than a physical challenge; it’s an opportunity to reflect, to heal, and to discover deeper truths about yourself and the world around you. This is a unique opportunity for spiritual growth, space for solitude and community, with stunning landscapes and immersive daily workshops. It provides the perfect backdrop for personal transformation. 

Whether you’re seeking direction, looking for clarity about your path, or you need some space to cultivate inner peace, this journey is a profound experience. Let’s take that first step together towards becoming beacons of hope and carriers of love in our world. 

Join us on The Camino, and begin the walk of a lifetime.

Next week we’re moving on from the beatitudes and diving into the wisdom of the mystics. See you soon. Until then, trust the mystics within you.

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