Tag Archives: sanctity



For Part 1 please click here.


In our own Age, the call to sanctity is more imperative than ever, if only because our race seems to be drifting further and further from God. The Blessed Virgin has appeared, notably at Fatima, to appeal for reparation. God has raised up a great Saint like St Therese of Lisieux to recruit an army of victim souls. The Popes have called upon all members of the Church to seek after integral Catholicism, which necessarily implies the practice of the lay apostolate.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the Providence of God should in these times offer sincere souls a means of sanctity, specially designed for those who must continue to live in the world.

Mary’s Army exists primarily to sanctify its members. To accomplish this, it has devised a unique scheme of spiritual formation designed to bring its members ever closer to God through frequent reception of the Sacraments, regular prayer, the practice of all the virtues and, most of all, devotion to Our Lady.

We are well aware that no one can take the slightest step towards sanctity without grace. Mary’s Army calls all its members to have the greatest devotion to the Holy Eucharist, the very Source of Grace. The Mass is the continuation among men of the Sacrifice of Calvary, containing all that Christ offered to God and all that He acquired for men. From Calvary, every Grace flows: hence, desiring to share plenteously in the gifts of Redemption, the Child of Mary has fervent and frequent recourse to Holy Mass, which he is particularly enjoined to hear in union with and in the spirit of Mary. Through him, Mary will re-enact her prayer on Calvary, the first fruits of which were the earliest converts to the Faith. With Her, he will unite himself to Christ, to be but a single victim, offered to God for the sins of men. [to be continued]

– Excerpts from Holiness Through Mary by Fr Francis Ripley, copied from a pamphlet by the Universal Rosary Association. For the Association’s contact details, please visit the link above (Part 1).



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It is a doctrine of St Thomas that angels not only differ numerically but that each one constitutes a different species in himself. Such a teaching gives us a wonderful insight into the nature of that multitudinous angelic host, and into the prodigality of God’s creative power in endowing with life and intelligence so many glorious spirits vastly superior to us in every attribute that we can conceive.

Not two leaves of the forest are exactly alike

In the material order we see a similar lavishness displayed in the stars of the firmament, in the living things of earth and sea; and yet not two leaves of the forest are exactly alike; not two drops of water or two particles of dust are identically similar. So it is, too, that among the myriads of human beings who have existed upon this earth no two have been indistinguishable from each other. We know as a certain fact that no two persons leave the same finger marks.

Each human person is unique

In the supernatural order things are similarly disposed by an all-wise Creator. “Just as He ordained,” says St Francis de Sales, “that plants for instance should bear fruit, each according to its kind, even so He has willed that Christians, the living plants of the Church, should bear fruits of piety, each according to his character and vocation.” Thus God distributes His gifts and graces in inexhaustible abundance, and yet with such diversity that it is impossible, so the saints tell us, for two human beings to possess those graces in exactly the same form and degree.

God never repeats Himself. We see that statement evidenced in the saints and holy men and women whom we venerate. All of them have had some points in which they differ one from another, some virtue which they practised otherwise and in a less greater degree than others: indeed, leaving others out of consideration, they have not applied themselves at all times with equal zeal or success to the cultivation of every form of holiness.

God never repeats Himself

Now if we enter into most of our Catholic art shops, we shall see there, exposed to view, pictures of the saints (saints who lived before the days of photography) and we would gather that they all had the same eyes, the same features, the same bodily deportment. And were it not that one holds a sceptre, another a lily, and another something else, you would never know which was St Louis of France, which St Aloysius, which somebody else.

Are the saints really too lofty and remote for us to imitate?

Of course there are seldom reliable portraits dating back to those times, and accordingly one can make excuses for those artists. But what is insupportable is when a writer, in describing the life and character of a saint does away with all that is distinctive in his life, and instead of dealing with facts, gives us an account only of those good deeds and virtues which recommend themselves to him and which he fancies that servant of God must have possessed or should have possessed. And what makes it worse is that, whereas the artists who perpetrate those pious images have perhaps never seen an authentic picture of the saints whom they depict, the writers of the saints’ lives referred to have had at their hand truthful sources on which they could draw, historical documents which they were free to consult. By neglecting these they have produced a work mainly of the imagination, a caricature more than a biography, something which has the effect of exciting our doubts instead of offering us examples which we might follow. We have indeed to be thankful that this style of hagiography has been, in the last thirty years or more, markedly on the decline, and we may congratulate ourselves that we have among us those who write saints’ lives as they should be written.

We do not do the saints justice by glossing over their faults and shortcomings

If there is anything that rouses the wrath of the mild St Francis de Sales it is when the class of writers first alluded to make it their object to pass over in silence, as much as possible, all mention of the failings or sins of those same saints and exaggerate almost beyond credibility their good points and qualities. “We are guilty of no injustice to them,” says St Francis, a Doctor of the Church, “if besides giving an account of their virtues, we also represent what were their weaknesses and deficiencies. We need not fear that in doing so we take away from the high esteem in which they are held.” Pius XI, in his encyclical Rerum Omnium (1923), explicitly condemns as erroneous the proposition that “those who have attained the summits of Christian perfection did not suffer the same weakness of nature as other men, or were not exposed to the same dangers.”

There has been, however, a class of hagiographers whose practice has certainly not been founded on these principles. Their procedure was to take the broad lines of the saint’s life and embroider upon them just those facts which they deemed edifying and pious, and carefully to eliminate all failings, all imperfections even, which they imagine might tend to lower ever so little the esteem in which the holiness of their saint might be held.

