Discipleship in Friendship

We are all made to know, love, and serve God; the fullest expression of that is discipleship with Christ. To follow Christ in His every word and deed shows the greatest love and strength of character of any man or woman. St. Francis de Sales gives us the ideal of friendship by applying Christ’s teaching of discipleship in our everyday relationships.

Every human is in need of community; friendships are a part of life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1879) says:

The human person needs to live in society. Society is not for him an extraneous addition but a requirement of his nature. Through the exchange with others, mutual service and dialogue with his brethren, man develops his potential; he thus responds to his vocation.

Because of the intrinsic desire for communion with others, friendship can either aid in our path towards sanctity or lead our soul to destruction. There is a great obligation to be cautious in our choice of friends. Persons that cause us to either neglect our relationship with God or deliberately lead us away from Him should be loved with charity but not in a mutual relationship.

The Beatitudes give us a full understanding of discipleship. They give us a glimpse of the person of Christ, and thereby provide an in depth example of how we ought to become. If we live the Beatitudes, we will ultimately be living in communion with Christ as His disciples.

St. Francis distinguishes the difference between false and true friendships. Relationships that are based purely on sensual gratification do not deserve the title of true friendship. Rather, they are temptations that distract us from fulfilling God’s will in our lives. The childish acquaintances that depend on outward appearance or superficial qualities will break as soon as a fault is discovered.

Relationships with the opposite sex are particularly prone to develop in this shallow manner. St. Francis calls these flirtations. While not overtly impure, they often lead to impure relationships by giving emotions and natural instinct free reign over the will. By being aware of the temptations and great danger in encouraging such acquaintances, we come to a fuller understanding of the necessity to purify the motive of our actions.

However, there is the possibility of pure friendships with the opposite sex. Philosophers acknowledge friendship to be a virtue; many saints have shown us that it is possible to reach perfection with others. As St. Francis says, “Thus, perfection does not lie in rejecting all friendships, but in entertaining none that are not pure, holy, and sacred.” True friends become one in their pursuit of a goal, together seeking to overcome all failings. Although we must patiently bear our friend’s imperfections, we must never encourage or adopt them ourselves. We must not tolerate sins at all, for a friend’s soul is more precious than their body; and to permit or encourage sin would lead to their destruction.

We become what we love. Friendship is a reciprocal love in which we acquire the qualities of the other person. The purest friendships are built on the common pursuit of virtue; the bond becomes precious because it rests in God and brings us closer to Him. When we pursue friendship in this noble manner, it becomes a reflection of discipleship with Christ and the Church.

Schoenstatt: Renewing the World for Christ

The following is a five-page essay written for my communications class. I would be honored if you would read it, but please do not let its length scare you away from my blog. 🙂 May God bless and our Mother keep you!

Lisa

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When asked what Schoenstatt is and why I love it so much, I feel as though I have been asked to explain the universe in the space of a moment. Words are inadequate to communicate Schoenstatt’s greatness; in order to truly appreciate it, you must live its principles. It would be impossible to explain the sun, the world, or our souls without having an experience of them. In the same way, I am only able to use a few feeble words that cannot convey the fullness of Schoenstatt’s reality. Nevertheless, I have come to realize that if God has graced you with the knowledge of something great, He desires that you communicate it to others. In this essay I will do my best to give a glimpse into the essence of the Schoenstatt Movement.

In our world today, we are experiencing the tragedy of an attempt to poison and redefine love. Many souls wander, seeking worldly pleasures. They turn away from God and deny the gift of true life. Truth is thrown on the wayside, and without truth there is no trust. Human relationships become deformed because of the rejection of dependence and complementarity. We claim to assert our individuality yet refuse to acknowledge the desire in the depths of every human heart to love and be loved. The mechanistic mentality of our culture has caused a loss of recognition of the dignity of persons, and we often feel as though we are only part of a machine. This has led to a gaping emptiness in our lives and relationships.

