Conference of St. Maximilian Kolbe: September 26, 1937

1. Sometimes we think to ourselves, or it might be that it is someone else who suggests such a thought, that here our devotion to Our Lady is too much. There are some who have said that this matter needs to be straightened out in some way, because it is an exaggeration. These and other similar things can at times be heard in certain places, or we might even run across reading them, or we ourselves might face a similar doubt. Whereas all of this comes from the fact (at least this is the case with those people that are of good will) that we know Our Blessed Mother too little. As a matter of fact, when it comes to more recent writers, they write almost nothing about Our Lady. My Mother,[1]Towards the Heights,[2]My Ideal Jesus Son of Mary [3] – this is very little and yet but a beginning. Even less is written about Our Lady in Protestant countries.

St. Louis de Montfort was persecuted by the Jansenists, among them priests and bishops. These influences of Jansenism are still present, and in Catholic countries Protestantism penetrates into Catholicism.

2. How do we go about deepening the cause of the Immaculate? There is one great danger in this – that of someone going about it by reason alone. Since here it is the Mother of God that we are dealing with, then the concept “of God” comes into play – this is a mystery and we will not grasp it by means of reason, because the mysteries of God go beyond our intellects. The professors of the Sorbonne, though learned and honorable, nonetheless were wrong, and John Duns Scotus alone defended the truth, which was later confirmed by the Holy Father. [4] Tradition tells us that when John Duns Scotus was on his way to the dispute, he was praying along the way, and coming upon a statue of the Immaculate he invoked Our Lady “Allow me to praise you, o Most Holy Virgin, and give me strength against your enemies.” He did not say “Bless me in my dispute,” but rather: “Allow me.” He felt unworthy of such a grace as that of being able to defend the Immaculate Conception. It is a grace, that of being able to praise the Immaculate with such a humble entreaty. If it was thus that he prayed on the way, how much preparation and prayer must there have been before that; we do not know how much, but from the circumstances we can suppose that there must have been a great deal of it. By means of prayer he turned to Our Lady, in order to be able to praise Her.

The first and most fundamental concern is a profound humility. We must clearly set the facts before ourselves, what it is that we are, and what is She.

The just man will fall seven times a day (cf. Prv 24:16), not to speak of ourselves, so imperfect, who often do not perhaps perceive even our sins, when we truly do commit them. We are sinful, while She is without blemish, without any sin. How do we appear before Her?

We are unworthy of looking even at a statue of Her, of pronouncing Her name, of thinking of Her, because we are blemished, while She is immaculate. This is the most important point, that we appear before Her as blemished, as sinful. Then only let us pray for the grace of which we are not worthy: that of thinking of Her, of becoming immersed in thought over her privileges. If we lack that truth, the truth of what we are in reality – then how can we count on our intellects being illumined? We will stumble in the same way that the learned men of the Sorbonne did. Hence the first and most important thing is profound humility and humble prayer.

3. Next it is good and necessary to read books, especially those written by the Saints. And not only to read them once, but many times. St. Louis de Montfort writes that he himself does not comprehend many things, [5] so it is evident that he was writing under the inspiration of the Blessed Mother. The depth of our understanding depends on our prayer and humility. Just as with our eyes we see and recognize things, but sometimes not too well, yet when we pick up a magnifying glass we notice many things which we do not perceive with our naked eye, likewise in the light of humility and prayer we see in more detail and in more depth the mysteries of God. Let us pray during our reading, so that we might come to know something by it. Moreover, besides reading we must meditate and intertwine our meditation with more prayer. If we exercise ourselves and meditate in such a way – then from the abundance of our hearts our lips will speak, and subjects for conversation will come to us spontaneously.

4. We know not so much by reason, as rather by prayer and penance. We must add here penance, which purifies the heart, making it capable of more clearly seeing and perceiving. Hence humble and trusting prayer, like that of a child to its mother. Let us not neglect reading, meditation, and availability to the younger friars. Through conversation we ourselves gain deeper knowledge of these things. But our conversations also have to be intertwined by prayer, in order for us not to go off topic.

Those who are in solemn vows have the duty of loving their neighbor, so they must share that which through a longer period of time in the Order they themselves have acquired – the duty of approaching their younger brethren and sharing these things with them.

