In May of 2016, a relative of mine was blessed to participate in a retreat in Germany about the spirituality of Saint Maximilian Kolbe and his Militia Immaculatae (MI). The retreat master was Father Karl Stehlin of the Society of St. Pius X, who himself helped to re-start the MI with its original charism and within the traditional Catholic Faith in the year 2000 in Poland.
Since I was not myself present, I asked my relative to give me some of the most important aspects of the retreat. Subsequently, I read some of the booklets as they have been published by the traditional Militia Immaculatae in the recent years. There is also the official website of the traditional MI, from which I have drawn all the following quotes.
I was touched to learn more about the history of the MI and why Maximilian Kolbe founded it – and here I quote extensively:
1917 was the year of the October Revolution in Russia, but also the year of the appearances of Our Lady in Fatima! In Rome Freemasonry was celebrating their 200th anniversary. Everywhere you looked you could see flags and posters depicting St. Michael the Archangel being conquered and trampled underfoot by Lucifer. Long processions winded their way through the Eternal City toward St. Peter’s Square. The marchers sang blasphemous songs and carried banners with slogans such as: “Satan will reign in the Vatican and the Pope will be his servant.”
At that same time a young Polish Franciscan happened to be in Rome also: Brother Maximilian Maria Kolbe, a theology student at the Gregorian University. He was compelled to witness these menacing demonstrations. “Is it possible,” he asked himself, “that our enemies should make such a display of force in order to defeat us while we fold our hands in our laps and do nothing? After all, do we not have much more powerful weapons; can we not count on all of heaven, and especially on the Immaculata?”
The young religious brother meditated on Sacred Scripture, the Fathers of the Church, the teachings of the great Marian saints, for example, those of St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort; he also pondered the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, as well as the meaning of the appearances of Our Lady in Lourdes. Indeed, all of these truths and mysteries not only have spiritual significance but also are extremely practical because of their social relevance. “The spotless Virgin, vanquisher of all heresies, will not retreat before the enemy who raises his head against Her. When She finds faithful servants who obey Her command, She will win new victories, greater than we can ever imagine.”
In 1917 Rome was celebrating another anniversary, however, a day of victory for the Immaculata: the instantaneous conversion of Alphonse Ratisbonne, a Jew, in the year 1842, thanks to graces obtained through the Miraculous Medal. This coincidence gave Br. Maximilian the idea of founding a Knighthood of the Immaculata. Its emblem would be the Miraculous Medal. Three days after the miracle of the sun in Fatima, on October 16, 1917, Br. Maximilian, with permission from his superior, founded together with six confreres the Militia Immaculatae while kneeling before Our Lady’s altar in the chapel of the Seraphic College in Rome.
As Father Stehlin himself once put it: “In Fatima, the Immaculata gave us an effective spiritual weapon, and, almost at the same time, She chose Her loyal servant Maximilian Kolbe to organize this counterattack by the founding of the MI.” The link I gave here is worth studying because it shows the importance of the three Secrets of Fatima with regard the current crisis in the Church and in the world. It shows very clearly that what Our Lady of Fatima taught the children in Fatima was meant also for us. It is therefore very helpful to study closely all the aspects of what she taught. One of the examples that Father Stehlin gives – next to the importance of the Brown Scapular, the Rosary and the Five First Saturdays, for example – is the aspect of penance. The Blessed Mother taught the children of Fatima not to seek their own means of penance, but, rather, to accept and offer up those penances and sufferings that God brings into their lives.
The purpose of the MI, as St. Maximilian put it in 1917, is as follows:
To work for the conversion to God of all men, be they sinners, heretics, schismatics, Jews, etc., in particular the Masons; and that all become saints, under the patronage and through the mediation of the Immaculate Virgin.
Since Maximilian Kolbe was very much aware of the spiritual warfare that took place in his time – to include the influence of the media as well as of Freemasonry – and especially since he providentially founded this apostolate only THREE DAYS after the Miracle of the Sun in 1917, it seems to me one of the most effective ways of helping Holy Mother Church in her distress – by joining the ranks of the Knights of the Immaculate. By consecrating ourselves completely to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and by asking her to guide and to lead us into the battle, we might find that we are growing in moral strength and trust.
St. Maxilimilian stressed that by becoming a Knight of the Immaculate, one is dedicated to strike back at the enemy. Since we know that the Blessed Mother will crush the head of the serpent, it is to her that we have to have recourse in order to combat the crises of our time. (We also remember here the powerful Magnificat which shows the Blessed Mother as a mulier fortis!) This is what Kolbe said:
The Militia of the Immaculata exists not only as a defensive force, but especially as an offensive. For us it is not enough just to defend religion. With all our might, and trusting in our Queen, we advance even into the enemy camp, in order to hunt down souls and to win them for the Immaculata…. Every heart that is beating somewhere on the world and every one that shall beat until the end of the world, must be captured for the Immaculata: that is our goal! And we want to accomplish this as quickly as possible. (Letter, April 23, 1929).
The Knight is haunted by the very thought that so many souls have not even heard the name of Mary. He would like to win the whole world for Her. To bring Her to every beating heart under the sun and to every heart that shall ever beat, so that She may enlighten these hearts with abundant graces and warm them with the love of Her maternal Heart, and enkindle in them and fan the flames of love for God, for the Sacred Heart of Jesus. (First circular letter in German, June 10, 1938).