The Blessed Mother longs to bring us back to God. In Schoenstatt we respond by making a covenant of love with her, offering ourselves to be her instruments. In turn she promises to dwell among us and form us so that we can go into the world as Christ’s witnesses. In a world where the creature is separated from the creator, the body from the soul, the mind from the heart, love from the family, Schoenstatt strives to again bring about God-willed unity and order.

Schoenstatt is a movement of the Catholic Church with a powerful mission: “As a chosen work and instrument in the hand of Mary, we wish to work totally and untiringly for the Marian transformation of the world in Christ from Schoenstatt.” (200 Questions about Schoenstatt, #28) Schoenstatt is an international movement present on all continents and in more than eighty countries. The many branches and communities of Schoenstatt provide a place for all people in all walks of life. It is a place where men and women, families and youth, consecrated and lay people all unite to work towards the Holy Springtime of the Church. The three aims of Schoenstatt are:

1. Forming the new man (or person) in the new community,

2. Saving the salvific mission of the Western World,

3. The Apostolic World Confederation. (200 Questions about Schoenstatt, #28)

The second and third aims are beyond the scope of this essay; it will suffice to say that we share in Christ’s thirst for souls and work for the salvation of the entire world.

On October 18, 1914, the first covenant of love was made with the Blessed Mother in the original shrine in Germany. Under the guidance of Father Joseph Kentenich, the founding generation of boys consecrated themselves to Mary. The boys promised their best efforts for sanctity and asked Mary to use each of them as instruments to reach into the world. Although Schoenstatt did not become an official apostolic movement until 1919-1920, we recognize the essentiality of the covenant to the movement and so consider October eighteenth our founding day. Throughout the life of our founder the movement developed into the form that we know today.

The covenant of love is a Marian consecration recognized by the Church. It is a complete gift of self to our Blessed Mother, and through it we desire to grow in our ability to live our commitment to Christ and the Church. The covenant is a personal consecration, but also unites us in the original covenant and binds us to each other for the enrichment of the whole community.

A priest once described Schoenstatt in the terms of a triangle. The three points are our founder, the Blessed Mother, and the shrine; the enclosed area is the dynamic life of the covenant of love. In order to understand Schoenstatt, it is necessary to understand our three contact points.

Father Joseph Kentenich was born on November 18, 1885 in Gymnich, Germany. When he was nine years old, his mother was no longer able to care for him. Before she took him to an orphanage, she consecrated him to the Blessed Mother; this impressed him very deeply, and he developed a strong devotion to Mary. At a young age he recognized a desire to become a priest. On July 8, 1910 he was ordained to the priesthood in the Society of the Pallottines. In 1912, he became the spiritual director of the Pallottine Minor Seminary in Schoenstatt, Germany. His work with the seminarians led to the founding of the Schoenstatt Movement, and in 1919 he was allowed to focus on his work with the movement.

During the time that Hitler controlled Germany, Schoenstatt was persecuted by the Nazis. Father Kentenich was imprisoned for three and a half years; more than three of those years were spent in the concentration camp in Dachau. Even amidst the great deprivations and trials of the camp, Father always remained joyful and selfless in his service to others.

In the years following the Second World War, Schoenstatt began to grow internationally. The quickly expanding movement came under the scrutiny of the Church, which led to a separation of Father Kentenich from his work in Europe. In 1951 he was sent to the provincial house of the Pallottine Fathers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and was appointed as the pastor of a German parish community. Father Kentenich’s Marian teaching and fatherly guidance led to the development of a Schoenstatt community in Milwaukee. Although it was a heavy cross to be exiled, he proved his love for the Church by accepting her authority and trusting in God’s providence. After fourteen years, he was allowed to return and spent the last three years of his life guiding the large international community.

The heart of Schoenstatt is the Blessed Mother. In our covenant of love with her as Mother Thrice Admirable, Queen and Victress of Schoenstatt we bring all our efforts and ask her to help us on our way to sanctity. Our daily consecration prayer says

…I consecrate to you this day
My eyes, my ears, my mouth, my heart
My entire self without reserve….

