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Chapter Five: About Schoenstatt's Spirituality

See Pius X, encyclical Ad diem illum, February 2, 1904.

Schoenstatt’s spirituality can be characterized as

Marian,

modern,

organic and

concrete.

Marian – it cultivates a deeply personal and effective relationship with Mary, the Mother of God as the “swiftest, shortest, surest way to Christ” (see encyclical Ad diem illum). Its Marian richness is anchored in the covenant of love with the MTA (è Chapter 4) and the importance of her Shrine as Schoenstatt’s unique place of grace (è Chapter 3).

Modern – it works to answer the challenges posed by the modern world to living the faith and striving for sanctity. The “new man in the new community” (è 29-33) is an attempt to integrate the Gospel with such typical features of the modern person and society as freedom, individuality and life in close contact with the world. It strives for everyday sanctity (è 88) and practical faith in Divine Providence (è 23) to enable the modern person to find God and live with him in the modern conditions of life.

Organic – Schoenstatt has a spirituality that is attuned to life (è 105) and to the healthy integration of all its parts: of nature and grace, of the natural and supernatural. This accent is so important to Schoenstatt’s spirituality because modern man is so hobbled by the breakdown of healthy relationships – both with God and on the human level – and growth towards sanctity today is impossible unless this organic integration is explicitly fostered. Moreover, Schoenstatt’s organic spirituality is also a fruit of its strong attachment to Mary, who radiantly unites in herself the natural and supernatural realities.

Concrete and practical – Schoenstatt’s spirituality does not merely clarify dogma or theory; it wishes to take the truths of the faith and live them concretely and in practical everyday life. This shows in the important role of pedagogy in Schoenstatt (see Chapter 6), for much of what Schoenstatt reflects on is how to grow, concretely and practically, toward sanctity.

Schoenstatt’s Marian devotion is rooted in the life of the Church. Over the 2000 years of her existence, the Church has discovered in Mary again and again her model and Mother (see Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, No. 60-65).

Fr. Kentenich distinguished between three kinds of Marian devotion in the Church – “ordinary,” “great,” and “extraordinarily great.” Ordinary Marian devotion is the usual reverence of all Catholics for Mary as Mother of God and cooperator in the work of redemption. Great and extraordinarily great Marian devotion places the love of Mary at the center of the spiritual life in ways that eventually allow it to uplift our entire life of grace and convert us more completely to the Gospel. The Church encourages the faithful to reach for these higher degrees of Marian devotion, especially through the voices of such saints as Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort. Schoenstatt has always been known for its extraordinarily great love for Mary.

Typical of Schoenstatt’s Marian devotion is its “covenant quality.” The covenant of love with the MTA is built on an active, personal relationship with Mary, that shows itself in deeds of love and striving for sanctity. The relationship is also shaped by a strong spirit of partnership. Other forms of Marian devotion may stress more a relationship of dependence and less the element of human cooperation, but Schoenstatt sees Mary as a mediatrix who delights in our freely given cooperation and willingness to serve as instruments for her mission.

Also typical is the “organic quality” of Schoenstatt’s Marian devotion. It sees the love of Mary as part of the growth of the entire person into the Gospel reality. In fact, love of Mary is such an outstanding catalyst for this growth that the frequent fear that Mary might detract from love of Christ has proven to be totally unfounded. In Schoenstatt’s experience, love for Mary consistently leads to a more vibrant love of Christ, God the Father and the Holy Spirit, not to mention a greater love for Church and neighbor.

Other features of Schoenstatt’s Marian devotion include a unique appreciation for Mary as Queen and Educator. There is a special place in Schoenstatt for Mary’s title as Queen, based on the personal experience of many individuals, families and communities that Mary truly uses her queenly power to assist, protect and lead us. This finds an expression in the crowning of Mary in Schoenstatt’s many shrines. As an Educator, Mary is experienced as someone who shapes and forms us, be it as individuals or in community. This is rooted in the dimension of the covenant of love as a work of education, both in the self-education needed for sanctity and in the help needed from Mary for us to succeed in fully forming ourselves and others in the image of God.

