Since the Immaculate, the Queen of the Angels, interceded to gain Francis the grace of his call to be perfectly conformed to Christ; to die for love of His love who didst deign to die for love of his love; and since that love of Christ which impelled Him to accept crucifixion is no where more perfectly realized than in His love for His Virgin Mother and in her love for Him, we can begin to grasp how it came to pass that Francis founded an Order designed not only to make known the mystery of the Immaculate Conception, but to live that mystery of Mary Immaculate, Spouse of the Holy Spirit, for the prosperity of Holy Mother Church in her hour of need. Total consecration and total obedience to the Immaculate, the core of St. Maximilian’s spirituality, are not latter day accretions; they are the very essence of what it means to be a Franciscan, and which each of us already is implicitly by the fact that we have taken vows in the Order of St. Francis.
Thus, with perfect logic St. Maximilian writes: “The ideal of every member of the Militia of the Immaculate is to be the servant and child of the Immaculate, and this out of love, as a slave, as her property and possession, irrevocably and forever. It is our ideal to become Her own, of Her.” The style here reminds us, not of some mindless kind of obedience divorced from the truth, but of that of St. Francis in describing perfect obedience in terms of a corpse, and locating the heart of the Order at the “Portiuncula,” where he so specially honored the Mother of Truth Incarnate.
“We must strive that in all things we love Jesus as She did. And,” continues St. Maximilian, “may our love reach that height that it might be the very own love of the Immacu1ate one.” That, as was noted, is precisely the kind of love St. Francis had for Jesus.
The basis for this consecration is to be found, says St. Maximilian, in the example of Christ himself:
“The Savior, the God-man, came into this world and began His mission, His teaching of the way to heaven, beginning with His dependence on the Immaculate Virgin, as a child would depend on its mother, fulfilling faithfully the fourth commandment for thirty-three years of his presence on earth, honoring His Mother and serving her in all things, and so fulfilling the will of God the Father. And from that moment on, no one can become like Jesus who in imitation of Him does not honor the Immaculate One.”
We should carefully note how the honor and obedience Jesus paid His Mother until death was for Him the way He came to fulfill the first commandment on the Cross. And in acceding to His Mother’s prayer for Francis and in calling Him to most perfect conformity with Himself, confirmed in the miracle of the Stigmata, He, in fact, willed that Francis should know and love the mystery of the Immaculate Conception. All the essential elements of the Franciscan way are what they are in reference to the Immaculate.
“When we become like unto Her and our whole religious life has Her as its source,” he writes to the clerics of the Order, “our obedience will be supernatural, for then it is her will. Chastity will be her virginity; poverty will be Her super-humanness. Our soul is hers and she rules our intellect that we may see her will in religious obedience and so not spare any diligence in seeking for the truth. She also rules our will that we may love nothing beyond her own; thus in her will, we will come to know God’s will in the will of Jesus Christ’s Most Sacred Heart. Our body is Hers that she may freely dispose of our efforts. All we have is hers, therefore, we have perfect poverty and use things only enough to achieve their purpose.”
All of this, as St. Francis would note, converges on the perfect, heroic obedience by which we truly honor the Immaculate and implement the primary goal of our calling — conformity with Christ. In this consists total consecration. For, writes St. Maximilian, “Her will does not differ from the will of God. Calling upon her will without reserve, you manifest a love for the will of God, for her will is so perfect that in nothing does it differ from His. Thus you give glory to God that He created so perfect a creature and took her for His Mother.”
The following passages from the writings of St. Maximilian recapitulate the theology and history of our Order in view of that total consecration characteristic of our present moment.
“The will of the Immaculate is strictly united to the will of the Holy Spirit and to the extent that it identifies with it. That is why in consecrating ourselves to the Immaculate One and doing her will, we also give ourselves to Jesus to do His will… Every prayer through the intercession of the Immaculate Virgin and every act of fulfilling her will brings God glory and honors Him most perfectly, for it affirms His immeasurable almighty power, because He created so perfect, consummate and holy a being. The Immaculate One, then, is that unique source of providing a hoist that raises us to God.”
“The near seven centuries of controversy over recognizing the truth of the Immaculate Conception of Mary is hardly the first part of the whole matter, but a necessary condition, in order to get on with the work. What kind of work? That of realizing the effects of that truth in the hearts of everyone, be ginning with ourself; overseeing the growth and fruitfulness of conversions. The Immaculate One, revealed at Lourdes, speaks the language of our Order: ‘Penance, penance, penance,’ and reminds the ‘Order of Penance’ that She wishes to use it to enter hearts, to keep people from excesses of all kinds, to rule them, to guide them to self-abnegation, and to true happiness, to God. She desires to prepare in souls a throne of Divine Love for the Heart of the Savior, and to teach us to love It and to burn with love of It…”
“We can consecrate ourselves to the Immaculate One in various ways, and express it in differently constructed forms and words; in fact, a simple act of the will would suffice, for that, really, is the essence of such a consecration. However, there exists a certain formula which would embody the spirit of the M.I.:
‘O Immaculate Queen of heaven and earth, refuge of sinners and Mother most loving, You to whom God entrusted the entire order of mercy, I, an unworthy sinner, cast myself at Your feet, humbly pleading that You would deign to accept me completely and totally as Your property and possession, and do with me and all my powers of soul and body and with all my life, and death, and eternity, whatever is pleasing to you… ’”
“For the rebirth of the Order even the most wise rules will not do, though supported and maintained by the most severe penalties. Here one needs supernatural grace in order to sanctify the religious. In that the Immaculate One is the Mediatrix of all Graces, whom more than she should we approach? For the more we do, the more fruitfully we will live on. And, doubtless, the most perfect form of coming into contact with Her is through total consecration to the Immaculate, not only by individual brothers, monasteries and provinces, but by the Order as such, for it is the Order which requires the rebirth. Already today the breath of the Immaculate begins to revive those members of the Order who, in a particular way, have come close to Her.”
How will it be accomplished that all things will be deified in her? The first condition is essential. Those who are to work must themselves give good example; to understand the spirit they must themselves be captivated by it. To become her instruments, to allow her to act, they must totally and unreservedly consecrate themselves to her… Hence, apart from the Rule and Constitutions of the M.I., the diploma also obliges to a deeper incarnation of the ideals in our lives. This is the essential aspect of the preparation on the spiritual level of all called to work… The Rule and Constitutions must be applied more deeply so that it will be possible to consecrate oneself more totally to the Immaculate: the will through obedience, the body through chastity, conveniences of life through poverty. We are to consecrate everything to her so as to become her perfect instruments. There is no verbal formula. The more perfectly we consecrate ourselves without reserve, the better.”