The Living Shrine
A stream of life that preceded the birth of the home shrine - Testimony of Margaret Yank Fenelon
"Our family life should be a living shrine of the Mother Thrice Admirable. Sooner or later our attachment to the shrine will become evident in our family. The shrine is built of dead walls, but we are living stones: all the symbols of the shrine should come to life in my shrine, in my family." Father Kentenich spoke these words to couples in 1950. Words spoken two years before his arrival in Milwaukee and more than a decade before concrete "building blocks" began to be laid, taking on the form of the home shrine as we know it today. In view of the upcoming 40th anniversary of the home shrine, Margaret Yank Fenelon shares thus testimony about a stream of life that preceded the birth of the home shrine - the "living shrine".
Forty years ago Father Kentenich spoke the memorable words that have become known as the founding document of the home shrine. He chose his words very carefully; they were never empty. Father said after declaring the home shrine a ‘third order’ of shrine, "What do we mean by home shrine? Many of us have not only dedicated their house to the Blessed Mother in general, but also offered it to her as a Living Shrine." The couples at that time were working on building this living shrine within their families. This is one of the most important stages of development of the home shrine here with Father. It was through this reality of the living shrine that the home shrine finally took on form.
The importance of the family as domestic church
Father showed the importance of the family as the domestic church, but even more so how a family could become a shrine. Looking back once again to his words in 1950 we hear Father explain what is meant by a family becoming a living shrine.
If we as a family want to represent a living shrine, we should meditate on the tabernacle, the sanctuary light, etc., and penetrate their profound meaning. What sets me on fire? May I trust that my family will become more and more a shrine of living stones? Couldn’t each child represent a symbol? Notice that this topic of our discussion opens before us an immensely great world of education. The Family, p.46
A significant beginning in 1962: The "living shrine"
In Father Jonathan Niehaus’ book, The Birth of the Home Shrine, we find that a family in Germany had begun as early as 1948/49 working with the stream of life of the "living schoenstatt shrine." Each family member chose a part of the shrine to which his heart could respond. (The Birth of the Home Shrine, pp. 53-54)
However, Father was not able to work to any great extent with families in Germany or South America. Divine Providence chose Milwaukee as the place where Father could spend this time and work with the inspiration of the home shrine. In late 1962, the living shrine stream began to flow. In early 1963, Father began to mention in the Monday night talks to the couples the development of a "living shrine" stream among the younger families, noting the way that all the children became involved through their symbols. (The Birth of the Home Shrine, p. 58)
Our family was one of those young families who took up this stream and tried to bring it into life. On February 24, 1963, my parents invited Father to come and bless our family as a living shrine. At that time the MTA picture was still in a corner of the living room, before the home shrine moved upstairs where Father dedicated it one year later.
We are united here in order to form, from now on, one great living sanctuary
Father knelt and prayed:
Dear Mother Thrice Admirable and Queen of Schoenstatt:
With great joy and humility we are kneeling here in our Schoenstatt corner. We hear in spirit the word of our Savior "I thank you, Eternal Father, that you have revealed the secret of your heart to the little ones," the insignificant ones, of the Eternal Father and the Triune God… And all this in a time that wants to know so little about God and even less of you our Mother and Queen of Schoenstatt. We are united here in order to form, from now on, one great living sanctuary. In the past we tried to live in spirit in the shrine and we strived to do things in the chapel but now we wish to form, as Schoenstatt children, a living shrine. Therefore we ask you, Mother Thrice Admirable and Queen of Schoenstatt, accept us as we dedicate ourselves to you today.
Father then went on to pray a little meditation for each symbol chosen by the family members. Since we are a family of nine, I would like to share just a few of these meditations to let others hear what life Father found within these symbols.
Father Kentenich's prayer - a mission for each member of the family
Let the father of this family truly be another Peter. Just as we see on the altar of our shrine St. Peter as he holds his place there. St. Peter is in the church of God, the bearer of the key, the keeper of the key. Thus let the father of this family see, day after day, his task and mission; and to fulfill this mission, better and better, by his word and example and thus open the gates of heaven for each member of the family. The Apostle St. Paul said, once in a general way, "Our conversation should always be in heaven." This must be applied, in a special way, to the father in this family. He can only be the keeper of the key in the degree that he himself lives in heaven and converses in heaven.
[Before the Savior transferred the power to be the keeper of the key to St. Peter, he had to pass a two-fold examination. He had to do this in a three-fold way. It was an examination of love. Three times our Lord asked St. Peter, "Do you love me?" It is amazing how well Peter understood the Master as he asked three times the same question; of course always on a higher level. Three times Peter denied our Lord and Savior. Therefore now three times he had to pass this examination of love. The first question was, "Simon, son of Jonas, do you love me?" This is an examination the father of this family has to pass every night if he wants to do justice to his task as Peter of this family. Humbly and modestly Peter answered, "Yes Lord". And now there was not anymore the self-glorification that Peter used to have. It is now a simple, humble, modest word, "Lord you know everything. You know also that I love you." Here is the answer from the Lord, "Take care of my lambs, watch my sheep.
When the father of this family wants to be the Peter of this family, if he wants to become another St. Peter, he must become a genius of love and a genius of humility and he must constantly have his home in heaven. Thus we ask you, dear Mother Thrice Admirable and Queen of Schoenstatt, take the mission of the father in your hands and in your motherly heart that the words, which we have so frequently used in the past, may have a new meaning. Mater Perfectam Habebit Curam Et Victoriam! Yes take care Mother Thrice Admirable and Queen of Schoenstatt that the father of the family realizes, in an excellent way, in the highest way possible the symbol he has chosen in the living shrine.
