St. Maxmilian Kolbe is my favorite saint. He lived a truly eucharistic life of missionary zeal, radiant holiness, and sacrificial love. Yet, his life of holiness was no accident; he did not wake up one morning a saint. Rather, his holiness was the result of constant spiritual effort that cultivated an intimate relationship with our Blessed Mother, with whom he was deeply in love, and a burning love for the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Maximilian, born Raymond, entered the Conventual Franciscan Novitiate at the young age of 16. Much of his spiritual development occurred during these formative years, as well as his years in preparation for the priesthood. Reading his journal entries during this period of his life, one is struck by three major themes: his ongoing health problems, his transformative relationship with his spiritual director, and his struggles with scrupulosity.
The whole arc of his interior journey is too long to relate here, but suffice it to say that young Raymond struggled with deep scrupulosity, due in part to his own tender conscience, as well as to the intense Franciscan formation he had to undergo. This scrupulosity was healed by Fr. Luigi Bondini, his spiritual director, who essentially ordered him to stop worrying have confidence and faith in the Immaculate Virgin and in the mercy of God. Maxmilian developed a close relationship with Fr. Bondini, and his spiritual wisdom and advice on everything from taking care of his health to practical details of organization literally transformed young Maximilian’s life.
By the time of his ordination on April 28, 1918, his journal entries reflect that the fearful, anxiety-ridden Maximilian is gone, and a portrait of a humble, confident, and holy young friar emerges. He speaks ceaselessly of the virtues of trust and humility, and of his burning desire to be the greatest saint possible.
In preparation for his ordination, Maximilian engaged in a series of spiritual exercises. Thankfully, he recorded some of his key reflections in his journal from April 21-27, 1918. While the whole entry is too long to share here, the young Maximilian sketches out a plan, a rule of life that every Catholic man should imitate. It is rich with wisdom on the ascetical and spiritual life, and it is a profound glimpse into the mind of one of the last century’s greatest saints.
Below are his beautiful words, edited for brevity. Any emphasis is from Maximilian himself.
Follow your daily schedule very faithfully and you will be saved.
Start serving God this very day.
This may be the last day of your life. Live as if this day were your last.
Tomorrow is uncertain, yesterday no longer belongs to you, only the present is yours.
There is an ear that listens to all things, an eye that peruses all the most secret emotions of your heart, a hand that notes down each thing.
Not being punished is the worst of punishments.
“I judged no one, therefore I trust God will not judge me either” [cf. Mt 7:1]
St. Francis de Sales: “Loyalty in the observance of rules is the most pleasing sacrifice to God: it is mortification and penance.”
Be in love with the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Each of your actions will be recorded forever.
Choose the worst things in eating, dressing, and in tasks, and you will be dear to Jesus.
Souls in purgatory. For sinners, for the Holy Church: pray and work.
Make up for wasted time with fervor.
Maximilian, be holy; if others have managed, why could you not do it as well? If you believe it, if you desire it, with God’s help you may still become a saint. Yes, you can, you can.
Be a man, be a Christian, be a friar.
Be a man.
Do not be ashamed of your convictions.
Do unto others what you wish were done unto yourself.
Have a sense of duty, perform it well, without worrying that someone is watching (with noble ambition).
Do not worry about the evil that is in others.
Be a Catholic.
When you kneel before the altar, let people know that you are aware of Whom you are kneeling before.
Be a religious.
Good intention in work is like the number “1” in front of zeroes.
Men deprive themselves of great treasures when they work without good intention.
As you rise up, so you will spend the whole day.
Your every action is recorded. Nothing is left without punishment or reward.
You could die even today!
Be collected; he who breaks away soon loses the graces he as acquired. A full drawer is always closed.
[At this point, St. Maximilian enters an extended reflection on humility, and how to practice it.]
Kolbe, M. (2016). The writings of St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe. Lugano : Nerbini International.