The Making of a Knight
The following article is the text of an instruction St. Maximilian Kolbe gave to the seminarians' focus group on September 18, 1919. The purpose of this instruction is above all practical. It not only indicates the primary concepts on which the MI is based, but sets forth the attitudes and dispositions that will keep the Knights moving steadily towards their goal of becoming effective instruments in Our Lady's hands.
AT OUR LAST MEETING I (St. Maximilian) presented, in a few words, the history and nature of the Militia Immaculatae. Today, in a longer and more detailed form I will try to present its purpose, nature, means, difficulties and rewards.
I. ULTIMATE AND PROXIMATE PURPOSES OF THE MI
Everything that exists, i.e., the being of each thing, is formed according to the specific purpose for which it exists. So, in order to understand the nature of the MI, it is necessary to examine its purpose. Now, everything has a two-fold purpose: The ultimate and the proximate.
The ultimate purpose of every creature is the glory of God manifested externally. In contrast to irrational creatures, rational beings manifest this glory in a perfect way, for they not only reflect the image of God's perfections, they also come to know and admit them. Hence, homage, adoration, thanksgiving and love for the Creator by the creature.
But, God loves us in an infinitely perfect way and shows this love by coming into the world to raise us up again, to enlighten us, to strengthen us, and even to redeem us through a most terrible and painful death. He shows it by remaining among us for all time and all around the world, although he is shamefully neglected and abandoned by the ungrateful. He even gives himself to us as food and drink in order to impart to us a share in his divinity.
We must, therefore, love God in a perfect way. Yet, as creatures we are finite and unable to give him infinite glory. So, let us at least give him as much glory as we are able. For this reason the ultimate purpose of the MI is the glory of God, and not merely the greater glory of God, but the greatest glory.
The proximate purpose of a creature is the particular purpose for which it is made. This particular purpose serves as a means of attaining the ultimate goal. Now (as we have said] the reflection of God's perfections is the purpose of all creation. Hence to know and recognize God's image in us, and to perfect it by freely responding to God's graces and thus through charity unite ourselves all the more strictly with God through a kind of deification, is the [particular] purpose of man.
The MI, therefore, has for its proximate purpose the conversion of non-Catholics and particularly of those unfortunate persons who in their blindness lift up their criminal hands against the most loving and best Father, i.e., the [enemies of the Church]; and this subject to the direction, protection and mediation of the Most Blessed Virgin, the Immaculata. Under her protection, that is, as instruments in her Immaculate hands and through her intercession, using all the means she has given to us, and praying that she would obtain mercy for all. As to the reason why we have recourse to the Most Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of her Immaculate Conception, we have already seen this in our last discourse.
II. THE NATURE OF THE MI
The foregoing is our real purpose, according to which our whole union must be formed.
We have learned from philosophy that everything is made up of "matter" and "form," which are combined together to establish the nature of the thing. In the MI the "matter," as in every organization, is its members, and these can be all those without exception who desire to attain the above-mentioned purpose: young and old, the Religious, priests and laity, men and women, the learned and the simple, in one word all who desire the greatest glory of God without limitations, through the Immaculata.
The "form" of every organization is that which joins the members together in order to attain the organization's purpose; it constitutes the organization's essence. In the MI the "form" is the complete dedication of ourselves and everything, without any reservations, to the Most Blessed Virgin, so that she would deign to accomplish in us and through us what was once written of her: "She shall crush your head" (Gen. 3: 15), and "You yourself have conquered all the heresies in the whole world" (office of the BVM); in one word, that she would deign to sanctify us and through us to unite others with God in the most intimate love.
The external sign of this dedication is the Miraculous Medal, because it was given to us by herself, and this is an integral part of the MI.
The keeping of the spirit of the foregoing offering, as well as the wearing of the Miraculous Medal, does not obligate us under any sin, even the smallest; it is love only, love without limits towards the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, in order to bring back to him as many souls as possible and to unite them with him as intimately as possible, which is the only motive for the existence and activity of the MI.
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III. THE MEANS OF THE MI
We are merely an instrument in the most loving hands of the Immaculata, and only in this way can we expect to reach our ultimate purpose, which is not only the greater, but the greatest glory of God. Hence, all our efforts must be directed to this: that we allow ourselves to be led, that we do nothing of ourselves, but only what she wants in the way she wants it.
But where do we find and how do we recognize the will of our Queen? There is only one sure way of doing this in the whole world: holy obedience to all who represent God, whose will is the very life of the Immaculata. But we must (here we reason in a human way) recognize a difference: God directs all things according to his justice; however he has given us the most Blessed Virgin as a Mother so that we might avoid the stroke of justice and seek refuge under her motherly mantle of mercy. For this reason, says St. Bernard, God has reserved to himself the order of justice, and consigned the order of mercy to the most Blessed Virgin Mary.