“Stained-glass-window” saints

We may take an example from the life of St Francis de Sales himself. At the end of a letter to Madame de Chantal – a great saint writing to another great saint – we find, “Bonjour, Mon unique, ma très chère, mon incomparable chère fille.” This was too much for the English translator, who did not scruple to render this delightful ending by the curt “Good day, my child.” And it is in this way that the writings of the saints have often been treated. It is not fair either to them, or to the Catholic reader. And thus it is that not merely isolated sentences have been bowdlerised, but the entire lives of many servants of God have been mutilated, dressed up, garbled, “edited” (as the saying is) – everything that is thought disparaging to the saint being carefully excluded. Thus, until comparatively recent years, it was an entirely different Aloysius who was offered for our admiration, an ethereal, unapproachable, “stained-glass-window” saint – not perhaps very lovable in consequence. It is difficult to understand what these goody-goody writers mean to achieve. Sometimes they are quite incomprehensible. A story is told of one who in a conversation ventured to say that he could wish that the Canticle of Canticles [Song of Songs] was not in the Bible. And when it was remarked to him that after all the text was inspired by the Holy Ghost, he replied: “Well, it was not one of His happiest…” Fortunately he stopped there, but it was easy to see what he had in mind. The incident shows, however, to what lengths unconscious prudery may sometimes lead.

Through the saints’ example, we are to be encouraged to rise up from the quagmire of our sins and failings

But to return to our theme. The considerations which have been laid before the reader have an important bearing on the subject of the imitation of the saints. We are therefore to be careful not to put them on a pinnacle where it is impossible for ordinary mortals to reach them, and where even saintly souls can only make the attempt on occasion and imperfectly. A badly-written saint’s life is one which makes the reader exclaim, “Oh, but that was a great saint, and I am not called to speak or act as he spoke or acted.”

When, on the other hand, we take up a life written on the lines laid down by Pope Pius XI, a life in which all the imperfections, faults, mistakes of the saint are exposed boldly and without concealment, a life which was perhaps stained by many sins and delinquencies, and yet was subsequently adorned with the most sublime virtues, we are encouraged to rise up too from the quagmire of our own sins and failings.

“What these have done I can do also”

On reading the lives of saints who had gone before them, both St Augustine and St Ignatius exclaimed: “What these have done I can do also.” And though the sentence as it stands is not strictly correct, it serves to show how the example of the saints can incite us to deeds of penance and to the practice of perfection.

Yes, what others have done, we can do also, but only on the condition that the grace of God accompanies and assists us all through as it assisted them. “Without me,” says our Saviour, “ye can do nothing – certainly not follow in the footsteps of the saints.

No two saints are exactly alike

Now the graces that were bestowed on these favoured servants of God were given to them for a special purpose, and were accommodated to their characters and to the circumstances of time and place in which they lived. Hence no two saints are alike, inasmuch as the actual graces afforded to each have all been different; and similarly no two ordinary men can be alike in the spiritual order, to say nothing of the natural.

Accordingly there may be a fallacy in the statement that the saints were given us in order that we should imitate them. In point of fact we may endeavour to reproduce in ourselves one or the other of these holy men in some detail of their conduct or of their life, but beyond that we cannot go.

Can we “copy” a saint?

In the lives of the Fathers of the Desert, we read that many of them made it their chief effort to study the methods and actions of those amongst their number who were most in renown for their holiness and spirit of mortification, in order that they should copy them and attain a similar degree of sanctity. Such a desire may be in itself laudable, but it is not without dangers.

In Egypt it was soon to degenerate into a sort of ambition for each to outdo his neighbour, or even those very men on whom they were striving to model themselves, a rivalry which pushed them to go one better in the penitential and ascetic life, and aim at what we should call holding the record.

The danger of vainglory

St Anthony, and others among the Fathers, were aware of this tendency and frequently warned their flock, hermits as they might be or cenobites, against such competitive spirit, which could only lead, they said, to vainglory or pride in those who succeeded: and worse still, to envy and jealousy in those who failed, because they had not the stamina to keep up the pace. And these often lost their vocation in consequence.

At what point do we leave safe ground?

And the same danger exists in our own time. If by imitating a saint we mean drawing edification from his example, or even seeking to resemble him in certain points of conduct, we are on safe ground, provided the imitation be in keeping with our state of life and other obligations. But if what we aim at is the copying in ourselves of the life of any particular saint, we are off the right track. Indeed many canonised saints are more to be wondered at than imitated, says a holy writer. They acted on the impulse of the grace given them. We have not been given that grace, and until we actually receive it, we should be very imprudent if we sought to do what they did with that grace. We may wonder at St Benedict Labre and his vermin, but we should be acting very wrongly in trying to be like him. All men are certainly not obliged to follow the Poverello in his practice of poverty, but all would benefit by endeavouring to resemble him in his love of poverty and detaching themselves from this world. So we may not emulate St Patrick in his (probably) legendary daily recital of the Psalter and other long devotions, but the recital of our own prayers could not but gain if we put into them some of the intensity of his prayer.

It is no doubt helpful to have some great model proposed to us as an example for our own life, but the masters of the spiritual life warn us very earnestly against making a slavish copy of the original. And the reason is that what was for a particular personality in special circumstances the right course to adopt, or the right thing to do, cannot without further investigation be right for other men in other conditions.