Father Stehlin, in following Kolbe, presents a simple way of how to live out that role of the Knight of the Immaculate. After the consecration to the Immaculate, the Knight makes himself always open to the inspirations of the Blessed Mother. By wearing and spreading the Miraculous Medal, praying the Rosary daily and by fulfilling the duties of one’s state in life, the foundation is laid down for discerning our own specific role in this spiritual fight against the evil forces.
In his own remarks about Kolbe’s spirituality, Father Stehlin also stresses the importance of obedience and the fulfillment of the duties of one’s own state in life. In humbly obeying our superiors or by accepting those things in our lives that we cannot change – and thus, have to accept as God’s Will (or, in Kolbe’s understanding, as the will of the Immaculata) – we may better please God and thereby sanctify ourselves. Additionally, Kolbe always paid much attention to the fulfillment of our duties. If doing carefully what our tasks are – also as in the case of little children – we please God. Father Stehlin says that this sense of dutifulness is even more important than saying some extra prayers.
The way that Maximilian Kolbe has presented this new role which we are to assume is, indeed, beautiful. He says it is very little we do, but we will be fully transformed from a lukewarm Catholic into a spiritually vivid Catholic who is always ready to act and pray. The means for this spiritual awakening is our readiness, throughout the day, to offer everything we do – and be it just a cleaning of the kitchen or the filling out of bills – to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The smallest gift on our part will be turned by her and her holiness into a great Gift to God. By our little ejaculations throughout the day – sending little gifts of love up to heaven and always with the intention to help to save souls – we make ourselves more and more aware of heaven and its constant presence in our lives.
A little prayer, such as “Jesus and Mary, I love you, save souls,” or “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee, and also for all those who do not have recourse to Thee, especially for the Masons and for all those who are commended to Thee” will turn our hearts more and more into apostles of the Immaculate. (Here, Father Stehlin stresses that, in 80% of occasions of sin, an immediate ejaculation like this could avert that sin.) While we offer ourselves as the tools (Kolbe uses the image of a hand broom or a cloth), she makes us holy and useful instruments for her struggle against the influence of the evil one in this world. The triumph of her Immaculate Heart of Mary, according to Father Stehlin, will be spiritual. It will not be that she appears in the sky, but, rather, that she wins one soul after another for God and rescues it from the snares of the devil.
That is to say, by our simple act of offering ourselves to the Immaculate as Her Knights, she turns us effectively into useful tools, doing what she knows needs to be done now – in this time of history, at our own place, and at this specific moment.
In this effort, the Miraculous Medal has a great importance. Let us become apostles of the Miraculous Medal, giving it out wherever we go and to whomever we meet. I always like to think of the medal as little seeds that we spread and that then the Blessed Mother makes grow – at her own timing. Since we are so poor and weak, we are just to assist the Blessed Mother by simply giving the medal to others. She does the rest.
I can picture this kind of spiritual warfare to be exciting and exhilarating. Father Stehlin himself can give witness to the immense growth of the MI since its restored foundation in 2000. (The MI originally founded by Kolbe himself is still in existence, but has unfortunately changed its name into “Mission of the Immaculate,” which diminishes the sense of spiritual combat. Similarly, the Kolbean spirit seems to have been softened and adapted here to the post-Vatican II atmosphere.) Many souls have been enkindled, many souls have converted. Since 2017 is coming up – and with it the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima – the Militia Immaculatae might gain even more in importance and weight. Since we know that the last battle between the Lord and Satan is about marriage and the family – as Cardinal Caffarra has again recently told us, by quoting Sister Lucy herself – it seems only fitting to turn to the Blessed Mother in order to help her fight the enemies of her Son. She has also been called the “vanquisher of heretics.”
I also do not consider it an accident that, of all orders in the Catholic Church, it was the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate (FFI) who were the first to be cruelly attacked, and then unjustly treated by Pope Francis himself almost as soon as he ascended the Throne of Peter. The FFI, in its own spirituality, is fully and whole-heartedly, following the guidance of St. Maximilian Kolbe. I remember how after the destruction of that beautiful order started, I looked at their official website. When I saw a video describing their charism as uniting themselves with the Cross of Christ, I had tears in my eyes and said to my husband: “They now carry the Cross for all of us!”
If we all, each one of us, carry each of our little crosses in this same spirit, united with one another in love, knowing that others are also doing the same, and trusting in the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I believe we will be able to do much good.
The Militia Immaculatae, under the guidance of St. Maximilian Kolbe himself, had grown quickly and had more than 100,000 members, especially in Eastern Europe. More than 100 saints and martyrs sprang from it, martyrs dying in the Communist camps in Eastern Europe. By the early 1960s, the MI had three million members. After a regrettable weakening of the MI in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, it is my hope that it may now once again spring up and become a strong instrument of the Immaculata.
These are but a few insights and aspects that came to be clearer and more inspirational to me simply through the blessed participation of my relative in Father Stehlin’s inspiring retreat. I hope to learn more and to continue writing about this topic in the future. The fact that Saint Maximilian Kolbe’s apostolate was most importantly also an apostolate of the media should be very appealing to all of us who try to fight for the Faith with our own publications. To me personally, this is, indeed, an apostolate that seems the best and most accessible way for all of us, in our own little way, in order to become useful and effective tools in the hands of the most pure – the Immaculate – Virgin Mother of God.
St. Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us.
Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us and guide us.