Shrine Without Walls
A Methodist Appraoch to Schoenstatt
In view of the first Ecumenical Encounter of Ecclesial Movements in Germany, on December 8, 2001, John and Jan Beebe, England, Methodists, during their stay in Schoenstatt in November shared Schoenstatt experiences and insights, as an impulse for further dialogue and encoouragement for all those who are "knocking at the doors of Schoenstatt", from inside and outside.
We first heard about Schönstatt through friends in Manchester in the late 1970’s. They gave us a brief introduction to Schönstatt and encouraged us to visit it. It was some time after that we met a couple from Chile who, over the course of several months, told us more about the history and spirituality of Schönstatt. After several months, they said that in order to know more we would have to visit Schoenstatt ourselves. They arranged for us to stay in the centre and so in October 1980 we made our first trip to Schoenstatt. We stayed in Missionhaus and Sr Marie Clara and Fr Franz Brügger took us to the various shrines and houses in Schönstatt. We liked what we saw, and were particularly impressed with our two guides, who were very gracious people.
We went back to Schoenstatt in the following year, met Sr Jean for the first time, and became more and more interested. We asked whether we could make our Covenant of Love, but we thought that this would be impossible, since neither Jan or I are Catholics. In fact I am a Methodist minister and Jan is also a Methodist – hardly the right people to be candidates for the Covenant, we thought. However, Fr Franz did not think that these difficulties were insurmountable and he gave us help and encouragement. In a way, we had begun to experience the ‘Shrine Without Walls’ without knowing it! Having prepared the dedication service, we made our Covenant on 7 April 1983 in the Shrine of the Families. By this time, we had made friends with Hans and Christel Hampl of the Secular Institute of the Families and they gave us their support, as did Sr Jean. Once again, good Schönstatt people were helping to create the ‘Shrine without Walls’. We think that were one of the first non-Catholic couples to make the Covenant; we hope that there are others and that in time more and more people like us will feel that they want to be a part of Schönstatt.
2 MISSION IMPOSSIBLE?
So, there we were, two Methodists now fully committed to Schönstatt, trying to live a Centred-centred life, but without any group or community to support us. We had kept in touch with the Schoenstatt families in Manchester over the years, but they were a long way away. We did join in one of their family weeks in Schönstatt and paid occasional visits to see them in Manchester, but most of the time we were on our own. What happened next was that we started to speak about Schönstatt with people in our congregations, and so it came about that a couple from our church in Cambridgeshire came with us to Schönstatt on two occasions. Unfortunately, the man, Frank Searle, has since died, but his widow, Vi, maintains an interest in Schönstatt to this day and often thinks about the happy times they had.
Our next move was to Tonbridge in Kent and here in a new situation we started all over again with our Schönstatt mission. We made friends with one couple in particular, Lynne and Hugh Taylor, and they showed interest in what we told them about Schönstatt. I had been unwell at the end of 1989 and had to have surgery. This meant that I was unable to undertake the long journey to Germany. We always travelled by car, but driving such a long way was not possible. Our friends offered to take us in their car to this place we had talked about with such enthusiasm, and so in August 1990 we came with them. Hugh and Lynne liked what they saw, but even more liked the people they met. Sr Jean was still in Schönstatt at the time, though she was about to leave for her home country, the U.S.A. Her successor, Sr Jessica, had just arrived, and it was clear that she was as keen to make our Methodist friends welcome as others had been. When we returned home, Lynne wrote an article in our Church Magazine, saying that Schönstatt was a wonderful place, and that it would be good if we could take a group from the church for a visit.
The ‘Shrine Without Walls’ took another step forward when we brought our first group of about twelve people to Schönstatt in 1991. This was followed by two more groups, the last being in 1996. Soon after this, the new Schönstatt Centre, Ballincleroch, was opened in Scotland and we took a group there in 1999. All of those who came with us to Schönstatt found the visits helpful; some had questions, but even those who had difficulties, enjoyed their time. What really impressed them, however, was the kindness and graciousness of the people we met; sisters, fathers and other members of the Schönstatt Movement. The ‘Shrine Without Walls’ needs advocates who will help to bridge the gaps, which inevitably exist!
