by Fr. Bryan Cunningham on 26/02/2012 -
In recent times we have received the news that the Pallottine Fathers wish to transfer the responsibility for the Original Shrine to the Schoenstatt Movement. As we speak a contract of use is being drawn up with a view to a total handover before the celebration of Schoenstattʼs hundredth jubilee. Perhaps we register the impact of this development less since we are not living in Schoenstatt and probably initially there will be no great change in how things run. However in the scheme of things this could have great significance for Schoenstatt also in the development of its international outlook.
Network of Shrines
To a certain extent we could almost say that over the decades since the autonomy of the Movement was granted in 1964, the members of Schoenstatt have weaned themselves off the Original Shrine. People used the other Shrines in Schoenstatt or their local Schoenstatt Centres for the celebration and development of spiritual life. Of course the development of the network of Shrines across continents and in many different countries is a real area of growth and a gift of the fruitfulness of the Shrine. We could almost say that the network of Shrines experienced an evolution through the development of the Home and Heart and Pilgrim Mother Shrines. In the time Fr. Kentenich was in Milwaukee we have the initiative of Home Shrines – the reality and grace of the Shrine in our own homes and in Brazil we saw the apostolate of Deacon John Possabon who took the Blessed Mother on pilgrimage and brought the Pilgrim Mother to homes of those who would not have experienced the Shrine locally. Fr. Kentenich was to say that the pinnacle of this development was the Heart Shrine.
St Paul says: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (1Cor 6:19f) In the first Letter of St Peter we read: “As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus
Christ.” (1Peter 2:4-6) A twofold mystery is expressed here: God lives in us and we in God. Secondly together we build the Kingdom of God as his ʻliving Shrineʼ.
The Unique Gifts of the Original Shrine
On pilgrimage in Germany, for example on the Family Week, we would visit the Original Shrine and when the occasion arose we had the chance to celebrate holy Mass with one another there. Other than that we tended to have visitorsʼ access rights. This meant that the Original Shrine became a place to visit not the heart and home of the spiritual family which finds its source there. We need to refocus on the original gifts which came with the Shrine in order to know how life can develop around the Shrine.
For me there are three major elements which constitute the Shrine and express the uniqueness of its character: Since 1914 the Shrine is for us
a sacred place of encounter with God,
the ʻcradle of our sanctityʻ and
source and starting point for our apostolate.
Place of Encounter
At the inauguration of the Year of the Shrine we meditated on the Burning Bush and the experience of Moses – God is here. “When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.(Ex 3:4-6)
This encounter with God was to be the centre and guiding experience of his life – he cannot go back to his previous life – a quite existence as a shepherd caring for the flock of his father in law. Moses now had experiential knowledge of being in Godʼs presence. It was a lesson he was never to forget and gave him the ability always to find God in his life and to listen to him and follow his ways. Itʼs true that Moses was a natural leader. He had the inner authority of a charismatic Prophet and the strength to persevere in the face of hostility and setbacks. However his anchor-point was his encounter with the living God at the burning bush. His deep attachment to God from this experience was to become the centre and source of all the he achieved in his life as leader of Godʼs People through the desert to the Promised Land.
Shrine as a Place of Encounter
When we consider our experience with the Shrine (for some also an experience with the Original Shrine), then for many they describe their experience as God being near to them in the Shrine and that they found themselves to be in Godʼs presence. We could summarise the experience of many who come to the Shrine in saying: God is here! Making their way to the Shrine is a pilgrimage of faith in the hope of encountering the presence of God and receive his grace and mercy. Our way of expressing this dimension of how the Shrine influences our lives is to say we feel at home, we feel welcome, safe, wanted, accepted, forgiven, healed. For some it is about sensing Godʼs presence; for some it is knowing that Mary our Mother and Mother of the Lord welcomes us and encloses us in the embrace with her child.