A principle which was not always well understood

This is a principle which in former times was not always well understood. But with the progress of ascetical science – for ascetics is a science, in which study and research can bring to light much that was unknown or dimly realised in the past – it has come to be generally acknowledged that every saint has his own personality, his particular cachet or stamp, wherein he cannot be imitated by others.The Almighty never intended that the life of any saint should be a sort of prototype, a photographic negative, from which any number of copies could be struck off, all alike, and more to follow if wanted.

“All these things one and the same Spirit worketh, dividing to every one according as he will” (1Cor. 12:2)

A final consideration on the subject may be drawn from the teaching of St Paul. “To every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the giving of Christ” (Eph. 15:7). And after describing to the Corinthians the different gifts which God imparts to men, he concludes: “All these things one and the same Spirit worketh, dividing to every one according as he will” (1Cor. 12:2). Holiness indeed is always the same, inasmuch as it implies man’s entire conformity with the will of God.

That Divine Will, however, as it affects us, has a regard to our personality and idiosyncracy and mental constitution. Grace and nature go together: the one supposes the other. Grace does not destroy what we have received in the natural order but it raises and ennobles it in each one according to his own disposition, given to him at the outset; and in each one too according to the station and occupation in life to which he has been called.

We never can be like any saint: we may attain a distant resemblance in one or two respects. But our imitation will never result in producing a portrait. And God never intended that it should. We might take as a principle of conduct that is true in the supernatural order as well as in the natural, the well-known lines in Hamlet:

This above all: – to thine own self be true; and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.

Let us take ourselves – and we are all different – as God has made us, and by imitating the saints in those things that fit in with our characters, disposition, and circumstances of life, we may hope and pray that, God aiding, we shall arrive at that degree of holiness to which He has called us.

Attaining the degree of holiness to which God has called us

Saints are found in every class and condition of life, among queens and kings, among the lowly-born, among the servants and slaves (when slavery existed) and among the many who occupied no conspicuous position in the eyes of the world but were just ordinary folk. There is no Catholic who cannot by fervent exercise of his religion reach a high degree of sanctity, and it is by striving to be as much of a saint as with God’s grace he can be that he will find his greatest consolation on earth.

– From: Lift Up Your Hearts, Christopher J. Wilmot, S.J., The Catholic Book Club, London, 1949

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Posted by on February 21, 2016 in Words of Wisdom


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The Monotony of Life

For most people living on this earth it must be confessed that life is monotonous. If not a suffering, it is at any rate one of those things from which most are glad to escape and they seek to do this by getting such distractions and amusements as the world offers them and they can afford to buy.

Many are glad to escape “boring lives”

These distractions and amusements have become more numerous with the material progress that has been made in the last hundred years and more. So we find people hurrying off to cinemas or listening in to the wireless, snatching a week off at the seaside or going off in a motor-coach to some beauty spot that is within reach of their homes and their money.

The general hunt for distractions and amusements

The disastrous wars through which we have passed have, however, considerably curtailed their means of so finding change and pleasure. If they are not people who find their help and consolation in religion, they are inclined to grumble and to express their feelings in such phrases as “I am fed up.”

“I am fed up”

The monotony of their lives is represented by the houses in which the majority of them live, long streets of drab-looking buildings, each one a repetition (outwardly at least) of its neighbour. If you are going into London, for instance, you will see from your carriage window long processions of such streets, with never a tree or a flower-bed to relieve their ugliness. It makes one think how cheerless must be the lives of the people who live in such surroundings.

Having learnt how to face this monotony of life

But, apart from other good people, there will be good Catholic Christians living in those houses, who have learnt how to face this monotony of life. They will know that whether in a town, or perhaps even more so in the country in some little village or isolated farmhouse, one day is much like another and there is very little variety to break the humdrum of existence.

This world is not a playground in which we must look for nothing but pleasure and amusement

Since the fall of man this world is no longer the paradise that God originally designed it. It is not a playground in which we must look for nothing but pleasure and amusement. Rather it has become a drill-ground where monotony necessarily finds a place to train and mould us to a state that will make us pleasing to God. That is why Jesus Christ, “the way, the truth, and the life”, spent the greater part of His life in a state of obscurity, whose monotony for thirty years was rarely relieved and yet the sanctity of which, year by year, day by day, hour by hour, was an unbroken succession of infinite merits.

The Way, the Truth, and the Life

But for our purposes, perhaps we can better consider the matter in the life of St Joseph, who lived this life of monotony from start to finish. After Our Blessed Lord and Our Lady, St Joseph, as we know, was the greatest of God’s saints, proved as it is by the fact that he was chosen for that unique and special office – to be the foster-father of the Incarnate God.

He showed none of those exterior signs by which greatness is gauged by the world

Yet how little was he known to men while he was on this earth. Outside the village of Nazareth, where monotony marked his every day, no one had any knowledge of him. In the village itself he would not have been regarded as a person of any special note or distinction. He was just the village carpenter – a good, trustworthy and honest workman but nothing more. He lived a quiet monotonous life and died as quiet and as unnoticed as he had lived.

No one could have guessed how truly great he was, because he showed none of those exterior signs by which greatness is gauged by the world or by the ordinary men and women in the world. Even in the early centuries of the Church, St Joseph remained obscure and there was no special devotion to him. The reason for this, perhaps, was that the Church wished first that the fact of the Virgin-Birth of Our Lord should be well I established and that there should be no mistake about His paternity. However that be, it remains that no life of this very great Saint could have been more hidden and obscure, not only during his lifetime but even for some considerable time after it.

