Marie of the Sacred Heart † Guard of Honor to the Sacred Heart †


Marie of the Sacred Heart


† Guard of Honor to the Sacred Heart †



During his trip to France in 1986, Blessed John Paul II made a pilgrimage to Paray-le-Monial, where he gave a message to the Society of Jesus in which he wrote, “From he Heart of Christ, the heart of man learns to know the true and unique meaning of one’s life and destiny, to understand the value of an authentically Christian life, to guard against certain perversions of the human heart, to join the filial love of God with love of neighbor. Thus—and this is the true reparation asked for by the Savior’s Heart—can we build the civilization of love, so greatly desired, the reign of the Heart of Christ, on the ruins produced by hatred and violence” (October 5, 1986). These words enable us to better grasp the importance of the Guard of Honor to the Sacred Heart—the result of an inspiration given to Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart Bernaud, a nun of the Visitation monastery in Bourg-en-Bresse, France, on March 13, 1863—as a way of keeping the Heart of Christ company, of honoring and consoling It.


[A]nne Marie Constance Bernaud was born on October 25, 1825 into a family of shopkeepers in Besançon. There would be eight children in this deeply Christian family. Baptized on All Saints Day, she would later say that she “needed the help of the entire celestial court.” As a child, Constance was consecrated numerous times to the Sacred Heart of Jesus by an aunt who had a loving devotion to the Sacred Heart, a devotion still rare at the time. At about the age of four, an eye condition that she would suffer from for several years kept her from the games of her brothers and sisters, and led her to develop a true interior life. Entirely lost in her thoughts and prayers, she loved to be alone and sing hymns. But Constance was nevertheless mischievous and playful and would remain so all her life. Gifted with great sensitivity, the little girl did not hesitate to offer her snacks to the poor she met, and shed abundant tears when she heard of suffering. At the age of five, upon learning of the death of one of her aunts, a Sister of Charity in Besançon, she exclaimed, “I will be a nun too!”

Let’s kneel!

[A]t the time of her preparation for First Communion, Constance already showed a serious knowledge of the truths of the faith. She and her brother Edouard prepared themselves very conscientiously to receive the sacrament of Penance. They wanted above all to omit nothing from the faults they had to confess, or the number. On April 20, 1836, in the Church of Our Lady, they both received the Body of Christ with fervor. That very evening, Constance said to Edouard: “Let’s kneel and ask God for the grace to never make a bad communion!”

Constance was outstanding student in her boarding school in Besançon. As an adolescent, she completed her studies at the convent of the Sisters of the Child Jesus in Langres, where she was confirmed on May 19, 1839. Unbeknownst to anyone, the girl was deepening her prayer, and praying continuously. Every morning, she made the Stations of the Cross and during the day, said many Hail Mary’s on her rosary. A short book, the “Month of the Sacred Heart of Jesus”, introduced her to devotion to the Heart of Jesus. “No one will ever know all the good this little book has done me,” she would later say. “I would start the month’s exercises over as soon as I finished them.” Her greatest joy was to offer little sacrifices to Jesus without anyone knowing. After Communion every Sunday, she consecrated the following three days to thanksgiving, and the next three days preparing to receive Jesus again in the Eucharist. Nevertheless, after her return to Besançon in September 1840, she went to worldly parties that she enlivened with her pretty voice and her gaiety, enjoying the pleasure of appearing at the gatherings and being noticed. Yet, the desire for consecrated life remained vaguely in her mind. So, when the call of the Lord once again began to make itself felt, she confessed her straying and revealed her desire to enter religious life to a priest. Because of her age, the priest hesitated and put of granting her permission while she was so young.

On October 14, 1841, shortly before her sixteenth birthday, Constance was married off by her parents to Mr. Thieulin, a twenty-eight-year-old merchant. Out of respect for them, she accepted the union they had arranged. But her husband, jealous of his young wife’s outgoing personality, did not make her happy. She took refuge in silence and prayer. Through perseverance and her good example, she obtained his conversion and his regular practice of religion. But on July 26, 1846, he died, leaving Constance a childless widow before she had ever reached her twenty-first birthday. One of her brothers who lived in Paris invited her to stay with him. Once again she allowed herself to be intoxicated by worldly success in society, but she remained faithful to religious practice. In February 1848 began the bloody days of revolution that led to the fall of the July Monarchy and the establishment of the Second Republic. Finding herself in the street at the moment that a gun battle broke out, she barely escaped the deadly confrontation. Disconcerted, she returned to Besançon.