Schoenstatt can be considered a modern spirituality for many reasons. Among them is its accent on cultivating a truly lay and family-oriented spirituality. Whereas past eras of the Church thought about sanctity and organized piety almost exclusively in terms of monastic forms or religious vocation, Schoenstatt stressed from the beginning a way to holiness that respects the unique vocation of each walk of life.

This is closely related to Schoenstatt’s accent on being secular or “in the world.” Like many other modern movements in the Church, Schoenstatt stresses the need to be a leaven in society. This means fostering a form of modern everyday life which respects and uses the things of this world to reach sanctity, even while prudently avoiding the pitfalls of slavery to created things. It seeks to turn the things of the world into windows to the divine and opportunities to discover God, seeing this as one of the keys to the survival of the faith in our modern times. Even Fr. Kentenich’s decision that its leading communities take the form of secular institutes is a sign that our preference is not for the protection of monastery walls, but the cultivation of a lifestyle which brings the world to God.

Much of Schoenstatt’s spirituality developed with a particular sensitivity to the modern need for freedom and flexibility, even while finding a place to call home (the longing for family experiences) and set down deep roots. Out of this grew the unique accent on personal and community ideals, the cultivation of community as a spiritual family, and the practice of not prescribing particular spiritual forms, but of challenging the development of a “spiritual daily order” best adapted to each one’s personality and situation.

Schoenstatt fosters an organic spirituality which seeks the integration of nature and grace, head and heart, faith and life, God and world. The fracturing of modern man in both his thinking (thinking about God in connection with societal issues or one’s everyday life is practically a lost art) and living (breakdown of family and relationships, reduction of man to “what the masses want,” etc.) has been explicitly taken up by Schoenstatt as a challenge for desire to attain modern sanctity. This took on special form in the events connected to May 31, 1949, now considered the third milestone of Schoenstatt’s history (è 187).

Schoenstatt’s spirituality is organic in both its sources (the covenant of love with Mary as an organic, historical event rooted in life) and in its practice (a deep concern for the formation of the whole person). It finds strong roots in a love for Mary which wants to give all things to her, be it one’s nobility or one’s limitations. Fr. Kentenich also exemplified it in his personal interest in the life of each one God entrusted to him.

When used in the context of spirituality, “organic” refers to a spiritual approach which takes seriously the uniqueness of each individual, group and community. It is important that each one “know himself” and apply the necessary spiritual means in accord with one’s temperament and specific strengths and weaknesses. Hence, while others may need to be working on attentiveness in prayer, I may need to be working on seeing the brighter side of life or on not letting my temper get the best of me.

Seen this way,“organic” does not mean “the path of least resistance.” To strive for real sanctity means that there will be times when one needs to “go against the grain” of personal likes and preferences. This agere contra (as it is sometimes called), is a reminder that “organic” in the present order of salvation must always take the cross seriously. In keeping with a longstanding bit of wisdom oft repeated by Fr. Kentenich:

“There is no perfection without suffering and cross.”

Schoenstatt is a concrete (or practical) spirituality in that it is not satisfied with teaching certain principles or ideals, but is driven to find practical ways to live the faith in daily life. Hence, it is typical for Schoenstatt groups or individual members to look for a monthly resolution to apply some part of their striving for sanctity. There are different forms for cultivating this (see Schoenstatt’s pedagogical tools, è 129).

This “concreteness” is driven by the awareness that theory or reason alone cannot gain us sanctity. Nor can it be expected by just “living a good life.” It takes a deliberate cultivation in actual steps taken in everyday life.

It is also driven by Schoenstatt’s practical faith in Divine Providence. This feature of Schoenstatt’s spirituality has no rest until it works its way into a concrete dialog of love with God. This dialog involves the events of the day, what is moving in one’s soul, and the objective order of being into which one is placed (è 92). A truly dynamic modern sanctity is only possible against the background of such an ongoing dialog with the “God of life.” Here one finds the “open doors” which direct us along the ways of God and the traces of God’s wisdom, loyalty and love which give us the courage and insight needed to connect our practical daily life with God and his wishes.