“Love to be unknown and to be accounted a nobody”

It all emphasises the value of a hidden life of monotony, that real virtue is best exercised and fostered under such conditions and that all who aim at perfection strive to lead such a life, as far as possible to do so. “Ama nesciri et pro nihilo reputari” (Love to be unknown and to be accounted a nobody) is the dictum of à Kempis.

He is indifferent to what men may know or think about him

A really religious man is glad when he is engaged in work that is monotonous and calls for no special recognition. He is not anxious to be in any sort of limelight and takes care to avoid it whenever he can. He does not push himself forward to call attention to himself and his doings. He may rightly think that there is not much to which he can call attention. He is carrying on the same way every day of his life, as so many others are doing. He is content to do just what God wills and is indifferent to what men may know or think about him.

He is content to do just what God wills

So we may see that though from an external point of view a man’s life may be monotonous, it does not follow that there is not a great deal of variety and change going on within his soul.

This was proved in the hidden life of St Joseph, where he was practising the most heroic virtue and was subjected to the greatest trials without which sanctity is impossible. What an agony of mind he endured when he learned that Our Lady had conceived. He wished at first secretly to put her away. He could not think that she had done any wrong and yet there was no explanation of what had happened. His faith in God was rewarded, for it was told him a little later that this conception was miraculous. Though before he finally settled down at Nazareth, there were two events that broke the monotony of his life, they were both such as were fraught with much suffering to himself.

A sense of humiliation and failure

The journey up to Bethlehem, where our Blessed Saviour was born and whither St Joseph had to repair to comply with the order of the census-taking, brought to him much humiliation and trial. Refused admittance to the inn, he had to wander about to find a place where Mary’s Son could be born; and then defeated, as it were, in his quest, had nothing else to offer his Virgin Spouse but the rough stable or cave that gave shelter to cattle. The joy that must have been at the birth of the Redeemer was a reward for all the humiliations and sense of failure that had preceded it.

An immense privilege

The other event that broke the monotony of his life was the order “to fly into Egypt with the Mother and her Son”. This again was no journey of pleasure. To ordinary human thinking it seemed so unnecessary: it involved, too, so many inconveniences, difficulties and hardships. But there was no hesitation on St Joseph’s part in obeying the will of God, as conveyed to him by the message of the angel. Then at length when they had returned to Nazareth, there set in those years of persistent monotony, only relieved by visits to Jerusalem to assist at the religious festivals to which the Jewish law summoned them. But settled at Nazareth where, year after year and day after day he could have found little change, as the “Village Carpenter” he pursued his humble calling. It was in his soul that there was change and variety, for he was experiencing ever greater knowledge of God and growing in virtue, as his union with, and his love of God mounted, having Him now in human form, the Child and then the Boy, to whom he was privileged to be guardian and foster-father.

It was in his soul that there was much change and variety

But the great world knew none of this. St Joseph died as he had lived, unknown, a person of no consequence or importance to a world that understands nothing of the hidden grandeur and nobility of a very holy soul.

He experienced ever greater knowledge of the Divine and was growing in virtue, as his union with, and his love of God increased

But, of course, to God he was known and to the God-Man who, now sitting at the right hand of His Father, has long since found place for His beloved foster-father near Himself. The whole court of heaven, amid the acclamations of all the heavenly hosts, welcomed to his eternal glory him who, after the Queen of Angels, was received as the greatest of God’s saints.

The greatness of St Joseph, so long unrecognised on earth, has now been acknowledged by his being proclaimed by our sovereign pontiffs the Universal Patron of the Church; innumerable churches throughout the whole Catholic world have been dedicated to him to his honour: many Congregations of Religious, both men and women, have been founded and established with his name and are consecrated to promote devotion to him. It is with his name on our lips, together with the names of Jesus and Mary, that we pray for the happiness of a good death.

An entire resignation to God’s will

The whole purpose of this conference is to show us that though our lives be monotonous and of no interest whatsoever to the world about us they need not be dull or valueless. On the contrary, as the hidden lives of Our Blessed Lord and of St Joseph prove, they may be filled with an ever changing and increasing glory of virtue. It is only necessary to accept the monotony of life with an entire resignation to God’s will and to lead the lives of fervent Catholics, making use of all the means of grace that God offers us in Holy Mass, the Sacraments and all the services of the Church.

Freedom and joy far beyond ordinary human understanding 

Such lives will gradually make us independent of this world: we shall be detached from a longing for the amusements and distractions of this passing show on earth, and find our consolation in serving God who, as in the case of St Joseph, will, if not always now, yet infallibly hereafter, fill us with His own joy and eternal happiness.

– From: Lift Up Your Hearts, Christopher J. Wilmot, The Catholic Book Club, London, 1949




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[From the Bishop of Shrewsbury, Bishop Mark Davies]

“…The bishop also emphasised the importance of the personal call to holiness and listed practical ways of responding. He said: ‘Conversation is a definite step towards becoming a saint. Exhausted after a hard day’s work but willing to sit down with your children and listen patiently to them, this too can be a step towards holiness.

Making time for prayer each day even when we are tired: this is a sure step towards holiness. Being ready for Mass on Sunday, and at times making a good Confession,’ which ‘cleans us up’ Pope Francis says, these are vital steps towards holiness. He adds that thinking of Our Lady, the Pope says, ‘so good, so beautiful’ and taking up the rosary to pray, this is yet another step towards holiness.

