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October’s Other Great Marian Centenary… The Founding Of The Militia Of The Immaculata

September 28, 2017 Featured Today No Comments


This month of October the Church throughout the world will be commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the culminating apparition of Our Lady of Fatima and the miracle of the sun that accompanied it, witnessed by tens of thousands.
What has received far less attention is that this month of October will also mark the centenary of another milestone of Marian devotion. On the evening of October 16, 1917, just three days after the Fatima apparition, seven Franciscan friars quietly assembled in a room at Rome’s International College of the Franciscan Fathers. Gathering around a table before a statue of our Lady flanked by two lit candles, this tiny “band of brothers” deliberated to consider the “war plan” that one of them had composed. It had been inspired by a thought that had been coming to him as he attended Mass — that he wanted to fight for the Blessed Virgin Mary.
And during that October in Rome, there had been much to convince this young friar, Maximilian Kolbe, that a spiritual war was on, a war far more pivotal than the tragic world war that was then raging in Europe. In the streets of Rome, the Freemasons were celebrating their hatred for the Catholic Church, brandishing a banner that depicted Satan trampling underfoot St. Michael the Archangel. As appalling as these public demonstrations were, Friar Maximilian recognized that by far the greatest threat came from that choice weapon of the enemies of Christ, the campaign to undermine traditional morality.
Their tactic, he later wrote, was to unleash a “flood of moral filth,” to drown souls “in a sewage of art and literature aimed at undermining their moral sentiment” (“The History,” June 1939, in The Writings of Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe, ed. Antonella Di Piazza, FKMI, Lugano, Italy: Nerbini International, 2016, n. 1328, p. 2312).
Friar Maximilian was at first unsure how he was to carry out his aspiration to fight for our Lady. Yet in the meantime, he was being “battle-hardened” for his mission. During a soccer match, he suddenly began coughing up blood, the first sign that he had contracted tuberculosis. An abatement of his symptoms, albeit temporary, gave him the opportunity to discuss with other friars the idea of founding a new Marian association.
The plan that Friar Maximilian presented to his confreres on the evening of October 16, 1917 was both very simple and very ambitious: to convert sinners, heretics, schismatics, and particularly the Freemasons by means of the patronage and intercession of the Immaculata. To achieve this, those willing to enlist in this Militia Immaculatae (“Knighthood of the Immaculata”), as he was to name it, were to give themselves totally to her as “an instrument in her immaculate hands,” wearing as a sign of their commitment the Miraculous Medal.
Just one prayer was proposed to members to add to their devotions, the Miraculous Medal invocation, “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you,” to which Friar Maximilian added the words, “and for all those who do not have recourse to you, especially the Freemasons” (“Militia of the Immaculata,” Writings, volume 2, n. 1368, p. 2359).
As for the apostolic action of the Militia Immaculatae, Friar Maximilian decided to give members wide latitude in deciding for themselves, as their own zeal and prudence prompted them, how to carry out the work of the Immaculata according to the particular circumstances of their state in life and the particular situations that presented themselves, albeit with the Miraculous Medal as their weapon of choice.
The seven friars present on that October evening in Rome all voted to ratify this mission plan. The year that followed proved to be very discouraging, culminating with two of their number dying from the Spanish flu, and with Friar Maximilian suffering a serious worsening of his tuberculosis. But amid this darkness there was light, the Ordination of Maximilian to the priesthood on April 28, 1918. It cannot have been a mere coincidence that this new champion of Marian consecration was ordained on the death anniversary and future feast day of the Church’s first apostle of Marian consecration, St. Louis Marie de Montfort (+1716).
