The Apostolate in Love With the Immaculata
St. Maximillian Kolbe
by Father Stefano Manelli, O.F.M., Conv., S.T.D.
On October 10, 1982 at St. Peter’s, Blessed Maximilian Mary Kolbe, O.F.M., Conventual, was canonized for his most outstanding heroic virtues. It is just forty-one years ago that Father Maximilian Kolbe was martyred in the Nazi prison camp of Auschwitz, after Father Maximilian freely offered to die in the place of an unjustly condemned fellow prisoner whom he hardly knew. Pope John Paul II has declared him “the patron of our difficult century”. We are happy to publish this article to enable more people to know St. Maximilian whom God has raised up in our times as a model of deep faith, heroic charity and especially of immense love for Our Lady. The key to this Saint’s holiness is his ever-increasing love towards Mary Our Mother. Saint Maximilian set no limits to his love for God’s Mother and in practice he showed his magnificent devotion towards Her by an intense prayer life which bore fruit in a marvelous Marian apostolate during his lifetime, and he continues to guide from Heaven his Marian apostolate which uses the mass media to bring people to a greater knowledge and love of Jesus and Mary.
For St. Maximilian, the fulfillment finally came of the most beautiful dream of a boy who enters the Seminary — the dream of becoming a priest, of ascending the altar, of renewing the sacrifice of the Cross, of making Jesus come down into his hands, of distributing Him to souls.
On April 28, 1918, Maximilian was ordained a priest. The next day he celebrated his first Mass in Rome in the Basilica of S. Andrea delle Fratte at the “;Altar of the Miracle,” at the place where the Blessed Virgin Mary had appeared to the Jew Ratisbonne, who was instantly converted.
At that altar of the Madonna, Maximilian stood as a living model of Mary’s priest. Let us ponder the two of them — the Madonna and Saint Maximilian — Jesus’ Mother, and the priest identified with the person of Christ the Priest. How lovingly must the Madonna have looked upon that first celebration and assisted at it! And how fondly must Maximilian have regarded Her and glorified Her, the Queen, the Mediatrix, the Immaculate Mother of his priesthood!
In Jesus every priest should and can become Mary’s priest in the measure in which he lets Jesus flood his heart and mind with His own heavenly love for the Mother of God.
How else could one think of Maximilian, except as letting himself be penetrated and ruled completely by Jesus, so that he might love his heavenly Mother with Jesus’ own priestly love for Her?
Love for the Eucharist
Saint Maximilian’s fondness for the altar and his boundless devotion for the Eucharist will always be a great example for all souls who want fervently to love Jesus in the Eucharist, especially for priests. He celebrated Holy Mass with such devotion that at times, after assisting at his Mass, people who did not know him went to inquire who was that priest who inspired such devotion at the altar.
How important he considered the celebration of the Holy Mass! Weary, or exhausted, or ailing, or suffering, the Saint desired never to miss performing this supreme Sacrifice of love. When he could not stand and turn around, he even asked the help of two friars to hold him up so he could celebrate Holy Mass.
It was easy to find him at prayer before the altar. When he was a young cleric, he used to make an average of ten visits to the Blessed Sacrament each day and night.
One of the chief concerns he had with his Cities of the Immaculate, was maintaining perpetual adoration of the Holy Eucharist. How much trouble he went to, in Japan, to have a chapel with the Blessed Sacrament in the house, when the Bishop considered the house too dilapidated! When a visitor was greatly admiring the imposing work done at Niepokalanow, and came to the great Chapel, Maximilian, pointing to the Blessed Sacrament, said, “The whole life of Niepokalanow depends on This.”
What shall we say of the need he felt to nourish himself spiritually on the Eucharist? It suffices to say that he made his own resolution that of St. Francis de Sales, to make a spiritual Communion every quarter of an hour. Does not this continuous nourishing of his heart on his sacramental Lord, make us think of how the Madonna’s Heart was ever in adoration of Jesus, ever united inseparably with Him who was Her Life, Her Love, Her All?
Model for Today’s Priest
The Beatification of Saint Maximilian M. Kolbe occurred on October 17, 1971, while the Third General Synod of Bishops was being held in Rome. After the Synod ended, the Polish bishops wrote a joint letter which said, among other things: “The beatification of a Polish priest, Saint Maximilian Mary Kolbe, was providential for the Synod … Precisely when we were reaching the conclusion of our reflections on the Priesthood, the Holy Father, Paul VI chose to present, in the Basilica, a model for the modern priest … For it is not enough just to talk about the priesthood: one should point to a model for today.” This was so eloquently done that the Bishops thanked the Holy Father … One of the delegates of the Synod (Cardinal Duval) declared that this beatification concerning the priestly ministry had more importance than all that had been said in the Synod hall.
