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Better to die than to sin

More than one hundred years have passed since the martyrdom of the patron of the Movement of Pure Hearts, Blessed Karolina Kozka (also Kozkowna). Her dramatic martyrdom was played out on the 18th of November 1914, during the First World War, in the Polish village of Wal-Ruda, close to the Russian-Austrian front.

Better to die than to sin

The joy of faith

At that time Bl. Karolina was a sixteen-year-old girl full of life and joy. Her parents were poor farmers and had eleven children. Although they were poor, they nonetheless conferred upon their children the most valuable of treasures: a lively faith in Jesus Christ. Karolina emanated a joy of life. She loved Jesus with all her heart, and had a lively personal contact with Him through prayer and practice of the sacraments of confession and the Eucharist.

For a teenager, she set high standards for herself. She saw that she could only be happy when she had a pure heart completely surrendered to Jesus. By the same token, the greatest unhappiness is dwelling in the slavery of sin without repentance. Karolina demanded of herself the overcoming of her egoism and laziness. She organised her studies and work on the farm in such a way as to have time for daily prayer and for going to church — even during the week — for Holy Mass and adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament. Her favourite form of prayer was the rosary. She advised her good friend: “Mary, wherever you go, always have your rosary with you”.

The available facts attest to the enthusiasm the young girl had for her faith: she taught catechism to localchildren, was leader of the Living Rosary Circle and a member of the Apostleship of Prayer, and encouraged devotion to the Most Holy Sacrament and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Every day, Karolina lived out the spirit of Jesus’ beatitude: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matt. 5:8). Her beloved purity thrived thanks to her close union with Jesus in prayer and the Eucharist.

A martyr’s death

At nine o’clock in the morning on 18 November 1914, a brutal Russian soldier burst into the Kozka family’s hut. At the time, the father of the family was alone with his children. With a very aggressive attitude, the soldier asked him where the Austrian army was. The answer that they had withdrawn a week before didn’t satisfy him. Jan Kozka tried to placate the intruder, offering him homemade food. But the soldier refused everything and ordered Karolina and her father to come with him to the commandant. He led them into the nearby forest.

Once the three of them arrived in the forest, the soldier pointed his bayonet at Jan Kozka’s chest, and ordered him to return to the house. He hurried down the path with Karolina and into the thicket. By the time the girl began to realise that he intended to rape her, she tried with all her strength to escape. She started to weave her way through the trees, expecting that this would permit her to escape her assailant. Running, she lost her untied shoes in the swampy forest. She scraped her legs on the briers and blackberry thorns.

The dramatic escape played out over a kilometre. The soldier wouldn’t give up; at times closing on his prey, at times losing ground. The girl’s determination only enraged him. Since he couldn’t catch her, at a certain point he drew his sword from its sheath and slashed her in the back of the head. Despite the severe pain, the girl wouldn’t give up. Her tormentor raised his sword for the next blow and she grabbed the end of the blade with her hand. The soldier tore the sword loose, cutting Karolina’s fingers. Despite the pain and the flowing blood, the girl continued to defend her virginity.

The infuriated soldier slashed at her with blow after blow. The last one cut through the girl’s aorta and throat. She fell to the ground, and within a few minutes surrendered her soul to God. She died united to Jesus; she would rather die than sin. Her heroic faith, crowned with a martyr’s death, provided her with the most direct path to heaven.“ What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9).

“Blessed Karolina gave up her young life when she had to give it up to defend its feminine dignity” (St John Paul II)

Her body wasn’t found until 4 December. Her funeral was held on 6 December 1914. Several thousand people attended the funeral, including many Russian soldiers. Her murderer was never found.

The beatification

Karolina was beatified by Pope John Paul II on 10 June 1987, in Tarnów. During the homily, the Holy Fathersaid: “Are we supposed to be shamed by the examples of the saints? Yes. It’s something we have to face. Sometimes that saving shame is necessary for a person to see himself in complete truth. It is necessary in order to discover, or to discover anew, the true hierarchy of values. It’s necessary for all of us, young and old. This young daughter of the Tarnów Church […] in life and in death speaks […] to the great dignity of women: to the dignity of the human person. To the dignity of the body, which, even though in this world is subject to death, is corruptible, […] nonetheless carries within itself […] the trace of immortality. The role of the saints is to testify to the great dignity of the human person. […] To testify to the calling that each person has in Christ. Karolina Kózkówna was aware of this dignity. With that awareness, she gave up her young life when she had to give it up to defend its feminine dignity. To defend the dignity of the Polish village girl”.