Meeting someone in need, making time and being willing to help are real steps towards becoming the saint we are called to be.

In other words the call to holiness is not found up in the clouds or in our dreams. The call to become a saint is right in front of us every day!’

He concluded: ‘May Mary, who in Pope Francis’s words is ‘so good, so beautiful,’ help us recognise how in these apparently small things of each day is the path to our holiness, to our complete and everlasting happiness.'”

– This is an excerpt of the article “Bishop Davies gives faithful his tips for a holy life” by Madeleine Teahan, published in The Catholic Herald newspaper issue November 28 2014. For subscriptions please visit (external link).


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“Jesus prays, ‘sanctify them’, that is, ‘perfect them and make them holy. And do this in the truth’, that is, in me, your Son, who am the truth (Jn 14:6).

It is like saying: Make them share in my perfection and holiness (sanctity). And thus he adds, ‘your word’, that is, your Word, is the truth. The meaning is then: Sanctify them in me, the truth, because I, your Word, am the truth.

Or, we could say this: Sanctify them, by sending the Holy Spirit. And do this in the truth, that is, the knowledge of the truths of the faith and of your commandments: ‘You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free’ (John 8:32). For we are sanctified by faith and the knowledge of the truth: ‘the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe’ (Rm 3:22).

The righteousness of God through faith for all who believe

He adds, ‘your word is truth’, because the truth of God’s words is unmixed with falsity: ‘All the words of my mouth are righteous; there is nothing twisted or crooked in them’ (Pr 8:8). Further, his word teaches the uncreated truth.

Another interpretation: In the Old Testament everything set aside for divine worship was said to be sanctified: ‘Then bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel to serve me as priests’ (Ex 28:1). Accordingly he says, ‘sanctify them’, that is, set them aside, in truth, that is, to preach your truth, because your word, which they are to preach, is truth.”

– St Thomas Aquinas

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Posted by on August 8, 2015 in Words of Wisdom


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Perfectionism is the enemy of efficiency

“An old adage says that ‘the best is the enemy of the good.’ The meaning is that a person who is never content with anything less than perfection may end up accomplishing little or nothing. A psychologist probably would rephrase the maxim to read, ‘Perfectionism is the enemy of efficiency.’

We need to be able to say, ‘It is good enough’

There is a fable of the sculptor who having carved a fine statue, was dissatisfied with his work. He made one more cut with his chisel. This necessitated another cut, and this in turn still another. Gradually the statue diminished in size until finally it had disappeared, with nothing left but a pile of stone fragments.

Whether we are carving a statue, writing a book, arranging a business deal or scrubbing a floor, there must come a time when we say, ‘It is good enough,’ and get on to something else.

We are never ‘good enough’ as far as our spiritual growth is concerned

This principle has an application in our spiritual lives. It is true that we never are ‘good enough’ as far as our spiritual growth is concerned. Since Jesus has set for us the ideal to ‘be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,’ we never may establish a lower goal for ourselves. However, we can and must learn to be content to be as good as we can be today.

Sanctity is the art of the possible

Sanctity, like diplomacy, is the art of the possible. A saint is above all a realist. He does not waste valuable time and energy in dreaming of great things which he may do for God tomorrow or next year when circumstances may be more propitious. He concentrates on doing the little things which he can do for God today and under the circumstances in which he presently finds himself.

The late President Kennedy, in one of his speeches, quoted the proverb that a long journey begins with the first step. That is something which we must learn, we who are far from sainthood but who do have good will. A parent may say, for example, ‘I wish that I had more time for spiritual reading and prayer. I am sure that when my family is raised I can be a much better Christian.

That, of course, is nonsense. The busiest parent (and non-parent, too) can be just as good today, in proportion to his opportunities and circumstances, as he can [at a later stage]. All too often we use the promise of our future imagined goodness to excuse ourselves from present effort.

Today matters

Five minutes of daily spiritual reading now will be more pleasing to God than the hoped-for hour twenty years from now. A periodic and fervent, ‘My God, I love You,’ during today’s hectic rush will mean more to God (and to self) than hypothetical hours of contemplation in later leisure years. One or two less cigarettes or drinks today will be more spiritually profitable than a projected complete abstinence ‘when I’m not under so much tension.’

Proceeding to do it

With some of us it may be a form of perfectionism; with others it may be simple procrastination – this making of future imagined greatness an excuse for neglecting the lesser but real possibilities of the present. Whichever it is, perfectionism or procrastination, we shall have made a long step towards heaven when we have learned to be content to do what we can do for God today – and proceed to do it.

God is well aware of all the limitations which surround us

Whatever the present circumstances of our life may be, we have not come to those circumstances by accident. Unless we have involved ourselves in an adverse situation by our own sin, we know that our present status is God’s will for us. It cannot be, either from His viewpoint or from the viewpoint of of our own ultimate best interests, an hour unfavourable environment. It is the environment in which we can and must grow in holiness.

We shall do so by making use of whatever small opportunities each day may offer. Above all we shall do so by accepting whatever limitations our state in life, our work and responsibilities may place upon us. God is well aware of all the limitations which surround us. He asks only that we do for Him what we can – today. 

– Fr. Leo J. Trese, One Step Enough, 1966


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O my Jesus,
I beg You on behalf of the whole Church:
grant it love and the light of Your Spirit,
give power to the words of priests
so that hardened hearts
might be brought to repentance
and return to You.