Saint Maximilian gave himself to the Immaculate Virgin. He put himself in Her pure hands. And the Immaculate Virgin made him the model priest. Really, priests can take him as their model in order to become giants of love, of zeal, of sacrifice, of immolation, provided they entrust themselves entirely to the hands and Heart of the Immaculate One who is the Mother of Jesus, the Supreme High Priest.
Return to Poland
After he had received a degree in theology from the Pontifical Faculty of the Franciscan Conventuals on July 22, 1919, Saint Maximilian returned at once to Poland, which was suffering poverty and famine at that time.
Maximilian was then sent by superiors to the monastery at Cracow to teach. He was professor of philosophy for the student friars and professor of Church history in the major seminary.
Maximilian, exemplary and meek, set about in all seriousness to discharge his assignments, while in his mind vast undertakings were already forming — enterprising apostolates that would give life to the Militia of the Immaculata, which would thrive in his beloved Poland.
He spent much time in prayer. He often recited the short prayer, “O Mary conceived without sin …” Everywhere he was distributing the Miraculous Medal. He did not remain silent and inactive.
“Three Months More to Live”
But soon he showed symptoms of a dreaded disease that threatened all his activities, namely, tuberculosis. The disease got so advanced that, according to the account of one friar, the physicians declared that he had, at the most, “three months more to live.”
He suffered continual coughing spells and a weak voice. His respiration was weak and his face pale. He moved about slowly and carefully for fear that a sudden movement might cause a hemorrhage. After a few months the superiors withdrew him from teaching and assigned him to hear confessions and do a bit of preaching. But he could not last long, even this way. Just the confessions he heard and his short sermons took away his breath. And then, as the critical food shortage of that unhappy period adversely affected him, it was all more than he could stand.
What afflicted St. Maximilian most, however, was not tuberculosis. It was something else. He was disappointed over the attitude of indifference and levity that he found among the friars towards his Militia program. A shrug of the shoulders, an ironic smile, a nickname coined, an uncharitable jest, or plain mockery — these were the early reactions Maximilian met when he talked about the Militia of the Immaculata. It appeared that his zealous efforts to promote his Marian apostolate would have just “three months more” to continue.
However, prayer and generosity are never fruitless.
October 7, 1919
The feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary brought Saint Maximilian a sweet surprise. It was something long awaited. He wrote about it:
“This evening during recreation, six friar-clerics together with their master, Father Keller, signed their names in the book that would serve for enrollments in the Militia of the Immaculata.
“… My dear Mother, I do not know what we are coming to with this program, but be so good as to use me and all of us as you like to serve the greatest glory of God. I am thine, O My Immaculate Mother …”
This was the beginning. Things were getting started and would not stay still any longer. He began to organize meetings and conferences, while he laid foundations for Marian circles. These meeting-circles quickly sprang up in the residential neighborhoods of Cracow and within rooming houses, student residences and military barracks.
“The Militia of the Immaculata,” he had said, “is a movement which ought to draw the masses and snatch them from Satan.” And “we have no right to rest as long as a single soul remains under Satan's dominion.”
The guiding motto of the Militia is, “Let us raise man to perfection for the glory of God.” The victories of this army consist of “the salvation of souls.”
One could imagine Saint Maximilian’s joy as he saw the launching and rapid development of his apostolate to win souls through the Immaculate Virgin.
The times when he suffered, when people failed to understand, or disagreed, or even persecuted him — these events served to lay the foundation for the Militia of the Immaculata. Maximilian once said to his clerics, “Sometimes our best intentions are badly interpreted. Sometimes they even bring false accusations against us. These persecutions come not only from enemies, but from good, pious, even holy persons, perhaps from people enrolled in the ranks of the Militia of the Immaculata. There is nothing more painful than to see how these people block every path with the intention of glorifying God by struggling to destroy what we have built up, and by striving to make souls dislike our projects …”
This is the way God’s projects grow. They are bits of outgrowth of the incarnation, which have come about and continue to come about in conditions of poverty, of loss of support, of opposition, and of persecution.