Posted by: Thomas Richard | May 3, 2011

Auschwitz – a School of Holiness?

First, some examples easier to understand….

I know a couple who endured a really hard time with their son, who began his high-school years manifesting a serious problem with drugs. Their first reaction was understandable: in love, they reasoned and pleaded with him. They arranged counseling. They set curfews for him. They tried to monitor his activity. The problem grew worse. At great expense they sent him to residential rehab programs, which were effective as long as he was in residence. Their last resort was a program that included a requirement for them that was heart-wrenching: “tough love.” For their part they, his parents, had to agree to stop any form of cooperation with or enabling of this problem that was going to kill him if he did not stop it. They had to allow him to experience the real consequences of his self-destructive choices and behaviors. They had to let him experience the harm he was doing to himself. I’ll leave this story at this point – but it has had a good result and so far, the story, still continuing, is a happy one.

Alcoholics Anonymous found this same truth, years ago: very often the alcoholic (or drug abuser) must “hit bottom” before he can admit Step 1 of the AA Program:

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.

This is a simple step, but one that is extremely difficult until that “rock bottom” has been hit. Mankind is stubborn and clever, and we can avoid for many years this basic, fundamental confrontation with a flaw in the core of our being.

There is a flaw at the very core of our being. We call it “Original Sin,” although the flaw actually is not “a sin” but rather the result of the original sin, the first sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve. From that sin, and that consequent flaw, follows every kind and sort of contradiction and sin that has infected and polluted and wounded every child of Adam and Eve since. There is a deep brokenness, a flaw in the human DNA, indeed now in all creation, that can be repaired only by the One who created us in the first place. To continue my reference to AA a step or two more, we see how beautifully they acknowledge this simple truth of the human situation. Steps 2 and 3 of the AA Program continue:

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Yes, as AA says, “It works when you work it!” It “works” because it is the simple truth. The deep problems of man will not be fixed by mere education, or counseling, or talks or human concern. Deeper power and deeper healing is needed.

Second, the horror of the final end of man’s brokenness…

If a loving parent or friend can finally stop being an enabler of the self-destruction of a beloved other, by letting him see and experience and know that a fundamental and total change is needed, can we not understand something similar of our loving God? We are made for God, and only God can fill the void in our hearts and lives. Man cannot live in truth, in justice, in love apart from God. No matter how sophisticated the culture, or old the nation, or rich with human potential and accomplishment the civilization, any country is one generation away from a Nazi Germany, with its Auschwitz.

We must see through the veneers of human culture, the clean costumes and the pretty masks, and suffer to look into the pit of the darkness of sin with all its horror. God wants us to see, and to know clearly and completely and without doubt that we might turn – once and for all – to God who alone can restore us to sanity and wholeness. Jesus preached, “Repent, and believe the Good News!” First comes repentance, deep and true, then comes life-receiving faith in the innocent One who suffered for us on that Cross.

Years after the horrific evil of the Holocaust, in 1963 Karol Józef Wojtyła was made Bishop of Krakow, which made him also bishop of Auschwitz. What a cross this must have been, to add to the weight of his vocation to the Lord and His Church! Fr. Desolaters, the program director of the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oswiecim, located near the concentration camp, said recently of this man who became pope, “Auschwitz was the school of holiness of John Paul II, which was immediately perceived by the people, because here Wojtyła understood totally what ‘faith’ means for the man of today.”

Auschwitz – a school of holiness. Can we put these words together, words that clash against and seem to contradict each other? If we can look at the Cross of Christ and see His love, then yes painfully we can. Where was God when the Nazis were exterminating His chosen people? God was there on the Cross, suffering with them and with us all in silence and with love, that we all might finally become heart-broken by the rock-bottom pits of sin. Look into the pit and repent, finally and forever, and believe the Good News. To all men suffering in the strife and agonies of sin, hear this: God is love. God loves you, God loves us all, and in Him there is life for you! Repent and believe the Good News. Yes there is the Cross, but yes there is the Resurrection.


  1. Dear Thomas,

    Thanks for helping us to hear more deeply the Lord’s words, “Repent and believe the Good News”. Most of us, perhaps, want to hear the “Good news” only. We may also want to believe only the “good” in ourselves and others, and shy away from the truth of our own and others’ sins. We find ways to excuse ourselves and others. We can remain shallow and never plumb the depths of sin nor the depth of God’s Love.

