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Maximillian Kolbe, Apostle of Mary
Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
St. Maximillian was born in the Poland in 1894 and baptized under the name of Raymond. He entered the novitiate of the Conventual Franciscans in 1910 and given the name of Maximillian. He took his final vows in Rome in 1914 and three years later, organized, with six other confreres, the association of the Meletsia Immaculate, which may be translated, The Militia of the Immaculate Virgin Mary. Whatever else Maximillian never forgot is that we are here on earth in the Church militant. He was ordained in Rome in 1918. In 1922, he began publishing the magazine, "Knight of the Immaculate," first in Polish and then in other languages. He is an outstanding promoter of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary through the modern media of writing, radio and, since his day, television.
In 1927, he began building a whole town with property donated by a wealthy nobleman, called the "Town of the Immaculate," outside of Warsaw. There he began training people with vocations among the laity and prospective Religious and Priests, to become apostles of Mary. The first Marian Missionaries to Japan were trained in the "Town of the Immaculate." In 1930, Maximillian opened a Marian publication apostolate in Nagasaki, Japan—one of the two cities in Japan which would later be ravaged by a nuclear bomb during the Second World War. As popes have been saying ever since, God chose His most faithful people as a sacrifice to insure future peace in the world.
In 1939, Maximillian was arrested by the Nazis who had taken over Poland. Two years later, in 1941, he died at Auschwitz, the infamous concentration camp. He had been first denied food, but when after some time had passed they looked into his cell, he was still alive. They then inoculated him with deadly poison. Why? Because he offered his life for another man who was chosen in reprisal by the Nazi's for that father of a large family. He was beatified by Pope Paul VI and canonized by Pope John Paul II.
Maximillian's Marian Spirituality
We will reconstruct the main features of Maximillian's spirituality. The spirituality of St. Maximillian is based directly on this truth: that the Immaculate Virgin Mary is the Mediatrix of all graces. That is the first premise of his Marian thinking. If this were not so, Maximillian explains, all our strength and effort in the spiritual life would be in vain. In other words, our spiritual life depends on grace. That's obvious, but it also depends on the grace that we must receive through Mary.
Second, the Blessed Virgin Mary is the Mediatrix of all the graces that any human being receives, believer or unbeliever, Christian or non-Christian, without exception.
Third, our life of grace depends on the nearness of grace that we have to the soul of the Immaculate Mother of God. It is an article of Faith that everyone receives sufficient grace to reach Heaven. But the degree of grace that any person receives—always from Christ but through Mary—depends on the degree of grace which that person, at the time when the grace is needed, is near to, like to, assimilated to the Mother of Jesus. The more Marian we are, the more assurance we have of obtaining grace from Mary's Son through His Mother. That deserves to be memorized.
Fourth, the nearer a person's soul is, to the soul of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the purer that person's soul becomes, the more sinless, the holier that person becomes in his faith, growing in understanding and firmly accepting God's revealed truth. In other words, holiness determines clarity; holiness determines intelligibility; holiness determines certitude in the faith that we already possess. Our faith will grow in the measure of our holiness approximating, at any given point in time, the holiness of Christ's Mother. Correspondingly, the greater becomes that person's virtues—theological and moral. This is a unique insight into Marian spirituality.
Our relationship with Mary, as Mediatrix is normative. Depending on how closely our life of grace approximates Mary's at any given time in our lives, she then becomes the standard of how much grace we are going to receive.
Fifth, Maximillian describes Our Lady in terms of her relationship with the Holy Trinity. The one created person in whom we can best recognize and find reflected the Holy Trinity, is the Blessed Virgin Mary who is the spouse, says Maximillian, of the Holy Trinity.
Everything which God does, outside of His own Trinitarian life—in other words in the created universe of time and eternity—is always done by all three Persons, equally and simultaneously. Having created the world, the apex of the work of the Holy Trinity is the Incarnation and therefore Mary, who had to cooperate with her free human will with the Holy Trinity. Otherwise there would not have been an Incarnation.
Maximillian insists that although Mary is of course a creature, there is one and only one who is the most sublime model that God has created among human persons; one for us to both venerate and imitate, and that is the Immaculate Mother of God.
Sixth, unlike her Son Who is a divine Person, there are not, as the heretical Nestorius claimed, two <persons> in Christ, human and divine. There are two <natures>, one Person in Christ. Mary was not divine, but she was as closely united with the Trinity as any human person can be. The key words in Maximillian's Mariology are "human person." The only human person who was as closely united to the Holy Trinity as is absolutely possible, and therefore, the highest reflection of the love of the Holy Trinity; the most perfect human, living, visible, audible human being is the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Seventh, St. Maximillian spoke of the human soul as going with Mary to Christ, not going to Christ from Mary. He avoided that preposition of relationship.
Eighth, he stressed the importance of every Catholic consecrating him or herself to Mary and he added that this could be done in one of a variety of ways. "We can consecrate ourselves to the Immaculate one in various ways," he said, "and express our consecration in different words or different forms. In fact, a simple act of the will would be enough for that really is the essence of such a Marian consecration." However, he did provide one formula as follows: "My Immaculate Queen of heaven and earth, refuge of sinners and Mother most loving; you to whom God entrusted the entire order of mercy. I am an unworthy sinner. I cast myself at your feet, humbly pleading that you ordain to accept me completely and totally as your property and possession and do with me, and all my powers of body and soul, and with all my life and death and eternity, whatever is pleasing to you."
Ninth, for St. Maximillian Kolbe, the outward sign of consecration to Mary was to wear, or at least carry, the Miraculous Medal. He explained, this is not absolutely essential, but then he added, "it is the integral sign and condition for our consecration."
Tenth, the most effective means of conversion is through Mary. His great hope was that the missionary evangelization and conversion apostolate of the Catholic Church into the future would be placed into the hands of Mary. He predicted that after 2000 years, only a fraction of the human race would even be nominally Christian. He said, "we need Mary for the conversion of sinners, for the bringing of tepid souls to sanctity, for bringing the millions of non-Christians to Christ.
Conditions For Conversion
St. Maximillian saw the prospects of converting sinners to a life of grace under two conditions. First, we will be as effective converters (or evangelizers or missionaries) as we are personally devoted to Our Lady.
Secondly, we must, if necessary, make drastic changes in our approach to those whom we want to bring to Christ or to a closer following of Mary's Son. We must promote our missionary and conversion zeal through promoting the knowledge, love and devotion to the Mother of God. Mary will do wonders, provided we use her name and her influence to effect what is so desperately needed in the modern world.
Given this logic, that Mary is the key to converting the world to her Son, St. Maximillian not only named but organized his special followers as the Militia or "Army of the Immaculate" following, as he said, on the promise that Yahweh had made in Genesis: that Mary would crush the serpent's head.
St. Maximillian Kolbe, zealous promoter of the veneration of the Immaculate Mother of God and martyr of charity, pray for us.