by Erica Carlson
Do you like history? You might be thinking: Ugh, no, not me…History was/is a nightmare in school, especially when it came to remembering all those dates…
But not all dates are so bad. In fact, I bet there are a couple dates that bring you a great sense of joy just thinking about them. For example, your birthday, or December 25, or other special anniversaries in your family or personal life. What makes these dates special? Fond memories, receiving beautiful things that show you that you are loved, days that bring people together… Lots of reasons could be present. If you have a special love for your family, all your family’s birthdays and anniversaries are days that you look forward to.
What’s the point of celebrating a birthday? Just a day to get spoiled and showered with gifts? Obviously not. It’s a celebration of LIFE, and life is a beautiful gift from our Heavenly Father. When God speaks, he creates something new. When God said, “Let there be light,” there was light. When he spoke your name, you came into existence in your mother’s womb. When God speaks, something beautiful happens. We can’t help but stand in awe before these days in which God has created something new. Each new life is a mystery of God’s love.
On October 18, 1914, God spoke. In this case, I’m not talking about the birth of an individual person, but rather a family. This was the birthday of the Schoenstatt Family.
I don’t know about you, but I love to hear my mom talk about the day I was born. What were my parents thinking? How were they feeling? Was there anything particularly eventful about that day (besides the fact that I was born!)? What was life like leading up to that day? After that day? The answers to this question all say something about me, because it was the “soil” in which God planted the seed of my life. I can learn about the garden more fully when I look at the soil from which it grew.
What about the garden of Schoenstatt? What was the soil like? A young and sickly priest and a bunch of rebellious, adolescent boys. Wait a minute… How does that add up? Schoenstatt is a worldwide movement of religious renewal, with dozens of branches and thousands of members, and even more pilgrims who visit the over 200 Schoenstatt Shrines around the world. How could such an expansive garden sprout from such scanty beginnings?
Just a little more background information on this “soil”: Father Kentenich was the young and inexperienced priest. He had entered the Pallottine community of priests, hoping to be a missionary in Africa. But he was too sick for the missions. He suffered from lung troubles from young adulthood onwards; a couple times the flare ups were so severe that his fellow priests thought he was going to die. It would have been understandable for him to be disappointed by his health condition and therefore the inability to go to the missions. But he was so conformed to God’s will even at a young age, that he put his heart and soul into the task that the Pallottines gave him to do: teaching the boys in their minor seminary. This was usually the task given to the priests that were too sick to go on mission trips.
And what about those boys? Why were they rebelling? Well actually, by 1914, Father Kentenich had helped these boys to divert their unquenchable desire for greatness in the right direction. Two years earlier though, things didn’t look so good. A new house was built in 1912, and the young boys in the minor seminary had to move into it. That doesn’t sound like a bad thing, but with the new and beautiful house, came a new and beautiful “rule book.” And let me tell you, some of these rules were rather ridiculous, like giving strict instructions on when the boys could polish their shoes and with what, that they couldn’t look out the windows, and other such things. Teenage boys don’t particularly like to follow rules, much less rules that don’t make sense. They responded like “normal” boys. They rebelled. They tried to make life difficult for their priest leaders, leaving little notes around the house (an act that was forbidden of course) which had messages such as, “Houses without joy should be burned to the ground.” Needless to say, the atmosphere was stormy, and the boys’ attitudes were dark and bitter. This wasn’t good news; after all, these weren’t just any boys, these were the future priests! They should have been working on striving to become mature, prayerful and strong personalities, but that was far from what was happening. The priest leaders saw that something had to be done. They chose a spiritual director for the boys, hoping that he would get them in line. That didn’t last too long; the spiritual director got sick and had to resign. It was too much for him. A second spiritual director was appointed, but he couldn’t take it either. The leaders knew that an exceptional educator had to be chosen: The appointment fell on Father Kentenich, a favorite teacher among the boys because of his exciting and new ways of teaching. When he was appointed in October of 1912 to be their spiritual director, the boys were disappointed to lose him as a teacher, but they soon attached to him as their spiritual director and grew to love him as a father who could guide and educate them to be firm, free, priestly personalities. They grew in leaps and bounds over the next two years, developing their love for Mary and their quest for holiness through dedicated self-education. By October 1914, God saw that the soil was ready.
On October 18, 1914, Father Kentenich and the boys met in their newly acquired St. Michael Chapel beside their seminary, which soon become known as the Schoenstatt Shrine. It was a Sunday at 5 o’clock in the afternoon when Father began his speech, which we now call the “Founding Document.” In this speech, Father Kentenich presented his “favorite idea” to the boys. He wanted to make this chapel into a pilgrimage place where the Blessed Mother would come and make it her special throne of grace, where she would dispense her gifts and graces in abundance and work miracles of renewal and conversion. There was a condition though. Father and the boys would have to do their part by bringing “contributions to the capital of grace,” which meant their prayers, good deeds, and sacrifices would be offered to the Blessed Mother. These efforts would gently “force” the Blessed Mother to stay in the shrine and help them to become saints. This mutual give-and-take would become known as the “covenant of love,” a fitting name, since this was all about gifts of love from heaven to earth and from earth to heaven.
Did the covenant of love work? Did the Blessed Mother actually come and make this little chapel her place of grace? There is an easy way to figure this out: Just look at the garden we call Schoenstatt. It is huge. It is vibrant. It is beautiful. Obviously, the Heavenly Gardener set to work in the soil and wasted no time in planting seeds that would bear abundant fruit for years to come. Schoenstatt soon spread beyond the walls of the seminary, beyond the walls of Germany, and beyond the walls of Europe, to literally the ends of the earth. From a handful of boys, there grew an international family of priests, sisters, brothers, couples, youth of all ages, families, pilgrims and everything in between. Schoenstatt has become a way of life for many people, giving them a mission, a home, and a family.
For all of us who are blessed to call Schoenstatt our family, October 18, 1914 is a day to celebrate when God spoke the words of transformation over the soil and said, “Let there be light! Let there be Schoenstatt!” And a beautiful garden came to be, which continues to grow every time a child of Schoenstatt seals the covenant of love, spreads the good news of Schoenstatt, or simply makes a contribution to the capital of grace. The miracle of new life of October 18, 1914 continues to live on, in us.