O Immaculate, Queen of Heaven and earth, I know I am unworthy to approach you, to fall on my knees before you with my face to the ground, but because I love you so much, I dare beg you to be good enough to deign to tell me who you are. For I wish to know you more and more, endlessly more, and love you more and more ardently, with boundless zeal. Also, I wish to reveal to other souls who you are, that an ever increasing number of souls may know you ever more perfectly and love you ever more ardently, so that you become the Queen of all the hearts that beat and will beat on earth at any time, and that as soon as possible, as soon as possible.
Some still do not know your name at all. Others, plunged in the mud of immorality, dare not look up to you; still others believe they have no need of you in order to achieve the purpose of their lives. Yet there are also some whom Satan—who refused to recognize you as his Queen and was thus turned from an angel into a devil—prevents from bending their knees before you.
Many are those who love you, who are fond of you, but how few are those who for love of you are willing to do anything, to labor, to suffer, and even to sacrifice their lives. When will you, O Lady, reign supreme in all hearts and in each one individually? When will all the inhabitants of the earth acknowledge you as Mother, the heavenly Father as Father, and in doing so finally feel like brothers?
— From the writings of St. Maximilian M. Kolbe, SK 1307
Toward the end of his earthly life, St. Maximilian began to dictate a series of notes in view of compiling a book on the Immaculate. While his final arrest on February 17, 1941, prevented the completion of this manuscript, still we find therein an altogether unique and inspired theological contribution regarding the person of the Blessed Virgin Mary, pertaining in particular to the mystery of the Immaculate Conception and its relation to the mystery of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, while the Saint never left behind a completed, comprehensive theological or Mariological treatise, the substance of what he did leave behind, particularly in these notes, suggests that we are confronted with one of those rare saints who ascended to the divine heights on the two wings of speculative genius and contemplative mysticism.1
Like all other mysteries which form part of the deposit of Faith, our minds have hardly begun to grasp the import of the truth of the Immaculate Conception. Yet, for the Martyr of Charity, it is very necessary for us to devote our full attention to plumbing its depths, for, by God’s design, this mystery is the key to our own sanctification and advancement along the royal road to Paradise:
What is the Immaculate? Who will ever understand [the mystery] perfectly? Mary, Mother of God, the Immaculate—in fact the “Immaculate Conception” itself, as she chose to call herself at Lourdes. We know what “Mother” means, but we cannot comprehend “of God” with [the power of] reason, with our finite minds. Only God Himself knows perfectly what “the Immaculate” means. We do understand the phrase Immaculata Concepta2 somewhat, but Immaculata Conceptio is full of the most consoling mysteries.
If the Immaculate wishes, we will organize a Marian Academy to study, teach and publish all over the world what the Immaculate is. Perhaps an academy with a doctorate in Mariology. Thus, it is still a relatively unknown field, and yet so necessary for practical life, for the conversion and sanctification of souls.3
And so our Saint, rapt in admiration of this wondrous mystery and wishing to worthily convey its sublimity to others, takes to prayer to give full vent to his desire to know and to love the person of the Immaculate and to make her known and loved by all souls, for she is eminently lovable and worth knowing by means of a knowledge and love that saves: “He who finds me finds life” (Prov 8:8).
Examples of this sort of prayer abound in the writings of the saints, particularly in prayers directed to God himself. We find one of the most famous expressions of this prayerful desire for God in the Proslogion of St. Anselm:
What shall your servant do, tormented by love of you and yet cast off “far from your sight” (Ps 31: 22)? He yearns to see you and your countenance is too far away from him. He desires to come close to you, and your dwelling place is inaccessible. He longs to find you and does not know where you are. He is eager to seek you out and he does not know your countenance. Lord, you are my God and my Lord, and never have I seen you. You have created me and re-created me and you have given me all the good things I possess, and still I do not know you. In fine, I was made in order to see you, and I have not yet accomplished what I was made for…
Let me discern your light, whether it be from afar or from the depths. Teach me to seek you, and reveal yourself to me as I seek, because I can neither seek you if you do not teach me how, nor find you unless you reveal yourself. Let me seek you in desiring you; let me desire you in seeking you; let me find you in loving you; let me love you in finding you…
I do not try, Lord to attain your lofty heights, because my understanding is in no way equal to it. But I do desire to understand your truth a little, that truth that my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand so that I may believe; but I believe so that I may understand. For I believe this also, that “unless I believe, I shall not understand” (Is 7:9).4
The saints remind us that God is the one who has placed this desire in our hearts in the first place—he who made those hearts of ours which find true repose only in him.5 Happy the man in whose heart is enkindled this holy desire! It is the beginning of his response to God’s prior initiative of love.
We see in St. Maximilian’s prayer an analogous desire to know and love Our Lady. The question immediately arises: is it licit to pray in this way, i.e., to address ourselves in prayer to a creature for a superior knowledge and love of that same creature, in the way that we are exhorted to do so before and with regard to God himself?