Not only do we give our actions—we consecrate our entire being to her, so that we are able to more perfectly bring Christ into the world and fulfill His mission for us.

A deep love for Mary forms our personality. When we love someone, we seek to please them and think about them often throughout our daily duties. Our love for Mary is no different. In Schoenstatt, we strive to remain pure as she was. By seeking to make our eyes, ears, mouth, and heart more pleasing to our Mother, we open ourselves to her grace and slowly become little Immaculatas for the world.

Throughout history, God has chosen certain places to dwell and distribute His graces; often through the intercession of the Blessed Mother and the saints. By giving us tangible places of pilgrimage, God uses our senses to bring our entire person closer to Him. In Schoenstatt, the Blessed Mother distributes three pilgrimage graces from the shrine: the grace of finding a home, the grace of inner transformation, and the grace of apostolic fruitfulness.

The Schoenstatt shrine is a little chapel, and the very coziness of the building gives it a homey feeling. Yet every person will acknowledge that a home is not defined by the physical structure; there is something more that makes a building into a home. The Schoenstatt shrine is a familiar place where we encounter Mary and her Blessed Son. It is a place where our heart can rest, and the loving atmosphere gives us a place of refuge from worldly cares. When we open our heart to receive the grace of a home in the shrine, we allow ourselves to become attached to the Blessed Mother in a deeper way and she gives us a place in her heart. No matter where we go, we will always have the security of a home that is more real than that of a physical shelter.

Every path toward sanctity is one of transformation. In the shrine, the Blessed Mother forms us into disciples of Christ. We bring her our strivings, and in turn we receive strength to withstand the pressures of the modern world. Through the grace of inner transformation, we become firm personalities committed to living each moment for Christ.

When we have found a home in the heart of the Blessed Mother and are interiorly transformed, we can no longer be still. Apostolic fruitfulness (zeal) is the culmination of our transformation. Love turns into action, and we become more effective instruments in our service to God and neighbor. We are convicted for Christ, and work with heroic love to bring souls to Him.

One of the fundamental aspects of Schoenstatt is our participation in following the will of God in our everyday life. The Blessed Mother is the perfect example of following the will of God, so we strive to imitate her. God has given all people a free will and desires that we use it to participate in His plan of love. He already has a plan for our life; we only need to discover it and give our “fiat”. We understand that God controls everything and He will not allow anything to happen that is not for our greatest good. There is great joy in knowing that the King of Creation has a perfect plan for our lives; and as long as we do our best to follow that plan, He will bless us by drawing us closer to Him.

With the gift of free will comes the obligation to choose right. God calls us all to holiness, but will not save us without our permission or participation. It is necessary to not only ask for the graces to sanctify our lives, but to spend all of our efforts towards that end. Because of this, Schoenstatt’s spirituality puts great focus on self education.

Self education requires knowing oneself. We must know the talents that God has given us, as well as our weaknesses and sins. Refusing to acknowledge our talents will cripple our ability to serve God and our community; refusing to acknowledge our weaknesses claims undue pride for ourselves and moves us further away from God. Every person has a unique personality, and it is of utmost importance to know who you are so that you may discover who God wants you to be.

Everyone is called to sanctity. Not just an abstract piousness, but holiness that is integrated into everyday life. Father Kentenich said, “Everyday sanctity is the God-pleasing harmony between wholehearted attachment to God, work and fellow-man in every circumstance of life.” Our goal is to achieve this sanctity both as an individual and as a community.

The particular examination is one of the tools that we use to direct our personal growth. It is a resolution specifically chosen to work towards the correction of a fault or the development of a virtue. The particular examination is often part of the Spiritual Daily Order, which is a list of practices that enables a person to live their faith to the fullest extent in their state in life. Written control is very important; it is a concrete way to keep track of our efforts, and is very effective in guiding our spiritual progress. Every resolution should be specific enough that it is clear at the end of the day if it has been kept or not. Seeking holiness is a difficult, life long task and requires many sacrifices; but in order to share in the Resurrection of Christ, we must share in His cross.