The mother of the family - the living cross
The same words ‘Mater Perfectam Habebit Curam!’ can be applied also to the mother of the family. She wants to be the living cross of the family, and you know the cross has an honored place in the shrine also. Teach the mother to hang on the cross as often as there are members and children in the family. "When I am lifted up on the cross then I will draw everything to myself." The mother of the family has to expect that the children grow older and must take into consideration that like many other children, and as children usually do at a certain age, interiorly detach themselves from the family and want to go their own way. Then she must see and she may say, repeating the word of our Lord, "When I am hanging on my cross then I take care of my children." What I can no longer accomplish by my words, I can accomplish by my suffering. My sacrifices will still reach the children even though they are far away from me. Thus we ask you again Mother Thrice Admirable and Queen of Schoenstatt, bless the mother of the family with a rich overly rich blessing.
Joseph, a living tabernacle, Margaret, the eternal light
Our Joseph wishes to become a living tabernacle. Yes Mother Thrice Admirable and Queen of Schoenstatt, here we pray again Mater Perfectam Habebit Curam Et Victoriam! The tabernacle is the bearer of Christ and we know the Blessed Sacrament is always hidden and enclosed in the tabernacle. Dear Mother Thrice Admirable and Queen of Schoenstatt please take care that our Joseph is always a Christ-bearer and Christ-bringer. Help Joseph that his whole being becomes a Sursum Corda "Lift up your heart." Let him go through his life as a Christ-bearer and as St. Lawrence carried Christ in his heart, and therefore his whole being remained untouched and unaffected, so through his whole life he could draw everybody up higher to God. This he wants to do too.
Take care that our little Margaret embodies and represents the eternal light. What is the eternal light? We know where the sanctuary light burns, there Christ reigns, Christ dwells and Christ has erected his throne. Take care that both eyes of our little Margaret are always bright and shining eyes because of the unaffected purity of her heart. See to it that the eyes of our Margaret always radiate warmth. Our world is so cold now a days. Everybody is just looking out for himself. People are so selfish. See to it that Margaret always has an unselfish heart and that her eyes express this warm unselfishness and that her whole being radiates warmth. And where does the fountain of all this warmth and beauty lie? She wants to be another sanctuary lamp. So then her life should symbolize the eternal light. And where does she receive this light in all its glory? From our Lord in the tabernacle.
Show, dear Mother, that you still in our modern times, have the power to work miracles.
In the closing of his prayer, after each symbol was presented to our Mother, Father prayed over our little family, "Show, dear Mother, that you still in our modern times, have the power to work miracles. Through your intercession still today let water be changed into wine. Work through our Savior the miracle of transformation and change every member, every child of the family into the symbol she or he has confessed themselves to, the symbol each has chosen. Make the whole family one wonderful living shrine…and take every one of them and lead them up higher to the throne of the Triune God. Amen."
How did the living shrine affect our family? Was it a passing fancy, capturing the interest for a little while and then soon discarded along the way? One of the children (Joseph – the tabernacle) was twelve years old at the time of our dedication. He recently expressed the lasting impressions of this spiritual way of life.
The home shrine, in its ‘living’ dimension, can be that icon that draws us upward, heavenward, always higher until we reach the goal of our journey.
In my own experience, the living shrine is invaluable. It has given me a point of contact with the supernatural world and has deepened my love for all that is sacred within the Church, within the depths of our Catholic faith. The idea that each person chose a symbol came very naturally to our family. It wasn’t something that was only for the children, but for the parents as well, and as Father prayed a simple prayer for each person and their symbol, he spent more time on Dad and Mom than he did on each of the children. This to me shows the importance of childlikeness before the Father, simple, humble childlikeness especially on the part of the mother and the father… If I were to tell you how my life progressed from the time of this living shrine dedication until this day there would be many blank spaces. The road I traveled was that of many young people growing up in these difficult times. My life and soul hovered many times at the abyss. What saved me? The living shrine! The further I would go from the realization of my ideal and symbol, the more my parents would grow closer to their own symbol and ideal.
My brothers and sisters too were united in a very special way and we knew one another as brothers and sisters normally do but also through our symbols. There is a spiritual sense of togetherness that crosses many miles, boundaries and differences. To this day, when the bell (the symbol of one of my sisters) rings, my heart is drawn instantly to her side and in this way I am drawn into the shrine. "Our conversation should always be in heaven." We need in our time, something to draw us there. The home shrine, in its ‘living’ dimension, can be that icon that draws us upward, heavenward, always higher until we reach the goal of our journey.
Uniting hearts spiritually in the Shrine
The great value of the living shrine as an integral part of the home shrine is something that may in time grow more deeply within our hearts. Looking back at those historical years in Milwaukee, the living shrine can be seen as the preparation for the foundation of the home shrine. Working together on the living shrine is a wonderful means of preparing ones heart and home for the home shrine dedication. And if the home shrine is already dedicated it is never too late to begin to flow into this new stream of life. The means of education found within these symbols is beyond measure. Very often the chosen symbol has an integral part to play in the search for, the discovery of and the living of ones personal ideal.
Once again we listen to Father, "Couldn’t each child represent a symbol? Notice that this topic of our discussion opens before us an immensely great world of education." Here Father could be speaking of the ‘child’ of any age, for even if ones children are already grown and gone from home, the valuable life of the symbol that a mother, father or grandparent may take into their own heart can continue to reach children and grandchildren across the miles, uniting hearts spiritually in the shrine.
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