Lord, give us holy priests;
You Yourself maintain them in holiness.
O Divine and Great High Priest,
may the power of Your mercy
accompany them everywhere and protect them
from the devil’s traps and snares which are
continually being set for the souls of priests.

May the power of Your mercy,
O Lord, shatter and bring to naught
all that might tarnish the sanctity of priests,
for You can do all things. Amen.


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St Maximilian Kolbe was born on January 7, 1894 in the village of Pabianice. His parents were the factory worker Julius Kolbe and his wife Maria. The second of three sons (the first was called Franciszek, the last Jozef), St Maximilian Kolbe received the baptismal name Raymond. The brothers were brought up rather strictly. Raymond was a very lively boy who gave his mother plenty to worry about. Mrs Kolbe wanted to raise her children for God’s glory, yet she could scarcely restrain Raymond. One day, when he had once again caused her serious trouble, she looked at him sadly and sighed, “Ah, my poor boy, what will become of you?” This thought bothered ten-year-old Raymond and didn’t let go of him for a long time.


His mother related later that, following this incident, Raymond changed. She noticed that henceforth he obeyed, and it was remarkable how calm and sensible he was becoming. Raymond would quite often vanish behind a cupboard in the room where a picture of Our Lady of Czestochowa stood on the home altar. One day he tearfully confessed to his mother: “Do you know, Mama, when you said the other day you wondered what will become of me, I felt very sorry, and I prayed to the Mother of God to ask her what will happen to me in future. Then she appeared to me, in her hands she held two crowns, one white and the other red. She looked at me kindly and asked me, ‘Which one do you want? The white crown means you will preserve your purity; the red one that you will die as a martyr.’ So I answered the Blessed Mother: I choose both of them, whereupon she smiled at me and then disappeared.” He chose both crowns.


Such great love for Mary had probably been instilled in him by his mother. From then on during his entire life he wanted to do everything for Mary and, through her, for her Divine Son and to win every heart for her. Raymond was a clever lad who was particularly interested in practical applications of technology. In the beginning, though, he was not able to go to school – not because he was not intelligent enough, but because there was no money to pay school fees for him. He learned reading and writing at home, from his parents. Only the oldest boy, Franciszek, was supposed to have the opportunity to study. In order to finance this, Mrs Kolbe took charge of a small grocery shop. Since she also helped out as a midwife, Raymond had to help out in the shop and with household tasks, too.


Still, the Mother of God helped Raymond by an unusual path to an education. One day he had to go to Mr Kotowski, the pharmacist, who was a friendly chap. He was quite surprised when Raymond mentioned, without hesitation, the Latin name of the medicine he had been sent to fetch. The pharmacist enquired what school Raymond was attending. He replied, though, “I don’t. I have to stay home and assist my parents. But my brother goes to school and may become a priest. My parents are just too poor to let us both study.” The pharmacist Mr Kotowski then said that he would be willing to give Raymond Latin lessons and to help in other ways, so that not only Franciszek but also Raymond could study.


In 1907 the Franciscans held a parish mission in Pabianice and on this occasion sought to inspire young people to consider religious life. Franciszek and Raymond were accepted into the Franciscan minor seminary in Lemberg, the capital of Galicia, a province of Austria at the time.


In the novitiate, which Raymond began as Brother Maximilian, he was not spared a struggle about the religious and priestly vocations; dreadful doubts tormented him. At the age of seventeen, on September 11, 1911, Brother Maximilian Kolbe took temporary vows. His superiors had discovered his extraordinary talents, and therefore they sent him to study in Rome.


On the feast of All Saints in the year 1914 Brother Maximilian Kolbe made his perpetual vows and consecrated his entire life to the Lord Jesus Christ and his immaculately conceived Virgin Mother Mary. The brilliant Brother finished his studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University (1912-1915) with a doctorate in philosophy and his studies at the St Bonaventure Theological Faculty (1915-1919) with a doctorate in theology.


More than academic achievements, however, he was intent on acquiring true sanctity and an ever growing appreciation of the exalted dignity of his heavenly Mother, to whom he had consecrated his life. About this he said later on: “It is an excellent thing to study Mariology, but let us always bear in mind that we become better acquainted with the Immaculata by humble prayer and the loving experience of everyday life than through wise definitions, argumentation, and subtle distinctions, even though these are not to be despised by any means.”


In Rome the young religious seminarian contracted tuberculosis of the lungs. No one had given a second thought to his flushed cheeks, his cold hands, and his chillblains because he never complained. After the outbreak of the First World War, though, he started to cough up blood from time to time, and, as his condition worsened, he suffered violent hemorrhages of the lungs. Brother Maximilian still remained cheerful through it all and thought that he would soon bid farewell to this world and be united in heaven with the Immaculata whom he loved so dearly. Nevertheless, his sanctity was full of fighting spirit. For instance, he could no longer bear to look on while the Freemasons in Rome were perpetrating their mischief to celebrate the second centenary of the founding of their Lodge. Now, full of holy indignation, he wanted to act, and on October 16, 1917 – three days after the final appearance of Mary at Fatima – he founded the Militia Immaculatae.


Father Maximilian was ordained a priest on April 28, 1918, in Rome, and then, in the Church of San Andrea delle fratte – where the immaculately conceived Mother of God had appeared to Alphonse Marie Ratisbonne, a Jew – he celebrated his first Holy Mass at the altar of Our Lady of Grace. In 1935, at the command of his superior, Father Kolbe wrote down a precise account of how the Militia of the Immaculata had originated.