[A]ware of Constance’s aspirations to religious life, her cousin Madame Morel invited her to Belley and put her in contact with Mother Marie Aimée Morel, the superior of the Visitation monastery in Bourg-en-Bresse, who invited her to participate in the retreat to prepare for the Feast of the Sacred Heart (June 15, 1849). Constance agreed as though the Lord;s call had finally become manifest. But at the end of the retreat, she remained hesitant—wouldn’t she do better to enter the Sisters of the Child Jesus, whom she had known since her teenage years?

She confided her doubt to Bishop Devie, a friend of the holy Curé of Ars and the bishop of Belley, who advised her to enter the Visitation. As soon as she entered the convent on July 28, 1849, Constance fell prey to painful interior struggles, which she withstood by taking refuge in trust in God. The following November 25th, she took the religious habit and the name

of Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart. The first Friday of April 1851, she made her religious profession. She would write, “I felt strongly that my spouse wanted on that day for me to become a victim of love (meaning entirely abandoned to His love) to make reparation to His divine Heart.


In spite of her delicate health, Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart led the simple life of a Visitandine for a dozen years, fulfilling the duties entrusted to her with her natural gaiety. Her lively intelligence and musical gifts resulted in her appointment to teach at the boarding school attached to the convent. Her students struck bt her supernatural soirit, nicknamed her “Sister of Pure Love.” But these duties were too heavy for her, and were replaced by the job of secretary, in particular responding to the correspondence the convent received. “Oh, how good it must be to die when one has constantly and tenderly loved and served the Spouse Who must judge us all,” she noted. “Seeking in all things to please my heavenly Spouse, desiring nothing but His divine glance, His love alone—this, I feel, is what Jesus strongly demands of me throughout my religious life, for He will be a very jealous Spouse. O my God, are you not enough for me? … Jesus alone when I am with my sisters, Jesus alone in my exercises, Jesus alone in my tasks, in my recreations, in the children, and to strive not only to please MY Spouse but also to take pains in all things to gladden His divine Heart, to Which He has destined me to be a faithful lover.”

A mysterious dial

[A]t this time. Preparations were being made for the beatification of Venerable Margaret Mary Alacoque, who had received the grace of numerous apparitions of the Sacred Heart at the convent in Paray-le-Monial two centuries earlier. This event touched the fervent soul of Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart, who wished to be able to respond with all the strength of her faith to the Lord’s complaints to Margaret Mary: “Behold this Heart, which has loved men so much, that it has spared nothing, even to exhausting and comsumimg itself, in order to testify to them its love; and in return I receive from most of them nothing but ingratitude and scorn…” On June 7, 1862, the community in Bourg-en-Bresse was solemnly consecrated to the Sacred Heart. At the end of the year, most of the nuns in this community signed and act of abandonment to the Heart of Jesus. On the feast of Epiphany 1863, the Sacred Heart was chosen as “King of the Year.” A few weeks later, Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart had a mental vision of a dial showing the hours of the day and night. After drawing a reproduction, she wrote the words “glory, love, reparation” around it. She then put the image of the Sacred Heart in the center of the dial. On March 13th, the third Friday of Lent, the Feast of the Five Wounds of Our Lord, she brought this first dial of the Guard of Honor to her superior, who blessed it and gladly agreed to have the names of all the sisters in the community inscribed on it.

Those who wish to join this work of reparation can do so by dedicating an hour each day to the “guard of honor.” Their name will be inscribed on the dial in the place corresponding to the hour they have chosen. During this hour, without changing their activity, they will mentally unite themselves to Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, offering to Jesus whatever they are doing—at school, at work, reading, preparing a meal, doing errands, traveling, studying, doing a favor, praying… They will strive to think a little lore about Jesus and to make at least an act of love, and preferably a small sacrifice. But no particular action is prescribed—only goodwill is required. Thus “members” across the world will succeed each other in “standing guard” at the foot of the Cross, in the company of the Blessed Virgin, Saint Mary Magdalene, and Saint John. Jesus will not be forgotten at any hour during the day.

