2016 Schoenstatt October Weekend in Cape Town
This year’s October Weekend in Cape Town on 7-9 October was firmly rooted in the Year of Mercy. Fr. Michael Hagan’s talks centred on Fr. Kentenich’s understanding and lived experience of mercy and the creative tension that exists between mercy and justice.
Mercy can be defined as undeserved love, but mercy is more than just love. In order for love to deepen, there must also be justice. Fr. Michael gave the example of parents. Parents love their children and will always forgive them, not matter what they do (this is mercy); but a measure of their love also includes disciplining the children (this is justice).
Fr. Kentenich’s own lived experience of mercy
Fr. Kentenich’s understanding of mercy evolved from his own life history. He grew up in a time in which mercy was not a dominant feature. As a result of the circumstances of his birth, he was denied entry to the priesthood, and was only accepted into the Pallottine community because they desperately needed missionary priests. Later in his life, during the exile period, he experienced the great need for mercy.
Fr. Michael invited the participants to really imagine what it was like for Fr. Kentenich to be separated from his life’s work and to be sent away in disgrace, while the Church discerned the true spirit of the Schoenstatt work. Fr. Kentenich experienced mercy through the families in the USA, but it was also an inner process of self-education in the face of the great humiliation he endured. His miraculous return to Germany was his personal experience of mercy.
Fr. Michael noted with interest that Fr. Kentenich waited until the end of his life to make his Covenant with God the Father, essentially culminating the founding of Schoenstatt. This is why we often describe Milwaukee as the Fourth Milestone — the Milestone of Mercy. Fr. Kentenich first needed a lifetime of deepening his experience of mercy and experiencing God’s mercy before he could be reconciled to his own personal history of not having grown up with a father figure.
Only then was he able to make his Covenant with God the Father in a very private and personal way in the Cologne Shrine on 30 October 1966, the 50th anniversary of which we celebrate this year. In fact, the moment of that covenant was so simple that even the people who were with him in the shrine that day did not realise what he was doing!
Called to reconcile with our own Life Story
We are also called to reflect on the events of our lives. Through meditation, we become reconciled with our Life Story. Fr. Michael urged the participants to write their Life Story, asking: What does God say to me through my life story? What is my inner soul? As we walk with the living God, we need to ask ourselves: Where am I at? This process requires time and silence. In order to achieve this, we need to encounter Christ and ourselves daily, encounter our spouses weekly, and reflect monthly so that we can experience God’s mercy. In this way, we digest the events of our Life Story.
As we grow in God’s love and mercy, we are all called to a Second Conversion where we move away from our own will power and into God’s love and mercy. This Second Conversion is likened to passing through the narrow door. This is not an easy process and requires hard work on our part. We also find ourselves on different sides of the narrow door at different periods of our life, as we work through the various events and issues of our Life Story.
Fostering a Covenant Culture in Schoenstatt
Having experienced the Father’s mercy in our own lives, in Schoenstatt we are also called to become a community of Mercy and Justice in Mary and in Christ. It is important to remember that a community can only last when Christ and Mary are at the centre. We need only think about the early apostles in the Cenacle at Pentecost. Mary was there with them when they received the Holy Spirit. They were able to be missionary disciples and spread a faith that has lasted 2,000 years because they kept Jesus and Mary at the centre. Similarly, at the “glowing core” of the Schoenstatt community of mercy are the Institutes, Unions, and Leagues, which foster a network of relationships of mercy in Christ and Mary. This is what we mean by a Covenant Culture.
But we need to go even further. We need to build a Covenant Culture in our society. Since the secular world very often does not understand what is meant by a “covenant culture,” we can substitute this with “relationship culture,” which essentially is a culture of fostering relationships among people using the model of our covenant culture in Christ and Mary.
Fostering a Relationship Culture in South Africa
South Africa today needs this encounter with the other – to discover the I, you, we, and God. To be touched by the other is a mystery. To come to a Relationship Culture of love, mercy, justice and healing, we must develop an attachment to a Covenant Culture. Only by fostering these relationships will we find the healing that our country so desperately needs.
The healing comes when we are able to discern the signs of the times. South Africa needs to become a country of mercy, solidarity and subsidiarity. This means that we need to be merciful towards each other. We needs to put aside the ‘I’ so that we enter into solidarity with one another.
However, solidarity can easily be mistaken for collectivism, where the individual loses his personal voice in order to speak with “once voice” for the group. We can see the downfall of this mistaken solidarity in the student protest movement. This is why solidarity must be accompanied by subsidiarity — the principle that governance must also be exercised at the grass roots level. In other words, power that comes from above robs the individual of agency, but mechanisms must be created so that individual persons are able to contribute in a meaningful way to the good of society. Fr. Michael stressed that we need to find ways to apply the principles of true solidarity and subsidiarity in an African paradigm that is non-discriminatory.
Cape Town Motto for 2017
Having reflected on the themes of the talks during the weekend, the Schoenstatt Family in Cape Town found its motto for the coming year: “Father, your Shrine — Heart of Love, Mercy and Healing.” The Family decided to keep most of the 2016 motto as a reflection that there is still work to be done in the field of mercy, but the focus now is on the healing power of God’s loving mercy.