And it is we that ought to love the Immaculate more than others, because we bear the name Niepokalanów [i.e. city of the Immaculate]. We belong entirely to Her along with all of the machinery and debts, and if we did not know Her, this would cause Our Lord and Our Lady a great displeasure. Therefore in this regard let us strive to be zealous.

Niepokalanów, Sunday, September 26th, 1937.

During the morning meditation.

Notes taken by Br. Witalian Miłosz.

Commentary

By Fr. Matthias M. Sasko, F.I.

Do we love Our Lady too much? It’s a question St. Maximilian had to help his friars at Niepokalanów to answer. The Marian maximalism of St. Maximilian and his friars did not always meet with universal approval amongst his confreres. “… I know that there are certain Fathers in the Province, very good and zealous friars, who are not acting in bad will, but with the best of intentions would like to see our Niepokalanów more closely united with the Province, they would rejoice if the differences between Niepokalanów and the other houses, though zealous, would diminish and disappear …” [6] In fact one of the reasons for which St. Maximilian was called back to Poland from Japan in 1936 by the Provincial Chapter was that of adequately forming the friars at Niepokalanów, helping them to understand and love their consecration to the Immaculate – to be able to answer any oppositions they might face, and to persevere in the special vocation to which Our Lady had called them.

Do we love Our Lady too much? It’s a question we might be tempted to ask ourselves as well. But these and similar doubts come from the fact that we know Our Blessed Mother too little. So we must implore and entreat Her to allow us to know Her and love Her as She deserves and as God wills. The knowledge that all the Saints possessed of Our Lady is still but little; and all that the Saints have written about Her is but little, only a beginning; and all their love for Her is but nothing compared to the love that She deserves.

But do we say this only out of devotion? No – but for solid theological reasons as well.

Blessed John Duns Scotus, the Marian Doctor, formulated the following theological principle, which has since been faithfully followed by the Franciscan school of theology: “If it does not go against the authority of the Church or that of Scripture, it seems probable to attribute to Mary that which is more excellent.”[7]

And already St. Bonaventure before him without hesitating had stated about Our Lady: “She is the one greater than whom none could be created by God. God could have created a greater world and a greater heaven, but He could not have created a greater mother than the Mother of God.” [8]

Hence it came natural to St. Maximilian, a faithful Franciscan, to pray to the Immaculate in his act of consecration: “Allow me to praise You, o most holy Virgin … Allow me to give you such glory that no one else has ever given You up to now …”, so that “Your glory may increase ever more profoundly, ever more rapidly, ever more intensely, as He who has exalted You so indescribably above all other beings Himself desires.”

As He who has exalted You so indescribably above all other beings Himself desires – because Our Lady’s dignity comes from Her being raised up by God, not only above all other creatures, but to the greatest dignity that a creature is capable of, that of being His Mother. It was Saint Thomas Aquinas, who, with his usual clarity and precision has given perhaps the clearest and most concise explanation of Our Lady’s lofty dignity (in fact, a good theologian not only affirms, but proves what he affirms) pinpointing it in the fact that She is the Mother of God, and therefore has a certain infinite dignity from that infinite good, which is God. And on this account there cannot be anything more excellent than Her; just as there cannot be anything better than God. [9]

And when the concept “of God” comes into play – then we have to humbly implore grace from above to come to the aid of our intellects, which alone cannot comprehend neither God nor His Mother. Only if we are firmly grounded in humility, only then can we pray for the grace of which we are not worthy, that of thinking of the Immaculate, because “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1Pt 5:5). God must supernaturally illumine our intellects and move our wills in order to be able to praise His Mother, and that is why we must say insistently and perseveringly: “Allow me to praise you, o Most Holy Virgin, and give me strength against your enemies.”

Neither does the Magisterium of the Church hesitate to makes its own the praise of the Saints, calling Our Lady “the apex of all miracles and worthy Mother of God.”[10] As one pious writer put it: “A worthy Mother of God is not She whom whatever intellect can think, but only She whom God alone could think with His intellect, and could form with His omnipotent power. Because if a created intellect could comprehend what a Mother worthy of God must be, for this very reason She would not be a worthy Mother, because such a Mother must be comprehended only by God who knows the quality of the Mother who is fitting for Himself.” [11] To fathom the meaning and dignity the Mother of God, we would have to fathom God Himself, as St. Maximilian used to remind his friars.

