Thursday, January 29, 2015
Maximillian Kolbe, a Franciscan priest, is best known for his heroic death in a starvation bunker in Auschwitz. For many, this is why he’s a martyr. But it should really be for how he lived.
Because he was a Catholic priest confronting evil, the Nazis arrested him and sent him to the concentration camp. In July 1941, a man from Kolbe's barracks vanished, prompting the deputy camp commander to pick 10 men from the same barracks to be starved to death in order to deter further escape attempts. One of the selected men cried out, "My wife, my children!" It was then that Kolbe volunteered to take his place. No greater love....
After three weeks, all the men in the starvation bunker had died except for Father Kolbe. Finally losing patience with the process, the guards gave him a lethal shot of carbolic acid to finish the job....as if death could silence such a life. Roughly 40 years later, at the canonization ceremony for St. Maximillian, the man Kolbe had volunteered to die for was present and spoke.
Maximillian Kolbe is an obvious example of what we would call a martyr. But as I began reflecting on what he'd say to us today, my serious hunch is that he'd want us to focus on what the word “martyr” means..."witness."
What does your life witness to? Let me put it a different way. Someday, at your funeral, when the nice speeches are finished, and the microphone is turned off, what will people say about your life? What will stand out? What will be remembered?
More than what you died for, martyrdom is about what you lived for.
Maximillian Kolbe is a hero you should know. And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.
Monday, January 26, 2015
Liviu Librescu had faced death many times before his final hour of life on the campus of Virginia Tech University. He had survived the Nazis, the Holocaust, and relocation to a labor camp. And he had endured over thirty years of Communist oppression in his native Romania. In between, he’d earned a Ph.D., and become a scientist and research professor.
Because he refused to swear allegiance to the Communist party, Librescu’s career stalled. But in 1978 he was finally allowed to immigrate to Israel, and eventually to the United States as a professor of Engineering at Virginia Tech.
For the next two decades, his professional life blossomed as he lectured, conducted research, had hundreds of articles published, and served on the editorial boards of numerous scientific journals. He was known internationally, and was a beloved teacher and a devoted family man.
On the morning of April 16, 2007, a deranged student entered the engineering building where Dr. Librescu was lecturing. As gunfire and screaming echoed in the hallway, Librescu ordered the students to exit the room through windows. Meanwhile, he headed for the door, and threw his body in front of it just as the gunman was attempting to enter.
By blocking the entrance to the classroom, the professor kept the madman out long enough for twenty-two of his twenty-three students to escape without harm. Librescu was shot five times in the process, and died on the scene.
Dr. Liviu Librescu taught engineering…and so much more.
He is a hero you should know. And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.
Sunday, January 25, 2015
Welles Crowther was working on the 104th floor of the South Tower on the morning of September 11, 2001 when the plane hit. Crowther, with a red bandanna covering his mouth and nose to protect him from the smoke, sprang into action. He is directly responsible for saving the lives of at least 18 people.
The fact that he made it out of the inferno three times when so many didn’t make it out at all is remarkable enough. But that he went back three times to help others is the epitome of heroism. Six months after the South Tower collapsed, the body of this hero was finally recovered.
Courage? Crowther was the very embodiment of it. But I want to focus on another virtue he displayed that day: prudence.
Prudence is about putting “first things first”; it is the virtue that guides sound judgment. Some might quietly and respectfully question the “sound judgment” of a man who would go back into a collapsing sky scraper three times.
But prudence isn’t about playing it safe. We’re talking about virtue here, not the basic rules of accounting.
Crises don’t make or break people, they reveal people. And long before September 11, Crowther was figuring out what it meant to make good decisions, judgments that were based on more than just emotion, and ease, and self; in the home, in the classroom, on the athletic field and eventually as an investment banker.
In the last hour of his life, Welles Crowther made the sound judgment that saving lives was what he was supposed to do…first things first. Not because he had to, but because he could.
Welles Crowther is a hero you should know. And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.