Man is a social being, and so it is necessary to grow spiritually not only as an individual but also as part of a community. Working toward common ideals stimulates growth in personal holiness as well as impacting the holiness of everyone around you. The first example of this is evident in our families. Then, as we go through life, our choices decide the community we become a part of. Our actions determine whether we uplift or degrade those around us. Recognizing the interdependence of free persons, Schoenstatt seeks to build a community that shares responsibility, life, and love.

To summarize, the human person is under attack. There is widespread loss of identity, which has caused the decline of society. Schoenstatt is a movement of renewal, a place of grace, and a unique spirituality; by receiving and living for the fulfillment of this great gift, we can help bring the world to its heavenly goal. God wishes to draw us to Himself, but requests our participation in His plan. In recognizing the dignity that God has given each person, we realize our obligation to joyfully respond to His call. The reality of Schoenstatt is necessary for our time; through commitment to the mission of the Blessed Mother in the shrine, our world will be renewed for Christ.

The Finding in the Temple

Like many Bible stories, the finding of Jesus in the temple is familiar to my ears. It is most particularly called to mind whenever I pray the rosary. However, as I begin to study Scripture in more depth, I find myself with the awe of a child. As I reread and hear the stories contained in Scripture, they become real and form my life. God speaks through His written word, using it to communicate with us and give us His guidance.

Luke 2:41-45 gives an account of the setting of the finding of Jesus. We learn that it was a custom of the time to go to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover and find the Holy Family making the journey. Through the journey and celebration we recognize the vitality and presence of Jewish culture in their everyday life. When the feast was ended, Mary and Joseph sought Jesus among the company of the travelers; when they could not find Him, they returned to the Holy City.

On our journey of life, we must take into account the culture that we are a part of. Creation is unfolded through the development of culture, and the celebrations and customs are part of the expression of God’s plan. At times, though, in the midst of the celebrations we lose sight of Christ. We move on our way, searching among our “fellow travelers”; yet it is often necessary to turn back to find Him.

Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the temple, “…sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions; and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” (Luke 2:46-47) In this I find a strong correlation to the public life of Jesus. He taught by asking questions rather than giving dissertations on what was right. Engaging the reason of those who asked for His wisdom, He guided their conclusion. In Jesus’ presence in the temple among the teachers we find a brief glimpse of His perfect guidance and respect; by asking questions He draws the freedom of each person to choose right from wrong. This example shines through all His work and gives a precedent for teaching all through the ages.

Jesus remained in Jerusalem for three days. Just as He would be hidden for three days in the tomb, He is hidden for three days from the sight of Mary and Joseph. When we lose Christ in our lives, we are allowed to taste a bit of the anxiety of His parents; but we will always find Him in the Eucharist as the temple that was raised up in three days (cf. John 2:19, 21).

Mary and Joseph did not understand when Jesus asked them “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49). Yet even though He was the Son of God, He went back to Nazareth and submitted to their authority. It is amazing to really think that the Son of God Himself would obey the authority of human parents; it gives us a model for obedience that should form our very being.

There are many lessons that can be learned through meditation on the simple stories of Christ’s life. In the story of the finding in the temple, we find both a model of teaching and obedience as well as a glimpse into the mystery of salvation. In each passage of Scripture, God speaks to us to give us guidance for everyday life. Many times it is just a whisper in our heart, reminding us of the little virtues; sometimes it is a voice that tells us to glance towards the larger picture of life. In all things, Scripture leads us to Christ—the living Word who dwells among us and brings us to the fulfillment of life.

The most influential people in my life

There have been a vast number of lives that have touched mine. Many different people have shared a piece of their soul in my formation; it is impossible to pinpoint a single person who was the most influential. However, I have come to the conclusion that no one has given as much as my parents; in all the highs and lows of family life I have observed them. I was home schooled all through school and so my life revolved around home and family for my most formative years. As a result, I have acquired many of Mom and Dad’s strengths as well as assimilating some of their weaknesses.

