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Chapter Four: About The Covenant of Love

John Paul II, Audience with the Schoenstatt Movement 1985, 3 (Source and center of Schoenstatt’s life). Pius XII, Allocution to Marian Sodalities, January 21, 1945; John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater 45-46 (Marian consecration).

The covenant of love is:

1. Schoenstatt’s founding act of 1914, the moment when Fr. Kentenich and the founding generation offered their striving for sanctity and asked Mary to come to dwell in their chapel (the Schoenstatt Shrine), transforming it into a place of pilgrimage and their “cradle of sanctity.” It is from this original act that Schoenstatt’s life, identity and fruitfulness flow.

2. The act of consecration (as individual or community) to Mary as the Mother Thrice Admirable of Schoenstatt (also known as the “Schoenstatt consecration”). It instills a deeper relationship with Mary and gives one full participation in the stream of life and graces originating in the covenant of 1914 and flowing from the Shrine. Each new member or group also contributes in a unique way to the original covenant, enhancing and enriching it, even while the covenant enhances and enriches the life of each member and group.

3. A recognized form of Marian consecration in the Church. Like the consecration of the Marian Sodality, the De Montfort (Grignion) consecration and other forms of consecration to Mary, it consists of the total gift of self to Mary. Fr. Kentenich characterized Marian consecration as a total and mutual exchange of hearts, goods and interests. Through this exchange one grows in love, in one’s overall spiritual life and in the ability to fulfill one’s mission. In the Catholic experience, Mary has proven to be an outstanding consecration partner, leading persons and nations, communities and generations to a deeper fervor of love and commitment to Christ and the Triune God.

The Schoenstatt consecration was always understood as a mutual covenant between Mary and those who consecrated themselves to her in the Shrine. Theologically, it was understood as a specific way of fulfilling the injunction of Our Lord before He died: “Woman, behold your son... [Son,] behold your Mother” (Jn 19,26f). As a form of Marian consecration it was in continuity with the consecration of the Marian Sodality (Schoenstatt’s first community form), and until 1944 the Schoenstatt covenant was simply called the “consecration” or “MTA-consecration” (MTA-Weihe).

Inquiries from the Diocese of Trier in the mid-1930s forced Schoenstatt to come to a clearer grasp of what it meant by “consecration”: it is not a contractus bilateralis onerosus (a litigatious contract “forcing” Mary to honor our prayers and sacrifices), but rather as a contractus bilateralis gratuitus, namely a contract entered into by both parties (the MTA and Schoenstatt) freely and out of love.

In 1944, while in Dachau, Fr. Kentenich coined the precise term needed to express this – the covenant of love. “Covenant” was a better word than “contract” for it expresses a more generous spirit and a personal act of self-giving, and “love” made it clear that the foundation was not justice or a false self-righteousness, but truly love. The term “covenant of love” was quickly adopted by Schoenstatt as the official name for its Marian consecration and it has been used as a keyword in Schoenstatt vocabulary ever since.

Fr. Kentenich spoke of Schoenstatt as a movement of ideas, life and grace. The covenant of love relates to Schoenstatt on all three levels. On the level of ideas, it inspires a coherent world of thought and gives impetus to study God’s covenant, Marian consecration and categories for understanding a vibrant experience of faith. On the level of life, it forms the exterior and interior features of what Schoenstatt is and does. On the level of grace, it is the source from which graces flow, not only for its own members but also for the whole Church.

The relationship between the covenant of love and Schoenstatt’s life is like that between baptism and the Christian life. It is a life-process, a dynamic unfolding of vital forces initiated by the working of the Holy Spirit and carried by the cooperation of human instruments. Its origin is an inbreak of the divine that takes root and grows. As it unfolds, it develops a unique identity and touches all areas of life, both natural and supernatural. Ideas play a role in the unfolding of this life-process, but (unlike an ideology or philosophy) are not the primary source of vitality. It lies much deeper, at the core of the human person who is completely penetrated and animated by the action of God made manifest in his life.