Do we love Our Lady too much? Is it possible to love Our Lady too much? If we realize Her dignity – Mother of God, more: worthy Mother of God – and who we are competing with – God Himself, who has loved Our Lady, His Mother, with a unique and singular love, infinitely above the love for Our Lady of all the Saints put together – then we have our answer.

Allow me to praise you…
In the maximalist spirit of Saint Maximilian – which is not a spirit of sentimentalism or empty emotion, but a maximalism which rests on unshakeable theological foundations, we should constantly strive to know Our Lady more to love Her more. Through humility and penance to humble our pride, which is still tempted by that echo of Satan’s rebellion – non serviam, “I will not serve”; through sincere prayer to illumine our human minds, unworthy and incapable of grasping such lofty mysteries; and through an imitation of the Saints, through a noble rivalry with the Saints, not contenting ourselves with imitating them, but seeking to surpass them in love for Our Lady.

If it does not go against the authority of the Church or that of Scripture, it seems probable to attribute to Mary that which is more excellent. Let St. Alphonsus, who made this maxim very much his own, be the final word on the matter. Speaking of Mary’s sublime dignity the Saint wrote: “We are confirmed in this opinion by so many theologians and Fathers, of whom it is certainly not correct to say … that, exalting Mary, they spoke hyperbolically and allowed great exaggerations to fall from their lips. To exaggerate and speak hyperbolically is to exceed the limits of the truth; and surely we cannot say that Saints who were animated by the Spirit of God, which is truth itself, spoke thus. If I may be allowed to … give my own sentiment, it is, that when an opinion tends in any way to the honor of the Most Blessed Virgin, when it has some foundation, and is not repugnant to the faith, nor to the decrees of the Church, nor to truth, the refusal to hold it, or to oppose it because the reverse may be true, shows little devotion to the Mother of God. Of the number of such as these I do not choose to be, nor do I wish my reader to be so, but rather of the number of those who fully and firmly believe all that can without error be believed of the greatness of Mary, according to the Abbot Rupert, who, amongst the acts of homage most pleasing to this good Mother, places that of firmly believing all the redounds to her honor. If there was nothing else to take away our fear of exceeding in the praises of Mary, St. Augustine should suffice; for he declares that whatever we may say in praise of Mary is little in comparison with that which She deserves, on account of Her dignity of Mother of God; and, moreover, the Church says, in the Mass appointed for Her festivals, ‘Thou art happy, O sacred Virgin Mary, and most worthy of all praise’.” [12]

Footnotes

[1] – Fr. Joseph Schrijvers, CSsR.

[2] – Fr. Bernard Welzel, SJ.

[3] – Fr. Emil Neubert, SM

[4] – St. Maximilian alludes to Scotus’ victorious theological dispute on the Immaculate Conception at the University of Paris (Sorbonne), which took
place in 1304 or 1307. The Immaculate Conception was proclaimed dogma by Bl. Pius IX in 1854.

[5] – This idea is found in Joseph Schrijvers, My Mother.

[6] – Letter to Fr. Cornelius Czupruk, January 9th 1931 (Pisma 275).

[7] – “… si auctoritati Ecclesiae vel auctoritati Scripturae non repugnet, videtur probabile, quod excellentius est, attribuere Mariae” (Ord. III d. 3 q. 1 n. 34 Vat. IX 181).

[8] – “Ipsa est qua majorem Deus facere non posset. Majorem mundum posset facere Deus, majus coelum posset facere Deus: maiorem matrem quam matrem Dei non posset facere Deus” (Spec. B.M.V. Lect. x.)

[9] – Cf. Summa Theologiae, I, q. 25, a. 6, ad 4

[10] – “Omnium miraculorum apex, ac digna Dei mater” (Bl. Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus).

[11] – Francesco Pepe SJ, Delle grandezze di Gesù Cristo e della Gran Madre Maria Santissima, Napoli 1749.

[12] – Glories of Mary, c. 5, I: “Mary our Mediatress”, p. 158, Redemptorist Fathers, Brooklyn 1931.

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