Fr. Kentenich was fond of describing Schoenstatt’s spirituality as being “three-fold” or “three-dimensional.” By this he referred to three aspects of Schoenstatt which capture the richness of its life:

• covenant spirituality,

• instrument piety (or instrumentality),

• everyday sanctity.

See CCC 54-64, Lumen gentium 2-3, 9-10.

Christianity is a covenant-based religion. The covenants of the Old and New Testament are the very core of God’s revelation about how he saves us and draws us to himself.

The covenant plays a central role in Schoenstatt’s spirituality as well. It was founded through a covenant of love with Mary (è Chapter 3) and this same covenant is seen as the key to Schoenstatt’s distinct identity and manifold forms of life. This Marian covenant strengthens and deepens the covenant with God by giving an experience of personally knowing and loving a heavenly covenant partner, of being aware that this partner knows and loves me in return, of my personal salvation history, of having personal holy times and places, of growing through longings and fragility to a greater covenant faithfulness. All in all, the covenant experience even helps our attachments on the most human and natural level, strengthening and/or healing these basic attachments.

Schoenstatt’s covenant spirituality is one which reaches into all areas of life, spoken of as the “four-fold infinitism” of the covenant of love (è 75). Ultimately, the covenant of love with the MTA should become more and more the “fundamental purpose, form, strength and norm” of our life (Fr. Kentenich, 1952) , helping us make the covenant with God more and more the driving purpose, form, strength and norm of our lives as Christians in the world of today.

See Lumen gentium 33; CCC 913.

The covenant of love with the MTA is not only about personal formation, but it is also about offering oneself to God to help build up his kingdom on earth. In this sense, the covenant is apostolic. Essential to Schoenstatt’s spirituality is therefore the cultivation of our attitude and life as instruments of God. This is what is called “instrument piety” or the spirit of “instrumentality.”

In reality, it is a very simple thing: in the covenant of love I express my willingness and desire to be an instrument of God. Through my apostolate and service to family, friends, Church and world, I cultivate a lifestyle of actively building up the kingdom. But at heart the instrument also wants to be constantly attuned to God’s will; here is where instrument piety meets practical faith in Divine Providence (è 23). Behind this is the need to constantly renew one’s desire to seek and do God’s will and overcome the tendency to do only one’s own. Here the Blank Check and Inscriptio dedications (è 76, 77) have led many to become more effective instruments of God. Here, too, the cultivation of the attitude of childlikeness before God (è 89) plays an important role in one’s becoming an instrument who is more likely to trust in God and fulfill his will.

See Gaudium et spes 33-34; CCC 1533, 2013 (vocation to holiness), 2427 (dignity of work); AA 7 (use of the temporal order), 19 (faith and everyday life).

The Christian vocation is the call to holiness. In Schoenstatt this call is realized as everyday (or workday) sanctity, meaning the integration of one’s faith with every aspect of ordinary life. Fr. Kentenich contrasted it with the “Sunday sanctity” of Christians who go to church on Sunday but do not allow their faith to affect the rest of their lives.

Everyday sanctity has many facets. It can be described as “doing one’s ordinary duties in an extraordinary way (ordinaria extraordinarie)” or as “fulfilling the duties of one’s state in life as perfectly as possible out of total love for God.” Fr. Kentenich developed its most comprehensive definition in 1932:

Everyday sanctity is the God-pleasing harmony between wholehearted attachment to God, work and fellow-man in every circumstance of life.

Everyday sanctity is therefore attentive about not neglecting God because of the world, nor one’s family because of apostolate, nor one’s fellow-man because of work, nor one’s duties in life because of God. The ideal of the “everyday saint” is to strike the proper balance between the natural, rational and supernatural sides of the individual and community, so that one’s spiritual life is strengthened by good health, one’s physical faculties are augmented by clear thinking, and one’s resolution of mind and will are tempered by respect for one’s emotions.

Everyday sanctity also seeks to integrate work, prayer and suffering. In this context Schoenstatt understands work as man’s sharing in the creative activity of God (è 106), for prayer as a dialog of love with God and suffering as a crucial part of the Christian vocation.