Dad was the fifth of eight children, and grew up on a dairy farm. He has a passive personality, yet is very opinionated. One thing in which I particularly feel his influence is my love of books and learning. In our home, there have always been many books. When my siblings and I were little, Dad would read us a story every night—it was a highlight of our day. I remember listening to Rootabaga Stories, stories of Uncle Wiggly and the Littletails, the Little House on the Prairie series, and many other such books. As I grew older, there were fewer story times; but they have been replaced with frequent conversations with Dad about what I have read.

My Mom came from a small family with only one brother, so the exuberant and rambunctious behavior of my siblings and I often exasperated her. Mom was my first teacher. From her I learned how to get dressed, brush my hair, get dishes clean, sweep floors, do laundry, change a diaper, and care for toddlers, as well as all my elementary school subjects. Because Mom has given us all her strong will, there have been some conflicts; but a great part of the everyday guidance in my life has come from her.

There have been many special moments that I have shared with my parents. In high school, I enjoyed one-on-one time with Dad in the drive to and from Confirmation and drivers education classes. As we worked at companies that were about a block from each other, I also drove to work with him a couple of days a week for more than a year. It was a blessed opportunity to talk about literature, faith, culture, and a variety of current issues. Late nights have been my time with Mom. Sometimes we shared a cup of chai tea, sometimes a near-midnight snack, but many times were just spent in conversation and laughter.

My parents gave me life not only in the natural sense, but also spiritually. At my Baptism, they took on the responsibility to educate me in my Faith, and I received my first “taste” of faith through them. When I was about six years old, we began praying the rosary together as a family. Attending Holy Mass has always been a priority. Although it has not been possible to attend daily Mass, my parents have always made sure that we attended on Sundays. While growing up, I had both the example of my parents to show me what was right and their prayers to help me remain faithful.

There are many little instances of how I have been influenced as my personality has developed. It is an awesome fact that even the mere presence of a person can touch you in such a way that it forms the innermost parts of your soul. My parents have been such influences; always there, always touching my life, continuously contributing in silence to the person I am today.

Genesis 22

In the study of the Old Testament, we recognize many beautiful examples that enable us to understand the New. From the beginning of time, God has shown His promise of salvation to His people through historical events. When studying the Bible it is important to remember that the stories they contain are not stories of fantasy, but a record of God reaching down to humanity and drawing us back to Him. In understanding the foreshadowing of salvific events, we come to a deeper appreciation for Christ and the Church. The purpose of this essay is to discover how the events in Genesis 22 foreshadow the work of Christ in the new Covenant.

Chapter 22 of Genesis opens with God testing Abraham by commanding him to go and sacrifice his only son. “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love…and offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Gen. 22:2) Abraham immediately obeyed; he rose early, prepared the wood and went with Isaac to the place that God had told him. Isaac carried the wood to the place of the offering. I believe that it is impossible to fully understand Abraham’s anguish; Isaac was the son whom he loved, and now God asked for his death. We can only imagine the extent of Isaac’s distress in being forsaken by the father who loved him.

In these verses we find a clear foreshadowing of the Passion of Christ. Jesus is the Son of God; the beloved only Son of God. Through the prefigurement of Abraham and Issac we are given, perhaps, a slight glimpse of the sorrow God must have felt in sending His Son to us. We took Jesus onto a hill, making Him carry the wood for His death. As we see in Matt. 27:46, Christ experienced the greatest extent of distress and forsakenness.

…Isaac said to his father Abraham…‘Behold, the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’ Abraham said, ‘God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.’ ” (Gen. 22:7-8) In this we see perfect obedience and trust in the love of the Father. There is a love that is greater than mere personal affection; the culmination of love, which trusts and rests in God.

God has provided a lamb! Just as the ram was provided and offered as a sacrifice of thanksgiving, Christ is the Lamb that has become our sacrifice of thanksgiving that we offer in the Eucharist. The sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated throughout the ages (CCC 1323); we find the perfection of love in this sacrifice of the new Covenant that is necessary to restore justice.