During Holy Mass on the morning of Palm Sunday 1863, Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart was touched by these words of the offertory antiphon: My heart hath expected reproach and misery. And I looked for one that would grieve together with me, but there was none, and for one that would comfort me, and I found none (Ps. 68:20). The Guard of Honor precisely has as its principle end consoling the Heart of Jesus. The evening of Holy Wednesday, Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart cough up blood. She, who so loved to sing, was then forbidden to sing in the choir for several months. She offered this sacrifice “for the success of the Guard of Honor,” and took advantage of the holy days to refine the structure of the nascent affort. On Good Friday, she composed the short prayer, “The Offering of the Hour of Guard”, which would be adopted by thousands of souls to consecrate themselves to the Heart of Jesus during their chosen hour: “Lord Jesus, present in the tabernacle, I offer Thee this hour with all my actions, my joys, and my sorrows, to glorify Thy Heart with this testimony of love and reparation. May this offering benefit my brothers and sisters and make of me an instrument in Thy plan of love. With Thee, for Thee, and in Thee, for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth (In. 17:19). Sacred Heart of Jesus, may Thy Kingdom come!”

The pierced side

[T]he following June 13th, the Feast of the Sacred Heart, Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart wrote. “I felt, more than ever, what the Heart of Jesus is: an abyss of love, misunderstood, rejected, pushed back to its source. How much this very gentle Heart has suffered and suffers daily from our tremendous ingratitude! I will implore Him to grant me this grace of making Him known and loved a little.” Devotion to the Sacred Heart, Pope Pius XII would later declare, “provides us with a most powerful means of repaying the divine Lord by our own [love]” (Haurietis Aquas, no.6). On Sunday June 15th, the words “cujus latus performatum” (“from whose pierced side”) from the Eucharistic hymn, Ave Verum Corpus (“Hail True Body”) were deeply engraved in the soul pf Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart. It was then that the Guard of Honor seemed to her to be the means provided by Providence to create a special devotion to the wound that the Heart of Jesus had received on the Cross. It would nevertheless be necessary to wait fifteen years before she could add to the dial the lance that pierced Jesus’ Heart—the bishop of Belley was not in favor of it.

In the encyclical Haurietis Aquas, published May 5, 1956, Pope Pius XII wrote, “Nothing therefore prevents our adoring the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ as having a part in and being the natural and expressive symbol of the abiding love with which the divine Redeemer is still on fire for mankind. Though it is no longer subject to the varying emotions of this mortal life, yet lives and beats … the Heart of Christ is overflowing with love both human and divine and rich with the treasure of all graces which our Redeemer acquired by His life, suffering and death. It is therefore the enduring source of that charity which is Spirit pours forth on all the members of His Mystical Body. …The faithful must see .. devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus if they desire to penetrate its inner nature and by piously meditating on it, receive the nourishment for the fostering and development of their religious fervor. If this devotion is constantly practiced with this knowledge and understanding, the souls of the faithful cannot but attain to the sweet knowledge of the love of Christ” (nos.85, 100)

Unforeseen success

[S]oon, other monasteries were invited to join this spiritual movement, and the devotion spread by word of mouth to the faithful attracted to this spiritual program. At the monastery of Paray-le Monial, there was great surprise when they received the dial of the Guard of Honor, because the dial exactly like it already had been developed there. One year later, on March 9, 1864, the Guard of Honor was approved by Pope Pius IX and erected as a Confraternity, then raised to an Archconfraternity under Leo XIII on November 26, 1878. The Guard of Honor’s very rapid expansion across the world did not happen without difficulties and sufferings, which had repercussions on the foundress’ fragile health. Victim of this providential yet unforeseen success, Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart increased her activities with Church authorities without ever leaving her humble cell, and took on an impressive correspondence. Her time was divided between the infirmary where several times she found herself at death’s door, and her cell, during better periods. During these periods she would work doubly hard, for she saw in them the will of God. Her humility and willing self-effacement were accompanied by an extreme tenderness that made her warmly welcoming to all who suffered. In the Lord’s hands, she showed a total docility to the service of others, and felts particularly responsible for each “member,” as though each were her own child. In her persevering prayer, a deep conviction that she loved to share grew in her: the Merciful Heart of Jesus would grant her request that no “guard” would be lost to Heaven—that is all those inscribed in the Guard of Honor would also be inscribed in the Book of Life (cf. Apoc. 21:27). On March 19, 1865, she wrote about the ministers of God: “I understood that the Sacred Heart passionately loves priests, and I will retain this memory forever.”

