by Fr. Bryan Cunningham on 18/09/2011 -
Early in the 1950ties people belonging to Schoenstatt were challenged to try and describe what it was that made up ‘Schoenstatt’ and how it worked. One of the reasons for this was that Schoenstatt and its founder Fr. Joseph Kentenich was put into question. Church authorities were uncertain how ‘Catholic’ is Schoenstatt? To a certain extend we could say that the members of the Schoenstatt Movement were trying to find answers: in the world of business this belonged to the early attempts to define what one could call Schoenstatt’s corporate identity. In spiritual terms we would say that they were trying to unearth the deep spiritual roots of Schoenstatt’s growth.
It was one of the Brothers of Mary who used the image of a three pin plug. This kind of electrical plug had been developed over the years and the classic earthed plug was patented in the USA in 1927. Three points of contact had to be established before electricity could flow. With Schoenstatt it was suggested that there are three contact points so that life flows: Mary, the Shrine and Fr. Kentenich as Schoenstatt’s founder.
The beginnings of the Lay Movement of renewal in Schoenstatt stretches back almost 100 years and in 2009 there was an international meeting of representatives who asked the basic question: In the last hundred years what has been the grace we have received and what is our gift to the Church for the next century? The consensus of opinion fell on the Covenant of Love. This is our grace and the best gift we can give to the Church at the beginning of the new millennium. Fr. Kentenich was caught up in searching for ‘evidence’ that the beginnings in 1914 really did have the blessing of God. He was consciously listening to hear confirmation of his prayerful wish becoming spiritual reality – through our love of Mary we want to exert ‘gentle force’ on her to ask her to set up her throne of grace in the Shrine. He found such confirmation in the response of Schoenstatt’s founding members: Their belief in the reality of the Covenant of Love and their willingness to shape their lives according to this Covenant. In youthful enthusiasm they cried “all for Mary” and in the trails of trench warfare they were to show that they were serious in their endeavours and that their Covenant stood up to the test of suffering and even in some cases death.
For Father Kentenich the deep attachment to the Shrine shown by the young men was an indication that they had taken their Covenant seriously and that there was more depth to the mystery of the Shrine in that it was rooted in the heart of Mary, Mother of the Redeemer and our mother. The fact that these young men found hope,solace and trust in the most difficult times indicated to Fr. Kentenich that there was more at work than just human ingenuity. He often said: “Look at the limitedness of the instruments, the enormity of the task given to them and the good creative success they achieved and we know that God’s grace is working in the background.”
Rock-Climbers Safe Hold
It was only when the question arose about Schoenstatt that the members of the movement came to the discovery of three points of contact necessary for ‘grace to flow’. Had the uniqueness of Schoenstatt grown out of a new Divine initiative? Only time would tell if Schoenstatt’s beginnings would meet with lasting growth. It was to be a steep climb – not for the feint-hearted. When mountaineers face a steep cliff climb they have a basic rule - when climbing cliffs always try and have three points of contact with the rock face to give a secure and safe hold. Schoenstatt’s three points of contact are to ensure a safe and firm hold on our spiritual development so that we can become apostles for the new millennium. In the first 25 years of Schoenstatt’s existence the founder played more a background role. He was well known as a much sought after retreat master but no everyone would have associated him in his primary role in Schoenstatt. Indeed one of the reasons that he eluded early capture and imprisonment by the Nazis was that the Gestapo could not put their finger on who was the ‘kingpin’ of this ‘movement’. It was only through the interrogation of Fr. Albert Eise that it was eventually revealed that Fr. Kentenich was the spiritual leader of Schoenstatt. This came out when Fr. Eise was courageously and proudly defending Fr. Kentenich to the Gestapo interrogators. From that time onward Fr. Kentenich was forced into the limelight. Civil authorities had him marked out as an enemy of state and the Schoenstatt Family started to consciously realise the significance of Fr. Kentenich for the development of the Movement. After Dachau there was an emotional welcome home to Schoenstatt and Fr. Kentenich was to challenge the members of the movement to grow – you could say this was a new kick-start to the wider international movement of renewal with new lay communities growing out of the Dachau experience – the family branch, the Brothers of Mary, the women’s Institute of Our Lady of Schoenstatt and ‘Schoenstatt International’. The bigger Schoenstatt grew the more necessary to mark its defining characteristics – people wanted to know about their ‘spiritual roots’, where did Schoenstatt come from and how do I become a member of Schoenstatt. The simple ‘catechism answer‘ was: we become members of Schoenstatt when we do the same in faith as Fr. Kentenich and the young students did at the beginning: we make our Covenant of Love with Mary, our Mother Thrice Admirable, and Father Kentenich and the members of Schoenstatt in the Shrine.
Roots for growth
When Father Kentenich was in Latin America, South Africa and later on in USA we can say that he started Schoenstatt again, finding new ways for the culture of the Covenant of Love to form the fabric of everyday life. He stressed the need to keep God in our lives in a world moving away from God. He looked for ways of allowing our faith to find deep roots and grow. The Home and Heart Shrine became two such developments. At one point Fr. Kentenich compared the growth in the Covenant to the three directions of the cross. Into the heights of heaven in the heart of the Blessed Trinity; our faith should have deep roots in our hearts so that we can give ourselves wholeheartedly into God’s service in the care and leadership of others and we should embrace those who we love and care for and the world God has entrusted to our care. In Hevenwards, the prayers Fr. Kentenich wrote in Dachau he wrote “Hail Mary, Let us reflect your image and walk through life entirely like you: strong and noble, simple and kind, spreading love and peace and joy. In us go through our times and make them ready for Christ.”
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