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The Second Milestone in the History of the Schoenstatt Movement

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The Second Milestone in the History of the Schoenstatt Movement

 

Every January the Schoenstatt Family commemorates and gives thanks for the second milestone in our history, January 20, 1942.  It was an act of simple trust in divine Providence; it was an act of standing in divine confidence and a battle for “inner” freedom.  It was an act so significant it is referred to as the “axis” of our Schoenstatt history.  One of the fruits of this milestone is the founding of the Schoenstatt Family Work which is of personal significance to me as I have been blessed to belong to the family branch of Schoenstatt, together with my husband, for over 30 years.   I hope the sermon below explains the importance of this date in our history and for all the Schoenstatt Family that it will help us to live the spirit of January 20th in our lives.

Pilar Huerta, Family Federation

Our father and his decision of 20 January 1942

[Excerpt from a sermon on 20 January 2006 in the Adoration Church in Schoenstatt by Mons. Dr. Peter Wolf]

 Dear Schoenstatt Family,

 You only need to mention some dates and a whole people or generation knows what is meant.  If you mention the date 11 September today, you can be certain that everyone will connect with it the terrible events of the terror attack on the USA.  … You only need to mention 11 September and the whole cosmos of experiences will have been conjured up.

Something similar happens with the 20 January for our Schoenstatt Family.  This date, or the 18 October or 31 May, stand for a whole world of experiences and connected realities in the history of our Movement.  What has brought us together this evening is the decision and fullness of life connected with the 20 January 1942 in our father’s life and our Schoenstatt Family.  Just one day prior to it, it was still completely unclear whether there would be a 20 January with its decision and significance as we know it today.

 

 

At the time our father and founder was a prisoner of the Gestapo in … Koblenz.  He had come unharmed out of four weeks of imprisonment in the dark in the cellars of the Gestapo prison.  The danger was now great that he would be transferred to the concentration camp at Dachau.  When they cross-examined him on 13 January, the Gestapo had threatened him with it.  On 16 January he was declared fit for concentration camp after a superficial medical examination.  This meant that both he and the whole Movement was in grave danger.  In Schoenstatt the leaders were convinced that they had to do everything in their power to save him from this fate.  They managed to win over a doctor to re-examine our father and certify him as unfit for camp life because of his history of pulmonary tuberculosis.  A formula for applying for this re-examination already lay on his table.  It seemed the best thing to do.  It was morally perfectly justified to take this route.  Yet our father wanted time to think about it.  He wasn’t able to come to a decision so quickly.  He was struggling to discover God’s will.

 

What was this man’s real motivation in these days?  What was going on in his heart, where did he see signs that he should understand and interpret God’s will in a different light?

 

On 19 January our father had written an amazing sentence to Fr. Menningen:  “Can you imagine that it would not really suit me if I did not go to the camp?”  His main concern was not primarily to save his own skin.  In this dangerous situation he was thinking of a number of Schoenstatters whom he could help in the Dachau camp.  “Many friends are waiting,” he added.  Of course, also in Schoenstatt there were many who were waiting for him, and many who would have far preferred to see him from the tower window than to know that his life was endangered in Dachau.

 

What motivated this man to seriously consider that God wanted him to reject the offered re-examination and set out on the way to Dachau?  … It was clear to him that he had been arrested because of his work.  He was imprisoned because he was a founder and not a private person.  Unless we keep this in mind, we will not be able to understand his questions and his search.  So we need to take a closer look at the situation of his foundation, and which processes of growth its spiritual family was going through at that time. 

 

The striving of the Movement … had been strongly concentrated on the Blank Check since 1939, and on the Inscriptio since 1941.  Our father and founder reacted to the increasing challenge …

 

by the Nazis to the Church and Church circles with this striving to obey God’s guidance freely and willingly.  Only if we are radically anchored in God and God’s will, will we be immune to the attacks of an increasingly aggressive regime on the Church.  For him this striving was totally in accord with God’s wish and will as he deduced them from the times.  He was able to observe that these efforts had awakened an echo in the souls of the members of his Movement.   It was a time when many were enkindled to strive in this spirit, and to consecrate themselves, placing their Blank Check and Inscriptio into our Lady’s hands.   We have countless testimonies to this from whole courses, not least Karl Leisner and his group.