Giving up her life in the defence of chastity, Karolina gave testimony to what a great value a chaste heart is — that without chastity of heart, a person will not be able to see God, and so will not be happy or achieve salvation. By her martyr’s death, Karolina testified to the great dignity of women and of the human body; that our bodies are – as St Paul writes – “temples of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19) and members of Christ. “Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never!” (1 Cor. 6:15). In this is expressed the spiritual genius of Bl. Karolina.

One must give one’s heart to Jesus so that He may heal it, liberate it from egoism and sin, and fill it with His love

What a deep inner life must she have led and how strictly must she have conformed to grace that at such a young age she achieved such exceptional spiritual maturity and holiness. Blessed Karolina’s example is a clear sign for all of us during these difficult times when we need to fight for purity of heart being with such determination as she showed.

Patroness of the Movement of Pure Hearts

During his Wednesday audience on 19 November 2014, Pope Francis directed a specific greeting to the Movement of Pure Hearts: “I entrust all the members of the Movement of Pure Hearts to the care of your blessed Patroness. May God bless all of you!”

By her martyr’s death, and thanks to her strict unity with Christ, Blessed Karolina accomplished ultimate victory over the power of evil, sin and death. In commending Bl. Karolina to us as a good example to follow, the Lord Jesus teaches us that the only thing that is necessary for our happiness is the love of which He Himself is the source. One must give one’s heart to Jesus so that He may heal it, liberate it from egoism and sin, and fill it with His love. That is why the Lord Jesus called the Movement of Pure Hearts into being: to change sinners into saints – that is to say, free, loving, normal people – through the action of this community. Maturing into love, striving for the gift of a pure heart, isn’t easy. We can achieve it through daily struggling with our own egoism, weaknesses and sins, as well as with the power of evil. This is the dramatic struggle of good against evil. We triumph only through a strict union with Jesus, when with our entire hearts, and with childlike trust, we cling to Him and allow Him to love us. We must ask Jesus to reveal to us the terrifying consequences of the sins of impurity and to awaken within us a disgust and revulsion towards it. Let us try to be aware of the spiritual ruin that extramarital sex, homosexual acts, oral sex, pornography, contraceptives, masturbation, petting, etc. lead to. These acts are all egoistic deeds concentrated on the self. They devitalise love, lead to the quagmire of egoism, create an obsession with empty sexual experiences, and enslave like narcotics or alcohol. They are deadly sins, since they sever our loving attachments to God and other people and lead to a state of spiritual death and enslavement by the powers of evil.

The Lord Jesus invites everyone to join the community of the Movement of Pure Hearts, where all wounded hearts will be healed, raised up from the greatest failures, liberated from all enslavements and taught to love with purity.

Who can join the Movement of Pure Hearts? Everyone who wishes to offer his/her heart to Jesus to have it healed and to learn from Him how to love with chaste love.

What are the requirements? A sincere willingness to fulfil all the obligations included in the MPH prayer of entrustment, and especially the obligation of daily prayer, including the Rosary, Chaplet of Divine Mercy and, if possible, also Holy Mass and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and reading of the Holy Scriptures. One must also immediately renounce all serious sin in the sacrament of penance and undertake a systematic transformation of oneself by developing and diligently implementing a daily plan which will include a regular time dedicated to prayer, work and rest.

When and how can you join the Movement of Pure Hearts? Any time! First go to confession, and when you receive Jesus in Holy Communion, give Him your heart by praying the Prayer of Entrustment.

Please inform our editors of your joining the MPH so that we can write your names into the Book of Pure Hearts and send you a special blessing. Remember to pray the prayer of entrustment daily, and remember that the bimonthly Love One Anotheris the instructional text for members of the MPH which you need to read regularly and promote in your circles. Take upon yourselves the responsibility to evangelise in your own environment, your country, and the world through Love One Another. We also ask you to write down your testimonies of faith, conversion and recovery from your falls and send them to the editors. Share the treasure of faith with others, along with your experience of God’s hand acting in your life.

Maturing into love, striving for the gift of a pure heart, isn’t easy. We can achieve it through daily struggling with our own egoism, weaknesses and sins, as well as with the power of evil

In this issue, we include for you a wonderful musical work: the oratorio Blessed are the Pure of Heart, with wonderful songs written by Zbigniew Malkowicz and performed by the musical group Lumen with the MPH youth choir.

Let’s pray for each other that on this Bethlehem night, in which God becomes true man, you may accept and implement in your dailylife a new programme which Jesus brings to us “to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:12)


The article was published with the permission from "Love One Another!" in September 2020.

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