Fr. Kolbe returned to his native Poland in July 1919, by now so gravely ill that his doctors thought he had no more than three months left to live. Yet it was at this time that his great enterprise for our Lady, the Militia Immaculatae, began to grow and flourish. In a November 1919 conference to Franciscan MI members, Fr. Kolbe explained: “The only reason for the existence and activity of the MI is love, a love without limits” for the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in response to His love without limits for us (conference of November 15, 1919, n. 1248, pp. 2160=2162), a love on our part directed toward “the salvation and greatest sanctification of the greatest possible number of souls” (ibid., p. 2164). Able to speak from his own experience, he added that suffering is “the nourishment and strength of love” (ibid., p. 2167).
Fr. Kolbe describes as the “essence” of the MI “consecrating ourselves unconditionally, totally, and forever to the Blessed Immaculate Virgin Mary, as instruments in her immaculate hands” (Rycerz Niepokalanej, May 1922, Writings, volume 2, n. 1007, p. 1806).
Reflecting upon the MI’s apostolate of converting souls, Fr. Kolbe noted that the achievement of conversion involves almost always “the especially notable presence of Mary’s hand” (ibid., p. 1805). In defining what it means to be an efficacious instrument in the Blessed Virgin’s hands, he stresses above all else the virtue of obedience, obedience to the will of God, obedience to the will of our Lady, and obedience to the Church and to all those set in authority over us.
There is also the need to have total trust in the intercession of the Immaculata, that she is “so powerful that even one of her desires is enough to bend immediately God’s Infinite Heart” (conference of November 15, 1919, Writings, volume 2, n. 1248, p. 2168).
The Miraculous Medal, which every MI member is required to wear, is “the best weapon” of the MI, “the bullet with which the loyal ‘knight’ engages in battle against the enemy, that is, against evil, thereby saving the wicked” (ibid., p. 2163).
Elsewhere, Fr. Kolbe describes the recitation of the MI’s adaptation of the Miraculous Medal prayer as a battle “tool,” as “well-aimed, daily blows on the head and limbs of the infernal serpent” (Rycerz Niepokalanej, July 1922, Writings, volume 2, n. 1013, p. 1814). Fr. Kolbe explains that the Militia Immaculatae’s efforts to battle the enemies of the Church is not a battle with “fists” or for “retaliation,” but quite to the contrary a battle to “make them happy” by winning them for Christ and the Immaculata (Rycerz Niepokalanej, January 1923, Writings, volume 2, n. 1023, p. 1823).
In a 1931 letter Fr. Kolbe expresses the hope of winning over for Mary “each soul that exists now and will exist in the future” so that “her banner will be hoisted up even over the Kremlin” (Letter of June 6, 1931, Writings, volume 1, n. 343, p. 775). In the uncompleted manuscript for a book about the Blessed Virgin that he was writing, he describes the vocation of a Knight of the Immaculata as a mission “to win an ever greater number of souls, to conquer the whole world…in the shortest possible time” (“The Essence of the MI,” December 1937, Writings, volume 2, n. 1329, p. 2316).
In January of 1922 Fr. Kolbe produced the very first issue of Rycerz Niepokalanej, The Knight of the Immaculata, the periodical that would become the centerpiece of his ambitious media apostolate to win the whole world for Christ by promulgating consecration to the Immaculata. 1927 brought the foundation of Niepokalanow, the “City of the Immaculata,” the Franciscan friary that was to be the nerve center of the Militia Immaculatae, from which the MI was to spread across the globe.
On August 14, 1941 Fr. Kolbe taught the ultimate lesson as to what it means to love without limits in the service of the Immaculata, dying a martyr’s death in Auschwitz.
On a personal note, I myself have been a member of the Militia of the Immaculata since December 8, 1979.

The Wanderer

Speaking of October anniversaries, the apostolate of the printed word, and ambitious enterprises for the greater glory of God launched under the protection of our Lady, how can I conclude this essay without mentioning what the 150th anniversary of The Wanderer means to me?
From about 1971 until her death in 2014 my own dear mother was an avid subscriber to this newspaper that I now have the privilege of writing for — and there is no other Catholic newspaper for which I would rather be a columnist. For across many stormy decades The Wanderer has remained steadfast and faithful to the Church, faithful to her doctrine and her discipline, faithful to the eternal wisdom of her saints, and faithful to the See of St. Peter.
I have vivid memories of my mother reading to my late brother and me passages from the pages of The Wanderer that bore unflinching witness to the truth amid the chaos of the 1970s. May this newspaper continue to nourish future generations of Catholics through the loving intercession of the Queen of Heaven.

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