The relationship between the covenant of love and Schoenstatt’s life as a movement is visible in its history, which is in essence the history of the unfolding covenant of love. It is also visible in the life of each member who makes the covenant of love; this personal covenant enriches both the individual and the community. It is also visible in the life of each group and community, each of which establishes a unique dialogue of love and life between the covenant of the movement as a whole and distinctive life of the given group of members.

The covenant of love shapes Schoenstatt in many ways. It forms its organization and structure, putting a strong accent on being a family of Mary around the Shrine, making it a confederative community, that is, a “family of families” seeking its unity in the covenant relationship with the MTA. It forms its spirituality and pedagogy, resulting in a covenant-centered approach to faith, hope and love, and to education.

The covenant even impacts the understanding and role of the Shrine as a place of grace, for it did not arise from an apparition or vision (leading to an accent on extraordinary phenomena), but from a mutual relationship between the earthly and heavenly partners (placing the accent on the ordinary ways to sanctity and on uniting God’s action with our cooperation).

The first part of the talk which Fr. Kentenich gave to the young men of the founding generation on October 18, 1914 is called Schoenstatt’s “Founding Document.” In it Fr. Kentenich proposed his plan to call on Mary to make their newly acquired Sodality Chapel a place of pilgrimage. Because the boys took it to heart and, by all indications, Mary accepted this invitation, this talk was later seen as the embodiment of Schoenstatt and its aims and spirituality, hence its “Founding Document.” (The second half of the talk, in which Fr. Kentenich discussed the purpose of the war in the light of Divine Providence, is of historical significance but is not part of the Founding Document.)

Because of two later significant moments, in 1939 and 1944, which gave rise to two further “Founding Documents,” they are given the names “First” (1914), “Second” (1939) and “Third” (1944) Founding Documents, with Fr. Kentenich’s original talk to the founding generation in 1912 designated the “Pre-founding Document.”

Here are the key passages in the Founding Document of October 18, 1914:

• (Title:) “Program: Acceleration of the development of our self-sanctification as a means of transforming our chapel into a place of pilgrimage.”

• “Each one of us must achieve the highest conceivable degree of perfection and sanctity according to his state of life. Not simply the great and greater, but the greatest heights ought to be the object of our increased efforts.”

• “When St. Peter saw the glory of God on Tabor, he called out with delight, "It is good for us to be here. Let us build three tents here" (Mt 17,4). These words come to my mind again and again. And I have often asked myself: Would it not be possible for our little sodality chapel to likewise become for us the Tabor on which the glory of Mary would be revealed? 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. You gather what I am aiming at: I would like to make this place a place of pilgrimage, a place of grace for our house and for the whole German province, and perhaps even further afield. All those who come here to pray shall experience the glory of Mary and confess: ‘It is good for us to be here. Here we will build our tents, here our favorite place’.”

• “A bold thought, nearly too bold for the public, but not too bold for you. How often in world history have not small and insignificant beginnings been the source of great and greatest accomplishments? Why could that not also hold true in our case? Whoever knows the history of our sodality will have no trouble believing that Divine Providence has something special in store for it.”

• “This sodality chapel will become for us the cradle of our sanctity, just as a chapel of Our Lady in Florence was for our second patron, St. Aloysius. And this sanctity will apply gentle force on our heavenly Mother and draw her down to us.”

• “To me it is as if at this moment, here in the old chapel of St. Michael, Our Lady were speaking to us through the mouth of the holy archangel:

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.

Just now you have the best opportunity to do so. Do not think that in times like these, when momentous decisions are being made, that it is something extraordinary to increase your striving beyond that of previous generations, indeed to the highest degree. According to the plan of Divine Providence, this World War with its mighty incentives is meant to be an extraordinary help for you in the work of your self-sanctification.

This sanctification I demand of you. It is the armor that you shall put on, the sword with which you shall do battle for your desires. 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.”

The Founding Document has elements of a classical covenant: two parties coming to a mutual agreement, a solemn act of sealing the agreement, a listing of the terms of this agreement. In preparation for Schoenstatt’s 50th anniversary (1964), Fr. Kentenich gave a talk to couples (Milwaukee, October 1963) in which he summarized this covenant in the form of “Six Promises and the Six Demands” from the Founding Document. It serves as a concise rendering of the terms of the covenant.