Convinced that others would be more successful in ensuring the Guard of Honor’s permanence, she tried unsuccessfully to entrust it to various communities. It then became clear that the initiative had to remain in the Visitation Order. Like all initiatives inspired by God, the history of the Archconfraternity of the Guard of Honor is marked with the foundress’ tears, sacrifices, humility and total docility. Nevertheless, Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart did not encounter only obstacles in the foundation—she also found much support, notably that of Marie Deluil-Martiny, the foundress of the “Daughters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus,” who would be beatified by Pope John Paul II on October 29, 1989. “The Guard is taking off like a lit fuse!” observed Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart. Along with Saint Francis de Sales, the founder of the Visitation Order, she could say,”I would like the Sacred Heart to have instead of a crown of thorns, a crown formed from the hearts of all mankind!”

“First Guard of Honor”

[P]ope Pius IX himself would ask to be enrolled in the Guard of Honor on March 25, 1872, and, on July 21, 1875, during the audience granted to a large delegation from the Archconfraternity, would remind them that one of his sweetest glories in life was his title, “First Guard of Honor to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.” Soon more than thirty bishops from France and abroad were enrolled. Through her writings, Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart wanted to transmit to each member the love of the Heart of Jesus that consumed her soul. With strength and common sense, she imparted to them a veritable catechesis of the Heart of Jesus so “that not one might be lost for Heaven!.” Laboring in the secrecy of the enclosure, hidden from the world, she left it to God to care for the initiative as He liked. Her correspondence did not end until her death on August 3, 1903.

Pope Pius XII wrote, “[T]he Heart of Jesus … [places] before our gaze, all the love with which He has embraced and even now embraces us. Consequently, the honor to be paid to the Sacred Heart is such as to raise it to the rank—so far as external practice is concerned—of the highest expression of Christian piety. … We cannot reach the Heart of God save through the Heart of Christ, as He Himself says:… No one cometh to the Father save by me” (Jn. 14:6). (Haurietes Aquas, no. 106). Nevertheless, the Pope warned, “And, not unreasonably as sometimes happens, accusations of excessive self-love and self-interest are made against those who either misunderstand this excellent form of piety or practice it in the wrong way. Hence, let all be completely convinced that in showing devotion to the most Sacred Heart of Jesus the external acts of piety have not the first or most important place; nor is its essence to be found primarily in the benefits to be obtained. For if Christ has solemnly promised them in private revelation it was for the purpose of encouraging men to perform with greater fervor the chief duties of the Catholic religion, namely, love and expiation” (ibid. 63).

Continuing this teaching on the 50th anniversary of the encyclical Haurietes Aquas, Pope Benedict XVI declared: “The Redeemer’s pierced side is the source to which the Encyclical Haurietes Aquas refers us; we must draw from this source to attain true knowledge of Jesus Christ and a deeper experience of His love… Indeed, it is only possible to be Christian by fixing our gaze on the Cross of our Redeemer, on Him Whom they have pierced (Jn. 19:3) …for countless souls the wound in Christ’s side and the marks left by the nails have been the chief sign and symbol of that love, that ever more incisively shaped their life from within” (Letter of His Holiness Benedict XVI on Occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the Encyclical Haurietis Aquas, May 15, 2006).

Among the millions of people who have participated in the work, we find besides Blessed Pius IX, Leo XIII, Saint Pius X, Benedict XV and Pius XI, Saint John Bosco, Saint Edward Poppe, Saint Madeleine-Sophie Barat, Saint Daniel Comboni, Father Ratisbonne, Blessed Marcel Callo… In 2007, the Guard of Honor received new impetus when it was established in Pray-le-Monial on January 24th, the feast of Saint Francis de Sales. The Visitation Convent of Saint Mary in this town now houses its international headquarters. On October 4, 2011, Benedict XVI “wholeheartedly granted his apostolic blessing to each of the members and their families.” In March 2013, the 150th anniversary of this initiative was celebrated.


“O sweet Jesus, draw me ever deeper into Your heart, so that your love might engulf me, and I might be drowned in its sweetness!” Let us make this ardent prayer of Saint Francis de Sales our own, so that we might make reparation for the Savior’s infinitely loving heart, too often forgotten, scorned, or wounded by our sins. 