Isaac was spared on the third day (cf. Gen. 22:4). On the third day, Christ rose from the dead, bringing salvation to all souls. Upon the completion of the sacrifice of the ram, the Lord gave his promise to Abraham that he and all his descendants would be blessed because of his obedience. In the new Covenant, the Lamb of God has been sacrificed; we have received the promise of blessing through the Church because of Christ’s obedience unto death.

In understanding Genesis 22 as a prefigurement of the Passion and Resurrection, we see an example of the perfection and continuous revelation of God’s plan of salvation. We see the love that God has for the world, and understand that this love has been from the beginning of time. From the old Covenant with Abraham and Isaac into the new Covenant with Christ, we see the constant requirement for love and justice; and how when justice has been attained, the blessings of God’s love overflows.

God’s Will

My greatest passion is to do the will of God and become a saint; this has been the driving force in my life for many years. The desire to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48) is a passion both innate in my nature and stronger than all else; for this I am very thankful. Perfection will come with many sacrifices, yet when there is an overwhelming desire for unity with Christ, the pain of the sacrifices seems to diminish.

The small decisions of each day define everyday life, as well as strengthening the will for future decisions. Learning to love the will of God and become even more passionate for Him is a constant challenge. It is necessary to transparently view everything as coming from the Father out of love, trusting that it is for my greatest good – even when I do not understand. It is necessary to allow my love for our Creator to be just as creative as a love for another person. It is necessary to apply my entire heart, mind, and soul to loving, so that I do not hesitate at the cross that is necessary for the resurrection.

In my life, modesty has been one of those challenges requiring everyday decisions. When I was about 10 years old, my parents decided that all the girls in my family were going to wear skirts. I was very upset and did not want to accept their decision. Friends began to question why I wore skirts all the time, and it was uncomfortable for me to say that I was forced to – so I began to find reasons for myself. In my quest I learned that modesty is not only about clothing, but rather, is a disposition of purity and humility. I came to understand that even if I disagreed with my parent’s original decision, they had the authority to expect a modest disposition from me. As the years have gone by, my sense of modesty has developed, and my expression of that modesty has adapted. I hold higher standards for myself than others, but it remains a constant struggle to avoid becoming desensitized and living lower standards than I believe God expects of me. In retrospect, I realize that God used the circumstance of my parent’s authority to get my attention and deepen my passion for His will in small matters as well as the great.

There will always be happenings in life that I have no control over. The challenge then lays in believing that nothing can happen without God’s permission, and knowing all will turn out for a greater good. Family hardships, illness, uncertainty, and loneliness have all been a part of my life; and yet I am learning to love them because they are all part His unique plan for me.

Although there are many sacrifices in discerning the will of God, there is infinite beauty to be enjoyed. In the stars in the sky, the greenness of the trees, the shimmering sun on the river, the glory of the sunrise, and the shadows of the sunset, God smiles through nature. The brush of the wind is like a hug that wraps around me…the warm sunbeam, a kiss upon my cheek. The laughter and cry of a little child is the music of love.

The simple, daily happenings of life bring much more joy when viewed as the gift from God that they are. Everything we have would be gone without the Source from whence it came. God has provided so much for me to enjoy, and I can not stop being grateful for His goodness.

Understanding God’s will for my life transforms life itself; there is happiness in knowing that everything is in the hand of God. Nothing is certain in the future; but as long as I give my all, I can count on overflowing blessings in the midst of the interminglement of sorrow and joy. By passionately following God’s Will, I can be a small reflection of Christ’s selfless, joyful love.

Just so you know

For my communications class here at JPCU, our assignments include essays that are to be posted to a blog twice a week. I decided to use my current blog, and so you will have at least a little reading material each week if you choose to visit.  If it is under the “Communications” category, it will be for this purpose. Hence, if I post on some random topic or seemingly double post something, do not be alarmed. 😀 You are still welcome to post comments.

May God bless and our Mother keep you all!