by Fr. Bryan Cunningham on 18/05/2011 -
Father Kentenich pointed out that the great conversation in the history of God’s people lies in their Covenant Dialogue with God. The golden thread which runs through the great events of the Bible is the Covenant. Each of the charismatic leaders Noah, Abraham, Moses and David made their Covenant with God and all their dealings with the people of God fall within the context of this Covenant: I will be your God you will be my people. (cf Ex 6:7, Ez 36:28). The Prophets were continually to remind God’s People that they belonged to God and God alone. Hosea tells us:
“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.vBut the more they were called, the more they went away from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images. It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them. (Hosea 11)
In the Gestapo prison in Koblenz Fr. Kentenich had a long time to think things over. He spent a month in solitude in an unlit cell in which he could neither stand nor lie down. In his letters from Carmel Prison following this interment in darkness we read how he joined in this great ‘conversation’ with the great leaders of God’s People in the time of the Old Testament. He was to explain to the Schoenstatt Family with a certain urgency the scope and depth of the spiritual way of the Covenant of Love. He wanted to insure almost as his last will and testament that the members of Schoenstatt would have the widest understanding of the Covenant since it was a lot more than pious devotion to Our Lady.
When he started with Schoenstatt he noted that he was going to get nowhere fast if he tried to lead the young men in his care using his own intuition and competence. He records very early on that the only way forward is ‘to learn to educate ourselves under the protection of Mary to become firm free priestly characters’. On a later occasion he explained that for us, Mary is the normal way to Jesus Christ. The Fathers of the Church have previously stated: The way by which Christ came to man should also be the way by which we should come to Christ, and Christ came to us through the Virgin. When we give Mary a privileged place in our hearts and we entrust ourselves to her education and intercession, then we are on the way to her Son. She then leads us to Christ and the Triune God. Fr. Kentenich followed the advice of Pope Pius X: Mary is not only the normal way to Christ. She is, according to the words of Pope St. Pius X, also the easiest, shortest and surest way to Christ. Fr. Kentenich was aware of how significant this ‘way’ had become. The Church was challenged through the changes in society particularly in the first half of the twentieth century. He was very much aware that a new vehicle of evangelization was needed if the mission of the Church was to be communicated in the twentieth and twenty-first century. The Christian image of humanity was seriously challenged.
Our vision of humanity essentially shapes the goals of formation we set. In the Covenant we see men and women within the mystery of being created in the image and likeness of God. Our aim is to develop their consciousness of being children of Father, members of the Body of Christ and temples of the Holy Spirit. This becomes a clear line of discernment out of which grows the line of action he followed The last century defined contra-images of the Christian vision of humanity. The vitalistic person is determined by his/her instincts who go with the flow – just do it – or as advertised recently on the London busses: ”There is no God so relax and enjoy yourself”. The materialistic person is defined according to their purchasing power – perhaps the root cause of the financial crisis lies in the dogma of need becoming greed. The collective image of humanity treats individuals as replaceable spare parts in the machine of society. In the fields of education we speak of personalised learning and mean a method.
When we consider the spiritual development of a man or woman we mean the person as an image of God. Fr. Kentenich wanted to develop a way of spiritual and moral education appropriate to the challenges humanity faced. The Covenant leading us to the heart of an every loving Father should counter these false images of humanity and of the Church and correct them. More than that, living the Covenant would give an experience of God as Father, as caring loving forgiving God who wants us to find a home in Him and help build his Kingdom. Only when we experience God like this do we turn to him in hope and follow him in love.