Since Father Guardian now has made it my duty to give a report about the beginnings of the Militia of the Immaculata (M.I.), I want to write down what I still remember. I recall how as a little boy I bought a statue of the Madonna for a kopek. At the boarding school in Lemberg I threw myself to the ground during Holy Mass and promised the Mother of God, who is enthroned above the altar as Queen, that I would fight for her. I really didn’t know where to start; I was thinking of a battle with real weapons. During the novitiate I took the novice master, Father Dionysius Sowiak, into my confidence and spoke to him about this difficulty. Father Dionysius, who had since passed away, changed my promise into the obligation to pray daily the prayer “We fly to thy patronage…” I still pray it today, although I now know which battle the Immaculata had in mind. Although I had a strong tendency to pride, the Immaculata brought me more and more under her influence. In my cell I had hanging over my prie-dieu the picture of a saint to whom the Mother of God had appeared. I called him often. A religious who noticed it said to me, “You must have a great devotion to this saint!”


As the carryings-on of the Freemasons in Rome increased in arrogance and vulgarity – under the windows of the Vatican they unfurled a satanic banner, a horrible distortion that pictured Lucifer casting the Archangel Michael to the ground, and they distributed to the crowds filthy and demeaning pamphlets against the Holy Father – the thought occurred to me of founding an alliance against the Freemasons and other devilish powers. In order to make sure whether this thought came from the Immaculata, I sought counsel from the Jesuit priest Allessandro Basile, who was the confessor of our college. He commanded me, under obedience, to set aside my fears, and I decided to get to work at once…


Apart from the first members (Brother Glowinski, Brother Antonio Mansi, and Brother Enrico Granata) no one in the college knew anything about the Militia Immaculatae. Only Father Rector, Stefano Ignudi, was in on the secret, since the M.I. undertook nothing without his permission: in obedience the Immaculata makes known her will. So it happened that, with the permission of Father Rector, on October 17, 1917, there was a meeting of the first seven members…


For a whole year after this first meeting the M.I. Made no progress. Even the members were afraid to speak about it. One even tried to persuade the others that it was all pointless. During this time two from our group, who were truly the elect, went to the Immaculata: Brother Anton Glowinski and, thirteen days later, Brother Antonio Mansi, both carried off by influenza. I myself had a serious relapse and was coughing and spitting blood. Excused from attending lectures, I had the time to write down the programme for the Militia Immaculatae that we had worked out, so as to submit a copy to the general of the order, Father Taviani, and ask for his blessing. “Oh, if there were at least twelve of you!” He exclaimed, and gave us his blessing in writing with the request that the Militia Immaculatae be propagated among the youth. From this day on new members continued to join. In the first phase of its existence the Militia Immaculatae had no other duties than to pray and to distribute the Miraculous Medal.


The most important points in the programme of the Militia of the Immaculata, which the members or “Knights” were to work and fight for, were: (1) their own sanctification, (2) the conversion of sinners, (3) the reunification of those separated from the Church through heresy or schism, and (4) the battle against the machinery of the Freemasons; all of this under the patronage and with the help of the Immaculata.


Father Maximilian Kolbe attributed the project’s turn for the better to the two founders who had died: “They went on to the Immaculata to promote the cause.” Afterwards, whenever he had to make important decisions, he called on his intercession in heaven, and he was conscious of their help. He said: “When things threaten to go wrong, the Immaculata calls one of us to herself, so as to help more effectively. Here below we can only work with one hand, because we need the other hand to hold fast to the Immaculata so that we don’t fall. In heaven we will have both hands free, and the Mother of God will be our Guardian.”


In July 1919 the young priest Father Maximilian Kolbe returned to Poland. According to the doctor’s prognosis, his tuberculosis was so far advanced that he was given only three more months to live. The young Franciscan became a professor in Krakow. Filled with holy zeal, he tried to promote the Militia of the Immaculata among his confreres, but he met with little understanding. They called him a dreamer and a visionary. Since his confreres could not be won over to the Militia Immaculatae, he turned to the laity. In the Italian Hall in Krakow he conducted a meeting every month. To start with there were only a handful, but on a monthly basis more and more showed up to listen and to be caught up in the enthusiasm of the sickly priest, as he explained the four means that the “Knight off the Immaculata” should apply in battling for the Immaculata: good example, prayer, work and suffering, all for the honour of the Immaculata and in her spirit. He himself set the example, for his personality was radiant with an inner fire that seemed to consume him. He knew that prayer is by far more effective than uninterrupted work, although work, of course, must be done also. He set the highest value on the fourth point, suffering. He said:


When grace inflames our heart, then it brings about in us a true hunger for suffering, for unlimited suffering, for humiliation and disdain, so that through our suffering we can demonstrate our love to our heavenly Father and our beloved Mother, the Immaculata. For suffering is a school of love. And our activity will be the greater when it is carried out in exterior and interior darkness, when we are sad, weary, and desolate as a result of failure and abandoned by all, despised and mocked like Jesus on the Cross; if we only pray with all our might for our persecutors and desire by all means to lead them through the Immaculata to God. We must not feel hurt if we do not see the fruits of our labour. Maybe it is the will of God that they be harvested only after our death.