We can sometimes recognize the Blessed Virgin's intentions through interior inspirations. Yet we can hardly ever be sure that they come from her and not our own self-love or from the devil. For the devil can disguise himself as an angel of light and suggest the most holy things to us. These may even be good for someone else, but they will not be what the Lord God desires for us. Even though the most Blessed Virgin should appear herself in order to send us on the most noble of missions, when and where could we have that certainty that it is really she, and not some phantasm or some trick of the devil? Indeed we know that the devil even appeared to St. Catherine of Sienna (if I am not mistaken) as the crucified Lord Jesus, and deceived her for a time.
RECOGNIZING OUR LADY'S WILL
In all such instances the best criterion is obedience. That is, we must present our feelings to the proper religious authority or spiritual director as the case requires, and faithfully fulfill his directive in the matter. Should he forbid what the Immaculata wants, she will still be able to achieve her purpose, as she did when the authorities opposed her will in the case of the Miraculous Medal and at Lourdes. Indeed the Lord God sometimes permits such obstacles intentionally in order to clarify his wishes. Whatever does not come from God or the Immaculata will come to nothing.
Hence, we recognize the wishes of our Queen not only in the direct commands we receive from authorities but also in the permission given us to fulfill our interior inspirations. Our whole life, every thought, work and deed is in her hands. Let her direct all of these as she pleases.
At various times and in various trials the most Blessed Virgin Mary has come to the aid of her children, giving them different ways of attaining salvation more easily, and freeing others from the yoke of satan. Now in this epoch of the Immaculate Conception the most Blessed Virgin has given mankind the "Miraculous Medal". Its heavenly origin has been proven by countless miracles of healing and particularly of conversion. The Immaculata herself in revealing it promised all who would wear it very many graces; and since conversion and sanctification are divine graces from God, the Miraculous Medal will be one of the best means for attaining these gifts. For this reason it constitutes a first-class weapon of the Militia Immaculatae; it is a "bullet" which a faithful Knight of the Immaculata aims at the enemy, i.e., evil, thereby saving persons caught in evil. "And above all the Miraculous Medal" (- original Program or Charter of the MI).
On this medal, there is inscribed the ejaculation: "O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you." This is a prayer which the Immaculata herself places upon our lips, revealing it to us and recommending its recitation. This is truly our heavenly weapon - a perfect weapon for a Knight of the Immaculata. And so we fulfill this directive of Mary. But because there are also some who do not have recourse to her, we add the following: "And for all those who do not have recourse to you." Now the head of the hellish serpent is the union of the enemies of the Church. We, therefore, mention especially those who are ensnared by them.
So, therefore, we strike daily at all members of the hellish dragon, and above all else at the head. The results of this work (or rather of the prayer) we do not see now, but after death we will see how true are the words of the Savior: "Ask and you shall receive" (Jn. 16: 24); for here we can be sure that what we ask for is certainly not contrary to God's will.
The Program of the MI indicates that we are to use "all means (as long as they are licit), which our state of life, conditions and circumstances permit, which are recommended to the zeal and prudence of everyone." Here we have opened the broadest field for action, for there is every variety of "state in life, conditions and circumstances," offering countless ways and means of action.
TWO CATEGORIES OF ACTION IN THE MI
There are, however, two general categories of action that can be distinguished: the work of a single individual acting on his own initiative, and the united or corporate action of a group. In the first case, every individual can do much according to the talents given him or her by God and inspired by love and confident prayer. But there will always be those works which individuals acting alone will be unable to accomplish. The same thing is true in prayer. For Jesus himself said: "For where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them" (Mt. 18: 20). Therefore, one can pray and work more effectively in a group, joining forces with the other members.
The nature of such groups will differ according to "state, condition and circumstance." Common to all groups will be the drive to reach the goal in the most perfect and easiest way, that is, the salvation of every possible soul and the highest possible degree of holiness for everyone.
All the means (as I have already mentioned), whether employed by individuals only, or also by groups, must be used according to obedience. This alone is the certain criterion of the will of God and consequently of the Immaculata on this earth. Furthermore, they are "recommended to the zeal and prudence of each one." This is to be understood as not obliging anyone under the pain of sin, and as promising that only in the next world will everyone receive a reward according to what he has done.