By Dom Antoine Marie, osb






This article is made possible by the permission of the Benedictine Monks of Clairval 


Helping Hand

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Great Expectations

“O God…grant to us… that by Thine inspirations we may think what is right, and under Thy guidance perform it.” Collect

The Easter Season contains many very important lessons for overcoming our fallen human nature. Today let’s consider a lesson about keeping our sense of humor in trying situations… a lesson about attaining true happiness even in this life.


    The lesson I have in mind flows from this simple fact: in every account of the Resurrection, the disciples were caught off guard because they were expecting something else. The key word here is expecting… Expectations. Ah! Those little mental concepts we formulate ahead of time… little concepts that are very often the sourceof much gain for the devil and much misery for man.


    Consider for a moment the disciples on the Road to Emmaus. Walking away from the apostles in the Upper Room on Easter Sunday, they were discussing the things that had happened in Holy Week as well as what St. Mary Magdalene and the other women had lately reported. And the Scriptures tell us, they were sad. They were depressed. Why? Things did not turn out as they had expected! “we hoped that it was He that should have redeemed Israel…”So, they were expecting A-B-C to happen…and instead they got X-Y-Z. Ah…they failed to realize just how good the X-Y-Z was! The Resurrection! The Ascension! Eternal Life!


The effects of these expectations on the disciples are sobering: (i) they were walking away from the Apostolic Church symbolized by the apostles gathered in the Upper Room. “This is not what I was looking for in the Church. I am taking a breather.” How many people, falling into some disillusionment start walking away from the Church? Most converts leave the Church within the first year. (ii) Their tongues were loosed. As they were walking away they mulled over their disappointments. The Scriptures say, “in the multitude of words there shall not want sin” (Prov 10:19). Surely in their words were various complaints, detractions and perhaps even gossip… “Mary Magdalene…she is sinner, what does she know anyway.” Oh how this is greatly amplified in our times… with blogging, Facebook, texting, cell phones and email! My goodness how the devil must love these times! (iii) Third, they were sad. They were depressed. They were down. Failed expectations cause sadness. More on this in a moment. (iv) They did not recognize the glorious and wonderful truth when it was presented to them… They did not believe St. Mary Magdalene’s report of angels and they did not recognize the Word made flesh when He came to walk among them. Expectations cause a certain blindness in the soul.


In a word, we can safely say, forming expectations and holding on to them very often takes away our sense of humor. St. Mary Magdalene was expecting to find the body of Jesus in the tomb in order to give it a proper burial. This is why she and the other women had brought spices with them. When she did not find the body, she wept.


Recall the Old Testament story of Naaman found in the 4th Book of Kings. He was the great Syrian general who had leprosy. At the beckoning of a little Hebrew maiden he was encouraged to visit the prophet Eliseus. After making his way to the door of the prophet, not without some trials, he was ready to be healed. But the prophet stayed inside and sent a message to the general to go and bath in the Jordan seven times. The response of Naaman is of key importance.Naaman was angry, and went away, saying: I thought he would have come out to me, and standing, would have invoked the name of the Lord his God, and touched with his hand the place of the leprosy, and healed me” (4Kings 5:10). Ah there it is! “I thought…” The great general was expecting A-B-C…and he got X-Y- Z. Ah!… once again, he failed to see how good the X-Y-Z really was! The result? His tongue was loosed, complaints rolled out… and he became angry. Failed expectations produce anger! No sense of humor here. Yet, we know that cooler heads prevailed, Naaman obeyed and became a wonderful type of the Resurrection… coming out of the waters of the Jordan, with “his flesh restored, like the flesh of a little child: and he was made clean.” And what is more,he was now able to SEE the prophet face to face. His sense of humor was restored, he professed the faith and was glad. “And returning to the man of God, with all his train, he came, and stood before him, and said: In truth, I know there is no other God, in all the earth, but only in Israel: I beseech thee, therefore, take a blessing of thy servant.”


When St. Bernadette was seeking to fulfill the 15 days of visits to the Grotto in Lourdes, she was devastated on the 5th day when Our Lady did not come to visit her with an apparition. She was almost inconsolable… She was expecting A-B-C and got X-Y-Z.