Only, St. Maximilian would answer, if this creature is the Immaculate Conception, the Spouse of the Holy Spirit6—so closely united to the Holy Spirit that the Saint would refer to the Immaculate as “the Holy Spirit quasi-incarnate”7 and the Holy Spirit as the “uncreated Immaculate Conception.”8 We contemplate, therefore, in this creature, a perfect reflection of the Most Holy Trinity.
But she is more than a mere reflection, for she is “the love of all creation” and “woven into the love of the Blessed Trinity.”9 “If you say ‘Mary,’” writes St. Louis-Marie Grignon de Montfort, “she says ‘God’… When we praise her, when we love and honor her, when we present anything to her, then God is praised, honored and loved and receives our gift through Mary and in Mary.”10 St. Maximilian further elaborates:
In no other way than through her does the love of creatures reach Jesus and, through Him, the Father. Creatures are not always aware of this, and yet this is always the case. In practice, souls will appeal directly and with full liberty both to the Immaculate and to the divine Spirit, both to Jesus–Eternal Word and to the Heavenly Father. Yet, the more keenly a soul understands that all acts of love are addressed to the Father, who is the ultimate goal, and that in the Immaculate such acts take up an immaculate purity— while in Jesus they obtain infinite value worthy of the Holy Majesty of the Father—the more it will blaze forth with love for Jesus and Mary.
The soul offers to the Immaculate its acts of love, not as an object delivered to any mediator, but in property, in full and exclusive property, because it understands that the Immaculate offers such acts to Jesus as though they were hers; that is to say, she offers them to Jesus without stain, immaculate. Jesus then offers them to the Father. This way, the soul becomes more and more of the Immaculate, just as the Immaculate is of Jesus, and Jesus is the Father’s.11
By coming to know and love the Immaculate, then, not only do we learn to know and love the Father, but this in an eminent and most perfect manner, because we will come to know and love God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as she knows and loves them, with her knowledge and her love. There is no more perfect way to know and love God! It follows that if we persevere in our desire to know and love the Immaculate in the way expressed by St. Maximilian in his prayer, we come to be possessed by her very same desire to know and love God—a desire that sums up the desires of all creation!
We are now in a position to correctly parse this bold statement made by St. Maximilian to his confreres: “St. Francis [of Assisi] used to say, ‘My God and my all.’ The soul consecrated to the Immaculate can say in truthfulness, ‘My Immaculate and my all, my all, my all.’”12 Based on the above line of thought, it is not a question of substituting a creature for the Creator, but rather of allowing one’s spirit to be possessed, as it were, by the spirit of the Blessed Virgin, by way of faith working through charity, so that one may be sped along in and through our Mediatrix with Jesus to the pinnacle of divine wisdom. This is precisely what the Church Father, St. Ambrose, articulated some fifteen centuries before St. Maximilian, in a notable passage from his Commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke:
May the soul of Mary be in each one of you to proclaim the greatness of the Lord. Let the spirit of Mary be in each one of you to rejoice in God… The soul that has been able to reach this state [i.e., to come to possess her soul and her spirit] proclaims the greatness of the Lord just as Mary did and rejoices in God its Savior just like her… And thus the soul itself has some share in [God’s] greatness and is ennobled.13
Therefore, such a prayerful desire to know and love to a surpassing degree this creature who is the Immaculate Conception is not only licit, but we will come to realize, as St. Maximilian did, that, in truth, we cannot dispense ourselves from such a desire if we want to realize what is expressed by the eloquent prayer of St. Anselm.
“When will all the inhabitants of the earth acknowledge you as Mother, the heavenly Father as Father?” To acknowledge one is to acknowledge the other. To love one is to love the other. To love one is to participate in “all the love of creation,” summed up in this creature—the Immaculate Conception—the culmination of a worthy “reaction of love” to the loving action of the Father.
1 Not all contemporaries agree with this assessment. In particular, while they would not call into question the holiness of the Saint, some claim that there is a need to “correct” certain “aberrations” in his theological presentation, or else they are dismissive of his theological credentials. For a discussion on this issue and a refutation of the critics’ charges, see, for example, Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner, St. Maximilian M. Kolbe, Martyr of Charity, Pneumatologist: His Theology of the Holy Spirit (New Bedford: Academy of the Immaculate, 2004), pp. 155-177. The same author is preparing another volume, dedicated to the material St. Maximilian dictated for a book on the Immaculate, which will expand on this subject.
2 Conceived without sin.
3 SK 508.
4 St. Anselm, Proslogion, chapter 1.
5 Cf. St. Augustine, Confessions, chapter 1.
6 St. Francis of Assisi, Antiphon, Office of the Passion—a title reprised by St. Maximilian.
7 SK 1286.
8 SK 1318.
10 St. Louis-Marie Grignon de Montfort, Treatise on True Devotion to Mary, 225.
11 SK 1310.
12 Conference, June 20, 1937.
13 St. Ambrose, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, 2, 26-27.