Only by relying on this imperturbable rock (of obedience) can we become as unshakable as God, because then we are certain of his will through the Immaculata. And even though obedience would say "yes" today and "no" tomorrow, we shall do it this way today and another way tomorrow, but we will never say that we made a mistake by doing it a different way; it was well done when we did it yesterday and, it is still well done, although different today. It is just as God does, and he does not change; he allows rain today, but not tomorrow.
IV. DIFFICULTIES THE KNIGHTS MUST FACE
It is of the nature of the MI's work, however, that difficulties and contradictions will arise. These must be overcome in peace. Whatever good has happened on this earth has been opposed by difficulties, and the greater and better the good, the greater the difficulties put in its way. To be convinced of this it is enough to look into our history books. Therefore, we too should expect something similar. But I do not speak a priori only, for I have seen with my own eyes how the MI in Rome went through its baptism of fire.
Whence must these contradictions come? Where do they arise? We must be prepared to face them on all sides. I do not speak here of the difficulties we experience in every work, nor yet about the wars which will be declared against us by the very ones for whose eternal salvation we will be fighting. For some will wrongly interpret our best intentions and purposes, and this sometimes deliberately. Some will hurl the most lying calumnies, according to the principle recommended by Voltaire: "Lie, lie, for something of it will remain for you."
But I speak of the persecutions which can befall us from reasonable people, including some enrolled in the ranks of the MI - and all this can happen with the best of intentions in those who oppose us. Truly, it is most painful, if one does not have confidence solely in God through the Immaculata, to see someone full of zeal for the greater glory of God crossing us at every turn and trying to destroy or ruin what has been built up. Perhaps having once himself been deeply involved in the work of the MI such a person will afterwards draw away and begin suggesting doubts to others, sowing distrust and indifference.
Nor is this all, for we ourselves are changeable; what we accept today with enthusiasm will tomorrow seem boring; what today attracts us will tomorrow frighten us because of the number and heaviness of the sacrifices it demands. And there we note that this difficulty arises from self love....
Faced with all this where shall we find relief? On what shall we lean for support in these difficulties? Our support must be something very stable and unchangeable, something that can serve as an irremovable foundation; in a word, something of God, and this is nothing else than holy and unswerving obedience to the Immaculata, who reveals her will through our superiors.
Whoever leans on this does not have to fear any storm. Let all the bad and the good rise up against him in the word and in the deed; let the body grow heavy through indolence and unwillingness to work; let the mind become clouded; let the will falter and become discouraged; let all in him and around him conspire against him; let Hell rage; let the world turn upside down while everything within him is in turmoil - the good knight of the Immaculata will scorn all this. He will not confide in himself, but will trust without limits in God through the Immaculata, for he is convinced that he acts in her powerful hands. In truth this and this alone is the granite rock against which all the foaming waves break.
THIS IS NOT JUST A THEORY
I can speak not only from theory but also from my own experience and the experience of others. These consecrated knights calmly met all the very reasonable and prudent opposition thrown at them to destroy the MI at its very roots. They paid no attention to mere human reasoning which they allowed to pass in one ear and out the other.
In a way, we all are afraid to encounter difficulties in any good work, yet these difficulties are all very profitable; they are needful and even necessary, for sooner or later they serve to clarify the whole matter, they harden and strengthen the will for further work and become a font of merit for heaven.
In fact, how many things in Rome were clarified in this fire of opposition, especially in regard to the foundation and basis of the entire MI! It is similar to the way in which heresies in our Holy Church are a stimulus for the unfolding and clarifying of truth. Through them we come to recognize the power and the solidity of the truth that is opposed, and thus our wills are stirred to reach out for it and hold onto it. They cling to the truth more tenaciously when the ruined opposition dies. For when we suffer while filled with hope and the certainty of victory, we become more bold, more enlightened, more vital and experienced, and when the foundation of this hope and certainty emerges unshaken, we are ready to take on more dangerous and more painful battles.
In all these battles for the Immaculata a much greater reward awaits us than if everything had gone along smoothly, a reward bigger and more splendid insofar as the work was heavier, the sufferings more keen, and the love of God alone through the salvation and sanctification of souls more ardent.
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V. OUR REWARD
God in his infinite goodness, in order to draw us closer to himself and to encourage us to work, sometimes even on this earth gives us a taste of this happiness, the fullness of which is to be our crown in heaven.
Trying with all our might to respond to grace as faithfully as possible, and to spread the glory of God through the Immaculata both in ourselves and in others, we can often taste the sweetness of a child's peace as he gives himself without limits into the arms of his mother, without a care and without a fear, confident in the wisdom, the strength and the goodness of his mother. Sometimes a storm will be raging all around us, lightning will strike, and we - thus given to the Immaculata without limits, and sure that nothing will happen to us as long as this best of mothers does not permit it - will rest sweetly and peacefully, working and suffering for the salvation of souls.