Fr. Kentenich faced the challenge of life in the secular world of the twentieth century. At the recent Beatification of Bl. Pope John Paul II our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI described this challenge when he said of his saintly predecessor that as the heir of the Second Vatican Council and of Paul VI he displayed the strength of a titan in inverting a seemingly irreversible process which was ‘closure towards Christ, the only Lord and Saviour of the world.’ He continued: ‘He rightly reclaimed for Christianity that impulse of hope which had in some sense faltered before Marxism and the ideology of progress. He legitimately restored to Christianity its true face…’
Fr. Kentenich’s way of the Covenant was about embarking on a journey in which our deep love and true devotion to Our Lady allow Mary, as Mother of the Church and of all believers, to shape in us the image of her Son so that we bear the imprint of her Son’s sacred countenance in our hearts and in turn reshape the world to reflect the face of the Redeemer. Mary’s mission is to help us regain the world for Christ and to lead the world to the heart of the Father. In St John’s Gospel we hear that to be in Christ is to be on the way to the Father: “Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.’ Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’ Jesus answered: ‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.’” (John 14)
In the Dachau Prayers Fr. Kentenich reflects often on the great gift of Christ in our lives and that his presence also his presence through the Sacrament of the Eucharist builds for us the spiritual way of union with God the Father. “You will constantly prepare my heart for the Spirit of Holiness who fills me with magnanimity and graciously satisfies my longing.If I remain so united with you, you will gradually transform me, and the Father will look on me from eternity with great delight. Through me he will build the city of peace, the promised City of God: there will be one flock and one shepherd leading the universe to the Father.” (JK in Heavenwards, Prayer after Holy Communion)
Concerned that his foundation would not see the full extend of the spiritual way of the Covenant of Love, which has its final aim in a covenant with God the Father, Fr. Kentenich wrote from prison and continually tried to show the wider horizon and deeper significance of our Covenant of Love with Mary, our Mother Thrice Admirable. He wrote to Sister Anna in October 1941
“I pray that as an October gift you may be given strong growth into the ‘full stature of Christ’, (Eph 4,13) to maturity, independence and daring in Christ. With Paul I pray,
‘I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.’
What Augustine called Inscriptio is described by Ignatius in that highly recommended prayer, ‘Accept, O Lord, my entire freedom, my memory, my intellect, my entire will and my entire heart. You have given everything to me, I give everything back to you without reserve; do what you please with it. There is only one thing I ask: Your grace, your love, your fruitfulness. Your grace, so that I may submit joyfully to your wish and will. Your love, so that I may always believe, know and at times feel that I am loved as the apple of your eye. Your fruitfulness, so that in you and the Blessed Mother I may bear rich fruit for our common work. Then I am more than rich, and I want nothing more.’
For us, a deeper internalization [of the Covenant spirit] consists in never separating the Blessed Mother from our Lord on our way to the Father, and never separating our Lord from his Mother, especially when we renew the our covenant and invite God to take us to a deeper level of commitment which includes participation on the Passion of the Lord. In practice this means that, together with the Blessed Mother, we want to make Golgotha, the altar and tabernacle our favourite place. Or, to experience the reality of Golgotha, the altar and tabernacle in our hearts, and so, heart in heart in holy three-in-oneness, go to the Father.” (JK Letters from Carmel Prison October 1941)
Pope Benedict thanked to the members of both houses of Parliament whom he addressed in Westminster Hall in September last year, for the opportunity ‘to reflect with (them) briefly on the proper place of religious belief within the political process.’ and pointed out that to ignore religion, especially Christianity and its values and the role religion plays in dialogue with politics – essentially to ignore the reality of God in our lives leads to shallow and unfulfilling solutions for the challenges of the modern age. The Holy Father explained: “If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident – herein lies the real challenge for democracy. The inadequacy of pragmatic, short-term solutions to complex social and ethical problems has been illustrated all too clearly by the recent global financial crisis. There is widespread agreement that the lack of a solid ethical foundation for economic activity has contributed to the grave difficulties now being experienced by millions of people throughout the world. Just as ‘every economic decision has a moral consequence’ (Caritas in Veritate, 37), so too in the political field, the ethical dimension of policy has far-reaching consequences that no government can afford to ignore.”
For Father Kentenich the solution to the significant challenges of the Secular Society lie in the personal bonds on a natural and on a supernatural level found in the Covenant Culture which forms the basis for a roadmap for a ‘civilization of love’. Our Covenant with Mary as mother and educator leads to a deeper more personal attachment to Christ who he leads us to the heart of His and our Father In His final prayer with his disciples Jesus proclaims: (Father,) I have made your name known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (John 17,26) and this Jesus describes as the work he had been given by the Father to complete while here on earth. ‘I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.’ (John 17,4)
Our Covenant finds its final goal in a deep attachment to God our Father. in the opening meditation on the Lord’s Prayer Fr. Kentenich writes in the Dachau Prayers: ‘Father, by no merit of our own we are your children in your Son. We are no mere servants, but have the full rights of a child. No matter where the sun shines for us, in you we are joyfully united.For all of us you are the same: Father and rich in love.’
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