    May God give us His Grace to seek to know Him in spirit and in truth, and to know ourselves. I believe that by His Grace and in gazing long and hard upon the Crucified Christ, we can learn not only the horror of sin and our need to repent, but also learn the Infinite Love of God in the outpouring of His Heart. Looking upon Him Whom we have Pierced we can believe in His Love — for He loved us even while we were yet sinners. We can believe the truly good news of Jesus.

    The picture of Blessed John Paul II holding the crucifix on the last Good Friday of his life, and all the pictures of him during his more vigorous days, leaning upon his crucifix, show us a man who carried the cross as Jesus asks all of us to do, with Him, for Him, and for others. Bl. John Paul II, helped the world to see how suffering can be redemptive. The following words were spoken by him on this very date, 11 years ago, I wrote them in my Bible:

    “The revelation of the glory of the Trinity in the passion of Jesus becomes a promise — that our pain and darkness, too, can become a dialogue of love, in which there shines forth in our lives the glory of the Trinity” — JPII 5-3-2000

    Yes, I believe it is true: Auschwitz was a school of holiness, for Bl. John Paul II, and for St. Maximillian Kolbe and for others because they knew Jesus Crucified.

    • Dear Thomas,

      I read this shortly after reading an e-mail from my sister. She was concerned that Hollywood was rubbing off on her eldest son who is in college, pursuing a major in screenwriting (inspired by the movie The Passion). He is handsome, extremely intelligent, and a gentleman with high moral values. That is a very rare combination in L.A. , so the girls are flocking to him.
      I’ve lived in L.A., so I know that the Hollywood culture primarily seeks fame and fortune at all costs. It is a very superficial and vain environment. I suggested that she encourage him to engage in some charitable ministry, so that he doesn’t lose sight of the poor while living in the midst of the “beautiful people”.

      Then I read your words: “We must see through the veneers of human culture, the clean costumes and the pretty masks, and suffer to look into the pit of the darkness of sin with all its horror. God wants us to see, and to know clearly and completely and without doubt that we might turn – once and for all – to God who alone can restore us to sanity and wholeness.”
      I couldn’t have said it better myself.

      Deborah recently showed me the words from Pope Benedict in his second book, which follows this line of thought:

      “Across the centuries, it is the drowsiness of the disciples that opens up possibilities for the power of the evil one. Such drowsiness deadens the soul, so that it remains undisturbed by the power of the evil one at work in the world and by the injustice and suffering ravaging the earth. In its state of numbness, the soul prefers not to see all this; it is easily persuaded that things cannot be so bad,so as to continue in the self-satisfaction of its own comfortable existence. Yet this deadening of souls, this lack of vigilance regarding both God’s closeness and the looming forces of darkness is what gives the evil one power in the world.”

      With regard to Blessed Pope John Paul II, that topic will take much more time and reflection before I even attempt to post a reply.

      Let us remain vigilant,

      • Hello Monica –

        Thanks for your comment. I also appreciated Pope Benedict’s observation, concerning the “drowsiness” that has come upon the world, and upon some in the Church as well. This desensitization to the realities around us permits grave advances for the cause of evil: growing amorality – moral fuzziness blurring the line separating good from evil.

        May the Lord help young people like your nephew to hold fast his vocation to the good, the true, the beautiful. So many – so many – seem to have traded in that vocation of gold for a handful of sand and pebbles. The desensitization is a dehumanization. The West is losing its soul, as the Church nods off into a drowsy stupor. Not all, thanks be to God! But so many – so many. Lord, awaken us!


  2. I had not read about the priest’s comment that Auschwitz was a “school of holiness” for Blessed John Paul. I hope it is not misunderstood and misinterpreted. Thinking of Auschwitz in this way reminds us that “All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”

    • Thank you for your comment, Barbara. The priest’s comments can be read on Zenit, here:

      Yes, it could be misinterpreted, true. But if readers have a sincere and generous heart, they will ponder long, and not misjudge quickly.


  3. Well said! Beautiful post-and so hopeful. Thank you, thank you-it really lifted my spirits! God is good.

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