Reflection on Greatness & Holiness #1004 in Volume 11 writings of St. Maximilian Kolbe

St. Maximilian expounds on the similarities and differences in his letter on “Greatness and Holiness” in the MI magazine Rycerz Niepokalanej, April 1922.  He covers various characteristics between a saint and a genius.  This reflection focuses only on the process and the ultimate goal of a saint and a genius as volumes can be written if everything was addressed.

Both the saint and the genius have lofty goals and are willing to make necessary sacrifices to achieve their ultimate goal. In so doing, both strive for perfection in the pursuit of reaching their aspirations in life, however, commendable whether it is in academics, spiritual, athletic or artistic endeavours, etc.  The end result, however, is different for the saint and the genius.

The saint’s goal is transcendental and seeks the perfection of doing the will of God.  The genius seeks perfection in a particular aspect of one’s life that may involve the intellectual, physical, emotional, or creative nature and the development of one’s talents and strengths. He is self-motivated by his own desires to achieve the glory that awaits the fulfillment of the pursued goal.  This person may not have holiness as the ultimate goal, but to leave one’s mark upon the world.  The saint, on the other hand, has his sight set on achieving the heights of holiness by way of self-denial and is wary of public adulation as an obstacle in the path of sanctification.  The glory the saint achieves is outside of the self and points to a higher source, the creator.

Since the goals differ for the saint and the genius, the process or the means in reaching the lofty heights are also different in important aspects.  Both are determined in their need to pursue their goal.  The saint relies not on one’s own effort, strengths, talents or skills.  Such a person becomes ever more conscious of one’s human limitations and weaknesses. To rely solely on one’s own effort and self-confidence is foolhardy to the saint as there is no doubt about one’s limited capacities and no illusion of having unlimited human potential.  Self-effort is expended to rise beyond the self to reach the fulfillment of all one’s desires by tapping into the true source of all life. Human weakness is transformed into a greater trust and love for the one who gives life and goodness to all humanity. The saint strives to grow in grace to achieve the lofty goal of holiness.  The genius who does not strive for holiness is bereft of this life-force that elevates the spirit and soul with renewed strength. If the genius views determination and self-effort alone as the primary motivation for one’s accomplishments, then the glory that comes from success is attributed to the self.  This will fade in time and this person will not accrue any further benefit at death if one centers only on the personal satisfaction, glory and adulation received. The process is essentially reliance on one’s own efforts to develop talents and skills and not dependency on the true source of the giver of life and all talents. The ultimate motivation becomes self-serving and not the divine purpose for being the recipient of talents.

The main difference between the genius and the saint is the orientation of all that they do in life and the means of doing so. If the genius’ orientation is towards his creator and the fulfillment of His purpose in life, he too can become both a saint and a genius.  The call to sainthood is for everyone, but the call to worldly greatness is reserved for the few and the elite. However, both the genius and the saint can be combined into the oneness of the personhood by the power of God if the will is fueled and directed by the Holy Spirit. Jesus is such an example to follow.

By Annette Leib (MI Canada President)

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