St. Maximilian Kolbe (Church of England feast day: August 14) says, “Never be afraid of loving the Blessed Virgin too much. You can never love her more than Jesus does.” Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish Franciscan friar who was imprisoned in Auschwitz on 28 May 1941. Two months later, three prisoners escaped from the camp. In response, ten other prisoners were selected to be starved to death, as a deterrent to future escapes. One of them, upon being seized, cried out, “My wife! My children!” Friar Maximilian volunteered to take his place. He has been called “martyr of charity”. Eyewitnesses in the prison spoke of Friar Maximilian’s love for Mary.
On December 8, many parts of the Christian Church (including the Church of England) celebrate The Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Some in the Church speak of “immaculate conception”. Pope Pius IX, in 1854, declared, “the most blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and in view of the merits of Christ Jesus the Saviour of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin”. Now, Anglicans question whether this doctrine must be held by believers as a matter of faith (as it is presented to Roman Catholics), but the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) nonetheless states:
The negative notion of ‘sinlessness’ runs the risk of obscuring the fullness of Christ’s saving work. It is not so much that Mary lacks something which other human beings ‘have’, namely sin, but that the glorious grace of God filled her life from the beginning. The holiness which is our end in Christ (cf. 1 John 3:2-3) was seen, by unmerited grace, in Mary, the prototype of the hope of grace for humankind as a whole…The Scriptures point to the efficacy of Christ’s atoning sacrifice even for those who preceded him in time (cf. 1 Peter 3:19, John 8:56, 1 Corinthians 10:4)…In view of her vocation to be the mother of the Holy One (Luke 1:35), we can affirm (together) that Christ’s redeeming work reached ‘back’ in Mary to the depths of her being, and to her earliest beginnings. This is not contrary to the teaching of Scripture, and, indeed, can only be understood in the light of Scripture.
The moral of the story? Well, “sinlessness” speaks to fullness of love. Fullness of love speaks to closeness. Perhaps we really do have a close co-sojourner, Mary, who responds, in our regard, to Jesus’ new commandment. “Behold your mother” (John 19:27) Jesus says to John and, through and beyond John, to each one of us who wish to encounter and receive her. Why the gift? Because love radiates, and because this gift leads us, in special ways, to the Gift-Giver. Dare I say, Mary journeys with us, teaching us to receive anew our Lord, to open our minds and hearts so to deepen the intimacy of our bond with Christ.