Excerpts from the writings of Maximilian Kolbe
HOLINESS Volume II #1001
Rycerz Niepokalanej, March 1922
Man by nature tends to his own refinement, not only intellectual and physical, but also moral; so at all times in the history of mankind, we find people who are not only considered superior to the average individual, but also to learned scholars. These people are called saints.
Because of the fall of our first parents, human reason was clouded and has since been unable to find a clear way to spiritual self-improvement. At the same time, men’s weakened willpower did not have sufficient strength to embrace heroism; hence our obscure or false concepts of Holiness.
(Maximilian explains the various concepts of holiness in different religions and philosophers such as Plato, the Chinese philosophers, the Buddhists, the Muslims faith, and so on. Our purpose is to reflect on his Biblical concept of faith both in the Old Testament and the New Testament that is highlighted in this letter.)
In the Old Testament, the concept of holiness was closely attached to the idea of God. So, for example, we read in the book of Leviticus (20:26): “To me, therefore, you shall be sacred; for I, the LORD, am sacred, I, who have set you apart from the other nations to be my own”; and in the fourth chapter of the second book of Kings (4:9): “I know that he is a holy man of God.” But even there holiness is not perfect.
Only Jesus, by coming into the world, showed humanity the way to true holiness by example and word. The essence of holiness consists in loving God to the point of heroism. Its hallmark is the fulfillment of God’s will, especially as expressed in the commandments of God and of the Church in the duties of one’s state of life. Its means are (1) continuous self-vigilance in order to know one’s flaws and uproot them, engraft the virtues, cultivate them, develop them to higher degrees; and (2) prayer, whereby the soul obtains God’s supernatural graces, indispensable to spiritual progress. In all saints, prayer takes a prominent place.
The most important stages of prayer are vocal prayer, meditation, and contemplation. In contemplation, God at times draws the soul very close to Himself, in which case the soul dazzled by unearthly light and kindled with love, enters a state of ecstasy, which has nothing in common with natural enchantments. That is, however, neither indispensable nor necessary to achieve holiness.
Pope Benedict XIV said: “To canonize a servant of God, it will suffice to have enough evidence that he practiced the virtues he had the chance to practice in a sublime and heroic way according to his circumstances and his station.” Consequently, as H. Joly says, “the Church has numbered in the rank of saints, not only monks, along with princes and princesses, kings and queens, emperors and empresses, but also merchants, teachers, greengrocers, farmers, shepherds, lawyers and doctors, bankers and clerks, beggars and servants, craftsmen, shoemakers, carpenters and blacksmiths.”
The rather widespread notion that the saints were not like us is simply false. They also were subject to temptation, also fell and got up again, felt oppressed by sadness, weakened, and paralyzed by discouragement. However, mindful of the words of the Savior “Apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5) and those of Paul: “I have strength for everything in him who strengthens me.” (Phil.4:13), they did not rely on themselves, but, putting all their trust in God, after every fall, they humbled themselves; they sincerely repented, cleansed their soul in the sacrament of Penance, and then set down to work with even greater fervor. In this way, their falls served them as steps toward an ever greater perfection and they became lighter and lighter.
When St. Scholastica asked her brother St. Benedict what was needed to achieve holiness, she received this reply: “You must want to.”
Fr. M. K.
We are all called to holiness, the questions to ask ourselves are:
Do we want to be holy?
What does holiness mean to me?
Can I attain holiness on my own?
What means are available to me to achieve this call?
How do I respond to that call in my state in life?
Pray and ask Maximilian to help you find genuine answers to some of these questions.
“By Annette Leib, President, M.I. Canada”.