On the one hand, Schoenstatt asks Mary to do certain things. These are the six notable things which Mary promises to us in Schoenstatt.

Mary’s 6 promises in Schoenstatt’s covenant of love:

1. “It will please me to dwell in your midst”

2. “And distribute gifts and graces in abundance.”

3. “From here I will draw youthful hearts to myself.”

4. “I will educate them”

5. “To become useful instruments”

6. “In my hands.”

On the other hand, Mary asks her covenant partners in Schoenstatt to make their contribution. These are the six main demands asked of us.

Mary’s 6 demands in Schoenstatt’s covenant of love:

1. “Prove first by your deeds that you really love me.”

2. “Increase your striving to the highest degree.”

3. “This sanctification I demand of you.”

4. “Diligently bring me contributions to the capital of grace.”

5. “Fulfill your duties faithfully.”

6. “Pray fervently.”

The saying “Nothing without you, MTA, nothing without us” is often found on the antependium (the decorative front to the altar cloth) in the Shrine. This tradition goes back to 1933, and is an expression of the covenant of love. The “nothing without you” indicates Schoenstatt’s dependence on the presence and activity of Mary in the Shrine. The “nothing without us” indicates the necessity of our cooperation and striving so that the terms by which Mary was persuaded to come to dwell in Schoenstatt are met.

See CCC 945-948 (communion of saints), 2634-36 (merits), 2006-2011 (intercessory prayer).

The Church’s teaching on merits and our possibility to cooperate in Christ’s work of salvation (see Col 1,24: “In my own flesh I make up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his body, the Church”) encourages us to actively strive for sanctity and make ourselves available for the building up of the Kingdom.

A special form for this in Schoenstatt is the “contributions to the capital of grace.” In the covenant of love with Mary, we actively bring our prayers, sacrifices and striving for sanctity and make the merits of these good works available to the MTA for her mission in the service of Christ.

The image of “capital” is taken from finance, where large sums need to be gathered for major undertakings such as establishing a business. From 1915 on, Schoenstatt has spoken of a different kind of capital: that which we bring to Mary in the Shrine comes together (like money from different investors) to assist the MTA in whatever major undertakings she has in mind from the Shrine, especially those relating to the moral and religious renewal of the world in Christ. Because this “capital” is not financial, but on the level of grace, it is called “capital of grace.”

The theological foundations for this are found in the Church’s teachings on the communion of saints (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 945-948), intercessory prayer (No. 2634-36) and merits (No. 2006-2011).

In the Third Founding Document (1944, è 184) Fr. Kentenich elaborated on the four dimensions (or “four-fold infinitism”) of the covenant of love. They are:

1. the covenant in the depths: into a more and more comprehensive gift of self corresponding to the different stages of growth into the covenant of love:

a. the Covenant of Love

b. the Blank Check dedication

c. the Inscriptio

d. the Joseph Engling act

2. the covenant in the heights: into the entire work of redemption, especially in the realization of growing into an ever deeper covenant of love with God the Father, Christ and the Holy Spirit.

3. the covenant in the breadth: the extension of the covenant to others, including those closest to me, the Church and world, all nations and social groups, etc. and with all creation; the covenant reality should help create a social order and relationship to all creation permeated by the love of Christ and Mary.

4. the covenant in the length: the covenant reality should extend to all times and into eternity, expressing our solidarity with those before us and those after us, with those who have died and those who are yet to come, and those with whom we shall spend eternity.

The Blank Check dedication is a further step of growth in the covenant of love. It expresses a fuller readiness to live one’s life in total surrender to God. The term has its origin in the difficult year of 1939. Schoenstatt’s 25th anniversary coincided with the beginning of World War II and an even greater persecution on the part of the Nazis in Germany. To express the willingness to totally entrust all things to Mary, the Schoenstatt Family made a “Blank Check” dedication with the MTA: they would “sign over” to Mary utterly everything, including the very uncertain future, and it would be up to her to lead her work through the darkness to whatever victory God had in store.

