In 1924, St. Maximilian Kolbe wrote an article entitled “Our Tactics” for his magazine. His purpose was to outline and explain the essential means necessary to succeed in the spiritual life. His premise was that even though in the spiritual life we are not engaged in a conflict with flesh and blood, waging war with guns and ammunition, we are still fighting a real war. Success in this conflict requires that we have a battle plan.
The spiritual life is a battle because the eternal destiny of our souls hangs in the balance. God wants us to go to heaven and the devil wants us to go to hell. The battle is over our hearts, to which we alone hold the key. Everything hangs on the choice that we make, and the determination at the end of our lives is absolute, final and irrevocable. We are either totally victorious or totally destroyed.
St. Maximilian’s simple formula for victory in this fight is prayer, mortification and charity. Don’t let the simplicity of the plan fool you. It is all there. We’ll attempt to throw more light on these three requisites. Prayer, of course, is more important than anything else because while, on the one hand, the Holy Spirit tells us “without Me you can do nothing,” on the other, He says “all things are possible with God” (Jn 15:5; Lk 1:37). Our destiny then, is wholly beyond our natural strength, but nonetheless, God desires to empower us to attain what is above and beyond us. That is the definition of supernatural: “above and beyond nature.” So grace is the fuel for the engines of our war. It is the life of our soul and can only be obtained through recognition of our need and by an attitude of humility. Prayer gains everything and
nothing is gained without it.
Of course, St. Maximilian would remind us that the most effective prayer is that which is offered through the hands of the Immaculate. She is our conduit to heaven. She is our Advocate who brings our prayers to heaven, and our Mediatrix who dispenses God’s grace to us. The second requisite, mortification, is necessary because in order for us to live forever, that is, in order for us to survive the battle and be crowned victors, our old self must die. Our Lord says: “He who saves his life will lose it, but he who loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 10:39, 16:25; Mk 8:35; Lk 9:24, 17:33; Jn 12:25). The paradox of the Christian life is that in order to live we must die, like Christ. In the end, we all pass through the veil of death into eternity, but while we live, we must choose to die.
St. Bonaventure says: “‘My soul rather chooseth hanging and my bones death.’ He who chooses this death can see God because this is indubitably true: ‘Man shall not see me and live’ ” (Itinerarium Mentis in Deum, 7:6, quoting Job 7:15 and Ex 33:20). Thus, mortification is our daily, even hourly choice to impose death on all that is offensive to God, and even on that which is not convenient to our eternal salvation, such as inordinately seeking the attention of others and talking too much.
In particular, St. Maximilian reminds us, contrary to the Protestant understanding of justification, that our mortification, done in cooperation with God’s grace, in fact wins for us an increase of grace. Grace is always first, but we must cooperate and our cooperation is efficacious.
Finally, charity, the third requisite in this battle plan, is a necessary tactic because salvation and victory over our enemy is a matter of God’s everlasting love for us. If it is true that we are only saved by grace, and that God hears our prayers and gives us what we need, then it is for us a lesson in the fundamental importance of charity. It tells us that we, too, must have the generosity and selflessness of Christ. In fact, we are all united in Him as members of the same family and, ultimately, our victory is a triumph over that isolation which is pride and selfishness. Satan desires to bring about our destruction through the debilitating plague of inordinate self-love: charity foils his plan.
Furthermore, grace has truly united us as members of the same family and we can never be severed from the communion of Saints, except by sin. “No man is saved alone,” as the saying goes. Either we are a cohesive army, or we are a defeated army.
Prayer, mortification and charity: a simple strategy, but an unbeatable one. Not even the Prince of this World can withstand it. In union with Our Queen, and under Her banner, we are assured of victory if only we follow Her instructions and commands.