Suffering now hit Father Maximilian Kolbe with its full force. At the end of 1919 he had a serious setback with respect to his health. In January 1920 he was sent to a sanatorium in Zakopane. Yet even here, in his zeal for souls, he gave himself no rest. In December 1920 his superiors allowed him to return to Krakow. Afire with zeal, though he had only half of one lung left, he threw himself into his work again and regularly gave lectures at the meetings of the Knights of the Militia of the Immaculata at the Italian Hall in Krakow.


Since more and more people came, some from distances, Father Maximilian Kolbe felt a pressing need to publish a small newspaper. He asked his superiors for permission to do so. They allowed it, on the condition that he raise the necessary funds himself. So he began to beg. That was an extremely difficult sacrifice for him, for he could scarcely bring himself to beg for alms. But the sacrifice was rewarded. Thanks to his mendicant visits from door to door through Krakow, and with the help of the Knights of the Militia of the Immaculata, he was able to collect the money to print the first edition of ‘Knights of the Immaculata’ in January 1922. For the subsequent editions the money for the printer was almost never available, but the Immaculata herself miraculously provided it over and over again. By the year 1924 the circulation of the newspaper had grown to twelve thousand, and in 1925 it reached thirty thousand. Father Maximilian Kolbe, who had to write all the articles for the newspaper himself, used clear, simple language to remind the readers of the most important truths of the faith. First and foremost he promoted true devotion to Mary and, with a subtle understanding of their psychology, prepared his compatriots to make the consecration of their lives to the Immaculata, which indeed was supposed to be the purpose and goal of the Militia of the Immaculata.


Finally they were even able to buy a printing press to print the newspaper. But now the noise caused by the printing and dispatching of the newspapers became too much for Father Kolbe’s confreres in the Franciscan friary in Krakow. The old priests were accustomed to a quiet life and could not stand the commotion any more. So Father Maximilian Kolbe was transferred to Grodno, where the friary was large enough. There three rooms could be put at his disposal, one for the print shop, one for the dispatch department, and one for the management of the newspaper. The editor’s desk remained in Father Maximilian’s cell.


The newspaper was thriving. Eventually still more rooms of the friary were made available for his work, and new machines were procured, too. But the director of the whole undertaking had completely worn himself down again. He had to return to Zakopane for another eighteen months in the sanatorium.


On one occasion Father Maximilian Kolbe placed his eyeglasses and his clock at the foot of Our Lady’s statue and declared: “My glasses stand for my eyes, my thoughts, my work; while the clock stands for the remaining time that I have. It all belongs to her, to her alone; nothing is to belong to me any more. I have given everything to her, she may do with it as she pleases.”


Meanwhile, the number of novices at the community in Grodno increased considerably. By the time the patient in Zakopane had recuperated and returned to Grodno, the friary there was literally overflowing with the lay brothers who had entered so as to dedicate themselves to the work of Father Maximilian. There was no more room. The only solution was a new foundation.


For that the community first needed land on which to build. A suitable piece of land in the vicinity of Warsaw was advertised to be on sale. There was no money, though, to purchase it. In his unbounded confidence in the Immaculata, the friar placed her statue in the middle of the property, silently hoping that the heavenly Mother would help with the purchase. Negotiations began. The provincial found the proposed purchase price much too high and declined. Father Maximilian Kolbe obediently reported to the owner of the property, Prince Drutski-Lubetski, that the community was not in a position to buy the building site. “What will happen to the statue, then?” the prince asked. Father Maximilian answered: “It can stay there.” The prince thought for a moment. Then he said, “Well, in that case, take the property; you can have it for free.” Now the provincial approved also. In the machine room of the friary in Grodno, though, Father Maximilian asked his co-workers, “Get on your knees, my sons, we’re going to thank the dear Blessed Mother.”


Now work began on the building site. Many people from the area volunteered their help. On the feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin in 1927, construction had progressed to where the Brothers could leave the friary in Grodno and move into barracks in the newly built city of the Immaculata, Niepokalanow. From that day on, when the Brothers had the chance to work for their city, their heroism knew no bounds. One building after another went up, until the complex looked like a little industrial city. The circulation of the newspaper ‘Knights of the Immaculata’ increased from one year to the next, until in 1939 the number of subscribers reached one million. The driving force behind all this was Father Maximilian Kolbe, with his boundless love for the Immaculata. He explained it this way in one of his written works:


Maria Immaculata: the Immaculate Conception is our ideal. If we draw close to her, we will become more and more like her. Let us allow her to take possession of our hearts and of our whole being, so that she can live and work in us and so that she can love God through us with our hearts; for we belong to her completely and absolutely, she is our ideal. Let us apply ourselves, right where we are, to winning other people for her, so that the hearts of our fellow men, too, will be open to her, so that she can reign in the hearts of all people, whatever corner of the world they may live in, without distinction as to race, nationality, or language, and so too in the hearts of all, at whatever moment in history they will live, until the end of the ages, she is our ideal.
– This is an excerpt from the book “Neue Heilige der katholischen Kirche” by Ferdinand Holboeck (Christiania Verlag, Stein am Rhein, 1991)


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God deals with us very differently; conviction comes slowly to some men, quickly to others; in some it is the result of much thought and many reasonings, in others of a sudden illumination…

Some men are converted merely by entering a Catholic Church; others are converted merely by reading one book; others by one doctrine. They feel the weight of their sins…or they are touched and overcome by the evident sanctity, beauty, and (as I may say) fragrance of the Catholic Religion.


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