 For Joseph Kentenich the time of imprisonment was an answer to this striving, a sign that heaven was taking it seriously.  He did not want people to begin to backtrack on their word because of the situation.  In his first letter from prison after he had left the Bunker, we read, “We don’t want to be one of those who in prayer have a lot to say about complete self-surrender, but who collect all the horses in the world to bring back the coach when God begins to take their prayer seriously, and does with us what he wills.”  What he wrote about St. Paul obviously corresponded with his own thinking:  “Paul took it for granted that as members of Christ we have also to become like him in his suffering, and that suffering means not only the breakdown of human, but also the breakthrough of divine powers, and hence rich fruitfulness for our lives and work.”

Our father had experienced such a breakthrough of divine forces while he was in prison, and he had observed it in his followers.  This is how he interpreted the strength he had been given while he was imprisoned in the dark.  This is how he evaluated the light he had been given in the weeks that followed as he wrote the “Sponsa Thoughts”.  I have the impression that he himself was sometimes amazed at the way thoughts flowed to him and filled the pages he was writing to his followers.

 

Above all he says that his imprisonment had awakened new life in his followers and given them new strengths.  Towards the end of December we find indications in the letters, for example, “So far my absence has only been a blessing everywhere.”  Or, “What my presence has not achieved has been given in rich measure by my absence.”  Through it he experienced God’s fruitfulness and God’s possibilities.  For him it was a fruit of the striving for total self-surrender in the spirit of the Blank Check and Inscriptio.  He wrote about the “great laws of God’s kingdom” that could be experienced in the Family.  All this was far more important to him than his own freedom.

 

Against the background of these experiences that new life had broken through let us again listen to the question he posed to Fr. Menningen on 19 January.  “Can you imagine that it would not really suit me if I didn’t go to the camp?”  He answered this question early on 20 January with the words we now know so well, “Just now during the Consecration I received an answer to the question we left open yesterday.  Our priests should take the Inscriptio and Blank Check seriously, in particular some of the older ones.  Then I will be set free again.  Please understand this answer through faith in the reality of the supernatural and the interweaving of destinies of the members of our Family.”

He guessed that with his decision he was expecting a great deal of his followers.  He begged them to understand his decision and wanted to help them to do so.  He saw their efforts to leave no stone unturned to save him from being transported to Dachau.  He knew that they meant it well when they tried to prevail on him to agree to the reexamination.  Yet he saw very clearly that God wanted him to go to Dachau.  “Here I stand … and cannot act differently,” he wrote in his second letter of 20 January.  He trusted wholly in the reality of the supernatural, the reality of the covenant of love.  He trusted in the interweaving of destinies of the members of the family, which could only be seen with the eyes of faith.  Yet it was precisely through this that he pulled his Family into a way of living their Christianity which was based wholly on the ground of faith, and which understood and lived the message of the faith as a reality.

 

We now look back on this day and the decision that was taken.  We have tried to understand the background against which it was taken.  We have discovered the deepest motivation by which he acted differently from the way we would humanly expect.  Perhaps we have again seen clearly the magnitude of the daring this required of our father.  Later he said about this day, “Those were a few dreadfully difficult days.  I sacrificed everything – freedom, honor, life – if only it could have secured the inner freedom of the family, the idealism of its love, and its striving, for all time.  What did God want?  I did not have a vision or dream, nor did I have a special enlightenment.  All that was left to me in my lonely struggle was simple faith in Divine Providence.”

So I would like to ask you to thank the “Mother of Providence” in this hour.  She led our father and accompanied him at every step on the way.  He thanked her until the end of his life for the fruitfulness God connected with his decision of 20 January.  He learned from her to trust completely in the reality of the supernatural, and in her school he built a family that understands itself and lives from the interweaving of destinies with one another and with him.

 

His decision made the Schoenstatt Movement a Family that lives in unbreakable solidarity with the father.  That is a gift we may never lose, and which we want to pray for once more today for the whole Family.

 

 

 

 

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