The Shrine a holy place
“Let us then approach Godʼs throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need”. (Heb 4:16) At Schoenstattʼs beginnings Fr. Kentenich said: ”Undoubtedly, we could not accomplish a greater apostolic deed nor leave our successors a more precious legacy than to urge our Lady and Queen to erect her throne here in a special way, to distribute her treasures, and to work miracles of grace.” His vision for the Shrine was that it becomes the reserved space of Godʼs presence through Mary, the Mother of the Lord, establishing her home there. The Shrine should become a holy place to which people will go on pilgrimage in order to gain the graces of God. We should discover a new home in the heart of God. Being anchored in the Shrine we look for the change in our lives – the grace of inner transformation described by Fr. Kentenich as ʻthe cradle of our sanctityʼ.
Cradle of Sanctity
Moses was to experience more at the burning bush. He experiences a God who is near, a God who knows and cares for his people and loves them. “The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey. (Ex 3:7f) A God who hears the cry of the poor! His concern is real and lasting. The prophet Isaiah sums up this concern when he says: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.(Isaiah 49:15f). The people of God respond with trust and commitment to walk the ways of their Lord, to follow the charismatic, prophetic leadership of Godʼs man, Moses. Their response is out of love to strive for holiness and remain within the precepts and the law of the Lord.
There are many examples of Godʼs caring for us in the life of Christ. The raising back to life of the son the widow of Nain (Lk 7), the healing of the leper who says to Jesus – if you want to you can heal me – “Of course I want to” (Mark 1:41), the healing of the blind Bartimaeus, (Mark 10:46ff), the Centurionʼs servant (Lk 7) All can be summed up in the description in St Johnʼs Gospel of the Good Shepherd (John 10) Again in St. Matthewʼs Gospel: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt 11: 28-30) The healing signs set by Christ bore witness to who he was – the Saviour and at the same time showed his care and concern for the people. Jesus took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus wept his dear friend Lazarus and longed to gather the children of Jerusalem like a hen gathers her chickens. Each person had to make a choice on this encounter – to love the Lord and follow him or like the rich man who went away sadly because he had been asked to give up his wealth (Lk 18:23). Our response to Godʼs love is to grow in holiness. This is what Fr. Kentenich means when he says that the Shrine should become for us the cradle of sanctity.
Call to Holiness
In his letter at the beginning of this new millennium Blessed Pope John Paul said that holiness was first of all a gift of Godʼs grace. “But the gift in turn becomes a task, which must shape the whole of Christian life: “This is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Th 4:3). It is a duty which concerns not only certain Christians: “All the Christian faithful, of whatever state or rank, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity” (Novo Millennio Ineunte 30)
This task involves ʻtraining for holinessʼ. In the founding document of Schoenstatt Fr. Kentenich describes a way to holiness: “Do not worry about the fulfillment of your desire. Ego diligentes me diligo. I love those who love me [Prv 8,17]. Prove to me first that you really love me, that you take your resolution seriously…This sanctification I demand of you. Diligently bring me contributions to the capital of grace. By fulfilling your duties faithfully and conscientiously and through an ardent life of prayer, earn many merits and place them at my disposal. Then it will please me to dwell in your midst and dispense gifts and graces in abundance. Then from here I will draw youthful hearts to myself, and I will educate them to become useful instruments in my hand.” (Founding Document 1914)
Here we have the threefold dimension of a spiritual way to perfection for each person according to their state in life and the challenges they face in every walk of life. Our way to sanctity is based on love. Through our Covenant of Love with Mary we become deeply rooted in the heart of God expressed in a life of ardent prayer. Our striving and the contributions to the Capital of Grace take place within the context of our everyday lives helping to build Godʼs Kingdom through ʻfulfilling our duties faithfully and conscientiouslyʼ. These actions fuel our sense of mission, to become apostles of the Covenant of Love and lead many to find their home in the Shrine.
Apostles of the Covenant of Love
This last aspect shows the direction of all striving for Holiness – to be in the service of others and win many for Christ. The gift of true intimacy with God in the friendship with Him bestowed on us through Christ is given so that we too can go out and bring this good news to many. For St. Paul this was his prayer and main concern in the development of the early Church “With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thess 1:11f) (To download the text click here)
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