Then again crosses will fall upon us, but the grace of God will warm our hearts, inflaming them with such love that we will burn with the desire to suffer, without limits: to suffer humiliations, scoffing, sneers, forgetfulness and the contempt of others, in order that we may show by this how we love our Father, and our best Friend and his most dear Mother, the Immaculata. For suffering is the school of love, its firebrand and strength. "As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing" (II Cor. 6: 10). Behold, this is what it means to live for an ideal!
And then, even though a whole host of bitter foes conspire against us, we will still find some real and true friends who, united with us in sincere love and in the unity of a common ideal, will console us in sorrow and help us in our falls in order that we might never let our hands fall, but persevere gallantly, trusting solely in God through the Immaculata and fighting until death.
All this, however, is only a very small portion of our total reward. It will not always accompany us, but only at those times when our Mother, seeing our weakness, will try to strengthen us. She then sends us, as to children, these sweets which we should receive with the greatest gratitude and humility, in order that being strengthened we might cheerfully get to work once more.
We will, however, win much more if in exterior and interior darkness, full of sorrow, over worked, suffering without consolation, persecuted at every step, plagued by continual failures and abandoned by all, laughed at, scorned, alone, we will as the Lord Jesus did on the cross pray for all without exception, just as Christ did for the good and repentant thief, to bring back all to God through the Immaculata and unite them to him.
THE IMPORTANCE OF LIMITLESS DESIRES
But this life will pass, and then will begin our true reward. Not even the smallest labor, the smallest suffering undertaken for the glory of God, will escape a lavish reward and this through all eternity.... The Lord God, as we see from history, not only rewards what we have done, but even what we have desired to do, although it was not in our power to achieve it. Desire then, desire without limits!
And, Oh infinite love, God often permits his lovers even after death to satisfy their desires, and to act in this world, praying and working for the salvation and sanctification of souls; whence come good inspirations and even miracles. Sister Therese of the Child Jesus used to say: "If I knew that after death I would not be able to work in heaven for the salvation of souls, I would rather remain on this earth until the end of the world."
She promised that she would let fall from heaven a shower of roses, i.e., graces. And really, in but a short time after her death she gained many souls for God throughout the world. The many miracles reported in the latest editions of her biography bear witness to this. Similarly, Gemma Galgani is known already throughout the world, even in China, and everywhere she is bringing in an abundant catch of souls.
So also we may have this hope, that if we now imitate these holy souls not so long dead, if we burn with the desire of saving souls, then after our death, too, the Immaculata will complete her work through us. This she will do much more then than while we live on this poor earth, where in giving a helping hand to others, we must watchfully be on guard that we do not fall ourselves. Thus we shall be able to comfort the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Jesus himself when dying saw only the Most Holy Virgin and his beloved disciple whom he could call his own; his other disciples had run away, one had denied him under oath, and Judas had handed him over to the Jews. Therefore, we should not worry very much when we do not see the fruits of our labor on this earth. Maybe it is the will of God that we should collect them after death and that someone else would see them in this world.
THE REAL REWARD
Our first real reward, therefore, is the possibility and the ease of making a most effective catch of souls, even after death.
Let us imagine further how grateful all the countless array of souls will be for whom we have opened heaven, and even if we have helped them increase only one degree of glory. How they will thank us through all eternity, and we will be grateful to them, because working for them we have prepared for ourselves a crown. With what love will they burn towards her who deigned to use us as instruments for releasing them from the bonds of the devil. How shall we not praise her goodness, that she chose us who are so unworthy, miserable, and unfit to be her Knights, that we might captivate souls for her Heart?
Finally, what a hymn of praise, glory and thanksgiving will not the inhabitants of heaven raise to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for his goodness in giving us so tender a Mother, in order that we might be able to turn to her and hide under her motherly mantle and thus avoid the punishments of his justice! Unwilling to punish us and desiring to forgive, he thought of giving us a Mediatrix and an intercessor - the dearest of all mothers. To her He entrusted the order of mercy, while he left the work of justice to himself.
He created such goodness in her that she is unable to abandon the sinner, even the worst, who seeks her help, and he made her so powerful, that her wish is sufficient instantly to move the Heart of the Infinite God. And so all together with the Immaculata we will thank and adore forever the mercy, goodness, wisdom, power and justice of God in the reward which he promised us.
Then, forming her heavenly guard of honor, the group closest to her, we will reach and possess God: the final purpose and goal of the MI, that is, the greatest possible glory of God through the Immaculata.
Fr. Maximilian M. Kolbe