The expression “blank check” is taken from finances, where one can sign a check without specifying an amount, but it implies an absolute trust in the person given the check – that they will write in the correct amount and not defraud the account-holder or overdraw the account. In just this way, the Blank Check in Schoenstatt implies that one totally trusts the MTA with all decisions regarding the future and will not hold anything back.

The Blank Check consecration is closely related to the “holy indifference” of Ignatian spirituality and the Carmelite “abandonment to the will of God.” It is an essential foundation of sanctity – total conformity to the wishes and will of God. It presupposes the commitment to overcome sin and imperfections, and a high degree of generous self-giving.

See CCC 1742, 2015; Gaudium et spes 37-38.

A further step of growth in Schoenstatt’s covenant of love is the “Inscriptio” dedication. The word is taken from a definition of love by St. Augustine: love is an inscriptio cordis in cor, the inscribing of one heart into the heart of another. Fr. Kentenich first used this expression in 1941 and it soon came to be equated with a specific form of the covenant of love: the total gift of self through embracing all crosses and suffering that God as foreseen for me in my life. It is therefore a form of love of the cross.

The Inscriptio is closely related to the Blank Check, for both are concerned with totally surrendering all things to God. The unique feature of the Inscriptio is the explicit confrontation with our native resistance to cross and suffering. Because we are so predisposed to reject crosses (a natural defense, but disordered by original sin), and because God so often needs us to accept crosses and suffering to reach the heights of sanctity, the Inscriptio is about overcoming a basic obstacle to sanctity: that we “accept God’s will,” but only when it pleases us or only until it gets difficult.

However, Fr. Kentenich was also very clear that such an acceptance of cross and suffering is always conditional: if God has it in store for me. We do not seek crosses and suffering for their own sake, but only to the extent that it pleases God. And then! We wish to embrace them as loving gifts from our loving Father! Needless to say, this represents a very high level of growth, where the covenant of love is able to accept all things from the Divine covenant partner.

A final and ultimate stage of the covenant of love is the “Joseph Engling Act.” This consists of the offering of one’s life to God for the realization of his plans, especially through Schoenstatt and the Shrine. It must be a totally free gift and inspired by a unique prompting of the Holy Spirit, and is always respected as a very high act of generous giving to God and the MTA.

This act is named after Joseph Engling (1898-1918) of the founding generation who offered his life to the MTA for the purposes of Schoenstatt on May 31, 1918 in World War I. It is Schoenstatt’s conviction that his death on the battlefield on October 4, 1918 was related to this offer and that his life was accepted by God in the spirit of his life-offering.

Schoenstatt’s covenant of love with Mary has its theological foundation in the history of salvation. From the very beginning, this history of salvation is the history of God’s covenant of love with Man. The word “covenant” accompanies the history of salvation, capturing its most characteristic feature in both the Old and New Testament. Hence we find God establishing his covenant with chosen representatives such as Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Moses and David. The covenant culminates in the “new and eternal covenant” sealed by Christ and in Christ. Christ sealed the final covenant between God and man, opening the way to salvation for all mankind.

Even the incorporation of the individual Christian into the Church at baptism is considered an incorporation into the covenant of Christ. By belonging to the Church we belong to the People of the Covenant, the Family of God. As the Church grew into its experience of this covenant, it began to realize more and more the privileged place of Mary in unfolding the covenant life of each Christian and of the whole Church. Her presence at the Incarnation is essential to Christ’s coming as Man; her presence at Christ’s death falls under Christ’s words “Behold your Mother, behold your son” indicating his desire that she is part of his covenant; her presence in the Upper Room leading up to Pentecost indicates an indispensable role for Mary in the evangelization of the New Covenant.

Like all Marian consecrations, Schoenstatt’s covenant of love can be understood as the renewal of one’s baptismal covenant under the especially effective sign of Mary’s presence in the Church and in our lives. In Schoenstatt it takes on the further meaning of uniting us with a place of grace that reflects the community character of the covenant of Christ with the whole Church. Through practical faith in the Divine Providence one then seeks to connect one’s life totally with the Covenant with God, as is expressed in Schoenstatt’s striving for everyday sanctity, instrumentality and covenant spirituality.



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