Another characteristic theme of Schoenstatt’s spirituality is spiritual childlikeness, that is, the cultivation of one’s being a child of God. This is a favorite theme in Schoenstatt’s covenant spirituality and also relates to the instrument piety with its desire to totally serve God in all things. Fr. Kentenich liked to stress that it involves

1) an objective reality: we are children of God, both by virtue of our having been created by God with the gifts of freedom and the ability to love and, in an infinitely higher way, by virtue of Christ’s redeeming work made part of our lives through baptism and the sacraments;

2) the cultivation of attitudes that correspond to this objective reality: trust and dependence of God, faith in Divine Providence, desire to make God happy as His children, appreciation of human experiences of childhood and childlikeness, both natural (as in the family) and spiritual (as with a priest or spiritual guide).

The accent on childlikeness in Schoenstatt is the same as that found in St. Therese of Lisieux, whom Fr. Kentenich often mentioned as an example of genuine childlikeness. Schoenstatt’s Marian spirit is also closely related to this spirit, for Mary too is someone whose life was built around total devotion to God’s will, following and trusting God even when it involved great darkness and suffering, such as at the death of her Son, Jesus.

As a movement of religious and moral renewal, Schoenstatt’s spirituality is also deeply attuned to prayer. Schoenstatt does not prescribe particular prayers or forms of prayer, but encourages its members to “pray always” (cf 1 Thess 5,17). In keeping with everyday sanctity one should connect God with one’s life, work and mission, using the forms that seem most adequate.

Schoenstatt has always had a deep Eucharistic devotion and appreciation for the Mass and reception of Holy Communion. Its attachment to the liturgy shows in the practice of many of its members to attend daily Mass. From early on, the Shrine, too, was seen as a place of Eucharistic prayer, and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is generally part of the regular schedule of events at all Schoenstatt Shrines. Both the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary and the Schoenstatt Fathers have permanent adoration members who make Eucharistic adoration a central part of their apostolate, and there are adoration circles in many parts of the movement.

Other important accents on prayer come to light in the promotion of pilgrimage to Schoenstatt Shrines and other Marian Shrines, monthly and annual days of renewal of the covenant of love, promotion of the Rosary through the Schoenstatt Rosary Campaign (è 66), and many other prayer initiatives.

Some popular Schoenstatt prayers are:

• “My Queen, my Mother”

(recommended for daily renewal of the covenant of love),

• “I trust your might”

(sometimes called the Prayer of Confidence),

• “With heartfelt love”

(a prayer of thanksgiving),

• “You know the way for me”

(a prayer to Divine Providence),

• “Holy Spirit, you are the soul of my soul”

(adaptation of the prayer to the Holy Spirit by Cardinal Mercier).

To this can be added the many prayers from Heavenwards, the prayer book which Fr. Kentenich composed in Dachau (è 185).

A practical method for deepening the attachment to God and growing in active faith in Divine Providence is by using Schoenstatt’s method of meditation. Fr. Kentenich recommended it many times.   At times he called it putting up the ladder of Divine Providence. At other times he described it as savoring the mercies of God.

This method is quite simple. In quiet prayer I come into God’s presence and look back over the last 24 hours. I allow the main events and emotions to pass through my soul, taking time to resavor or taste them again. I then seek the vantage point of Divine Providence (“putting up the ladder”), asking the question: “God, what are you trying to say?” One may or may not arrive at an answer at this time, but asking the question disposes the soul to see the events as being in the hands of God and His plan of love.

In a second step, I now turn to the expected events of the next 24 hours. I allow the soul time to presavor or taste in advance the likely course of the day and how it might affect me. I seek the vantage of Divine Providence again, this time with a question like: “God, what to you want to accomplish through me today?” In this way I allow my soul to breathe the clear air of knowing that whatever happens, it will be in God’s hands.

Some of the fruits of this method of meditation are a greater deference to God’s will and trust in God, an increase in integration of faith and life, growth in trust in God’s providence, more inner fortitude and calm, and an attitude of making no decisions without entrusting them to Him.

(200 Questions about Schoenstatt, Chapters 5 to 8, version March 12, 2002)

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