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Giving Your All

The life of Maximilian Kolbe inspires us towards self-giving love

by Claire Law

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To use the life of Maximilian Kolbe to examine the benefits of kenosis (self-giving love) and explore how this might affect our own lives.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need the PowerPoint slides that accompany this assembly (Giving your all) and the means to display them.

  • You may wish to have quiet, reflective music available, and the means to play it.


  1. Ask the students to think about someone they love. It may be a parent, grandparent, brother, sister, other family member or friend.

  2. Imagine that this person’s birthday is coming up. How might we show our love and appreciation for them?

    If appropriate, listen to a range of suggestions.

    Show Slides 2-5, which include some possible answers.

  3.  What do all of these examples have in common? 

    The answer is that all of these examples involve a type of love called ‘kenosis’.

    Show Slide 6.

    Kenosis is a Greek word that means ‘self-emptying love’. It refers to an act of love in which we empty our hearts of any selfishness, and instead give something to another person. This could mean giving a gift that we have bought, in which case we are giving our money and also our time in choosing the gift. It could mean giving our time and creative talents by making a present or taking the time to be with a particular person, or giving our energies and time to help or serve someone.

  4. There are several reasons why kenosis - self-giving love - is important.

    - When we give something special to another, we bless them and show them our love and appreciation. It makes them feel good.
    - When we do this, we, in turn, feel good ourselves - it feels positive to do something or give something to another person.
    - It challenges any selfishness that we might be guilty of.

  5. Someone who really understood the idea of self-giving love was Maximilian Kolbe. His example of kenosis involved the ultimate sacrifice and we can learn a lot from him.

    Show Slide 7.

    Maximilian Kolbe was a Franciscan friar (monk) at the time of the Second World War. During the war, he organized a temporary hospital and helped to shelter refugees, including 2,000 Jews whom he hid from the Nazis. In 1941, he was arrested and imprisoned. He was taken to Auschwitz concentration camp as prisoner 16770.
    Continuing to act as a priest, Kolbe was subjected to violent harassment, including beatings and lashings. At the end of July 1941, three prisoners disappeared from the camp. This prompted the Nazi guard who was in charge to select ten men to be starved to death in an underground bunker to deter further escape attempts.
    One of the men who was chosen was a father. When his name was read out, he cried, ‘My poor wife! My poor children!’ On hearing this, Kolbe volunteered to take the man’s place. In an act of self-giving love, Kolbe chose to go to the bunker where he would be slowly starved to death, taking the place of the other man.
    Kolbe was placed in the bunker with nine other prisoners. Even in the bunker, Kolbe continued to give love to the others by leading the prisoners in prayer, and singing to them. Eventually, Kolbe died. In recognition of his self-giving love and sacrifice, the Catholic Church made him a saint. Christians around the world see that Kolbe followed the example of Jesus, giving himself in order to show love towards others. The man he had saved, Franciszek Gajowniczek, eventually returned to his wife and lived to the age of 95.

Time for reflection

Explain that you are going to ask a series of questions. You will pause after each question to give time for the students to think. You may wish to play quiet, reflective music as the questions are read.

What can we learn from Maximilian Kolbe? 

Pause for thought.

Kolbe gave absolutely everything to help another person. He lived in an extreme and very difficult period of history. Here today, in (insert the name of your school, town or city ), what small act of self-giving love can we perform to help our community?

Pause for thought.

Is there someone to whom you could show self-giving love today?

Pause for thought.

What things make it hard for you to give your time, talents, money and gifts to help others?

Pause for thought.

How do you feel when someone shows you self-giving love? Does this feeling motivate you to want to show self-giving love to others?

Pause for thought.

What word springs to mind when you think of the example of Maximilian Kolbe?

Pause for thought.

What lesson can you take from his life and death? 

Pause for thought.

Dear God,
In Jesus, we see the perfect example of self-giving love when he died on the cross.
We thank you for this.
In the life of Maximilian Kolbe, we see an example of what kenosis can look like in a very extreme and difficult situation.
We thank you for this example.
Thank you for those who show self-giving love to us.
Please help us to see the small acts of self-giving love that we can perform today, which will show love to others.

Publication date: July 2016   (Vol.18 No.7)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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