3 THE PLACE OF MARY
Sooner or late the spirituality of Schönstatt had to be examined in some detail. I was able to undertake this during a three-month Sabbatical leave at the end of 1992. As a result of my study, I wrote a booklet entitled ‘The Place of Mary in the Christian Life’. This was an attempt to answer some of the questions raised by people who had visited Schönstatt, and by some people in our church who had expressed interest but had not been able (or willing) to make the journey to Schönstatt. During our time in Tonbridge we had two visits to our church by Sr Margarita from Scotland and one by Fr Franz and, as a result, two groups were formed. They were not really ‘Schönstatt’ groups in the strict sense, but questions relating to the spirituality of Schönstatt did arise. One of the most contentious aspects of Schönstatt spirituality was that there appeared to be a very strong emphasis on Mary’s role. Some thought that this was unnecessary, since we as Christians have full access to God through Jesus. ‘We do not need Mary’, they said! This is one of the major difficulties we have had to face. It is true that some people have no difficulty in understanding the place of Mary, they accept that she has an important role to play and do not question this. For those for whom this is an obstacle, we have tried to show how Fr Kentenich saw that Mary was a necessary part in God’s plan, that she was an instrument who played a necessary part in the Incarnation of Jesus. For many Protestants, Mary has a place in our Christmas celebrations, but is then put away until next year! I am convinced that the objections can be overcome and that a richer understanding of our faith can then be achieved, but it is necessary to take our friends along, step by step, until they too begin to come to the fullness of understanding. If the ‘Shrine Without Walls’ is to become a reality, the place of Mary has to be understood and appreciated. Having said this, there are some people for whom an understanding of Mary’s place comes as a kind of liberation. One lady in our Tonbridge church said in a meeting following a Schönstatt visit: ‘I have always loved Mary, but have never dared to say so until now’. I have now retired from full-time ministry and we have moved to a new area. Here, the work goes on! Two couples in our new area have shown interest in Schönstatt and we are making plans for a visit in 2002. One lady in that group has had the most amazing experiences of Mary in the past few weeks, and far from Mary being an obstruction, she has been a most positive help. We are seeing how it is that Jesus actually invites us to know and love his Mother and to see that in a very real way, she is our Mother too.
4 ‘PREPARE THE WAY’
When we have brought people to Schönstatt, and indeed, when we have come ourselves, we find that there are certain things, which have to be taken into account when Protestants visit Schönstatt. I have mentioned the place of Mary already, but there are other things. Catholics are accustomed to using various religious symbols to express their faith. Those in the our tradition do not have the same attachment to symbols. We are learning, for we now have a cross in most of our churches, and we often light candles, but we do not reserve the sacrament and therefore do not have any Eucharistic devotions. We do not have holy water containers, we do not genuflect, and very rarely do we kneel in worship. We do not have pictures in our churches very often, and statues are almost unknown. I am, of course, speaking of Methodism but I am sure that Baptists, those in the Reformed churches and other ‘Free’ churches would be in the same position. Just imagine a person coming to Schönstatt from one of our churches and seeing the M.T.A. picture, the ornate altar in the Shrines, the statues, the tabernacle and so much more. ‘Is this really necessary?’ they would ask. ‘Surely we can worship God without all these objects’. Instead of being aids to worship, they become obstacles! Because Schönstatt is a Catholic movement, allowance has to be made for these things which seem so unnecessary to become the familiar objects which make each Shrine a place of grace and a home. This takes time, and we usually find when bringing groups to Schönstatt that those who have difficulties in this regard take a few days to ‘acclimatize’. The other difficulty, which is not confined to non-Catholics, is that of language. To hear groups of people saying prayers and worshipping in a strange language is to leave them feeling isolated. When we have taken groups to Schönstatt, we have always joined in the Sunday Morning Mass in the Adoration Church. Some have come away feeling perplexed and it is only when we have explained that the liturgy is very similar to the one we use for our Lord’s Supper (as we usually call our Eucharist) that they feel more at home.
Culture shock, religious differences, new emphases – all create difficulties as people come to Schönstatt. Those who take quite naturally to Marian devotion, who are not bothered or hindered by religious practices which are unfamiliar and who can accommodate language and cultural differences naturally, have no problem. But experience has shown that even those who do have genuine problems can come to an appreciation of the mission and message and spirituality of Schönstatt. Barriers, prejudices and suspicions can be broken down when love is allowed to work. In a very real sense, Mary, the Mother of Our Lord, is not only the object of devotion in the Catholic church, but is the Mother of all Christians. Those of us who have found this to be true for ourselves have entered into a deeper relationship with Jesus, with the Holy Spirit and with the Father. Far from being a hindrance, Mary has helped us into a deeper understanding. This is why Schönstatt spirituality is so important and why the concept of the ‘Shrine Without Walls’ is a necessity!
5 THE FOUNDER-INFLUENCE
I ought not to complete this brief summary of our experience of the ‘Shrine Without Walls’ without saying a word about how the life and example of Fr Kentenich have played an important part in the acceptance of Schönstatt by our fellow Methodists. As we have toured Pater Kentenich Haus, seen the audio-visual presentation of his life, experienced the loneliness of the ‘bunker’ and heard about his amazing strength of character in Dachau and when experiencing difficulties with diocesan authorities (something with which we have great sympathy !), we have been impressed by one who remains an example of the kind of Christian we all strive to be. He becomes a role model for us and the denominational boundaries melt away. Similarly, when seeing the ‘Personal Ideal’ room in Schönstatt, we have felt at one with the brave and self-denying lives of so many of the Schönstatt pioneers. To us, they have all been a way in to the ‘Shrine Without Walls’. May more and more people find this ‘way in’ for themselves and, like us, be richly blessed.
16 November 2001, John and Jan Beebe
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