Oh how much these expectations hurt us… cause us much unnecessary pain and anguish. Consider a few more simple examples: I expect to fall asleep when I go to bed…because I have determined that I need so many hours of sleep to function well. I go to bed on time…and what do you know, I cannot fall asleep for some reason. What is the normal human reaction? We start getting angry that we cannot fall asleep. And that only makes it worse, no? What about driving? Expecting others to be courteous and law abiding? I expect the house to be clean when I get home today? What if it is not? We quickly become angry and miserable creatures. I expect Mass to be so long… I expect the sermon to be 10 minutes… I expect people to dress modestly… children to behave…


In getting married, how many fall into this trap! I expect my husband to be like A-B-C…and I got X-Y-Z! Ugggh. I expect my wife to be A-B-C and I got X-Y-Z! Hummm. I wanted children to be this…and I got that. I entered religious life and expected… “I thought…” and I found something very different. “I thoughtthe priesthood would be like… and well, it was not. So many shipwrecks on these shoals of failed expectations… divorces, failed vocations, addictions and habitual sinners are all floundering here!!!


I expect A-B-C… come now… when was the last time you really gotA-B-C?! No wonder why we are so unhappy! I have found that Catholics waking up to Tradition and striving with all their might to recover what was lost… have also fallen prey to a sort of failed expectation. Many of us have lived through some of the most trying times the Church has ever experienced! The 60’s, 70’s, 80’s. Many fell away during in this period… only to wake up later. Looking back at their path, they come to the conclusion that IF the men leading the Church at those times had only maintained course… which I, even now, expect them to have done no matter what!… THEN I would not have fallen…I would not have led my family astray for so long… my children would not all befallen away right now. And this failed expectation (formulated mentally after the fact… perhaps partially motivated by a sense of guilt), brings anger. So many Catholics seeking to recover Tradition are angry people. This is why some call them “mad Trads” or “sad Trads.” This is the same pattern people use on their families and parents aswell…looking back they get mad at their failure to live up to their present expectations of what should have been.


Let us paint the rest of the picture… as we have seen failed expectations lead to anger. Anger is a passion… meaning that it comes and goes. But anger often produces very powerful experiences at its peak moments. Such strong emotions deposit a bitter memory in the mind. This bitter memory becomes a resentment. Resentments are terrible and nasty things that are hard to overcome. Resentments lead to self-pity…sadness. Poor me! But man hates to feel sorry for himself. It is contrary to his nature. The devil loves to come around at this point and tempt man…with many short cuts to solve his problems… short cuts to feeling good about himself. Giving in, many turn to self-indulge their passions in some way… comfort food, drink, drugs, pleasures of the flesh… entertainment, adventure seeking, etc. … The Poor man then wakes up the next morning…feeling guilty and this renews his anger and the whole cycle begins afresh. Failed expectations, anger, resentment, self-pity, self-indulgence… guilt… anger, resentment, self-pity, self-indulgence.


One of the surest ways out of this spiraling cycle of sin and frustration it so get rid these pre-conceived ideas we call expectations. Expect nothing and work with what you have been given. Work on improving your sense of humor and you will see God behind every event. Writing down our expectations can help clarify them and help us to get a good laugh! I am not God… He is “I Am Who Am.” I am “he who is nothing.”


The saints fought these human expectations by making resolutions. St. Anthony Mary Claret: “Everything that may happen to me I will consider as coming from Almighty God for my good; and so without ever murmuring I will always say: God’s will be done” (autobiography, p. 169). St. Gabriel Possenti: “I will receive all things from the hand of God, as being sent by Him for my own personal benefit.” And so with all the saints. They had a sense of humor! They recognized in the X-Y-Z situations of their life… stepping stones to something greater… stepping stones to heaven!


When we approach a situation without expectations,we are more able to use our reason, to see God working and make good decisions as to what ought to be done. If you came home with no expectations of the house being clean,you would more calmly and reasonably set about cleaning the house and punishing the lazy with a spirit of charity rather than anger. And if the house were clean when coming home, how much more edified you would be!


On the other hand, if we approach the situations of our lives, including our very vocations, with expectations, we will sooner or later fulfill these words of St. Philip Neri: “Men are generally the carpenters of their own crosses.” We will construct cross after cross… we will get angry, sad, blog, Facebook, email, and say things we regret and even start to distance ourselves from the Church.


When St. Bernadette came on the 9th day to find Our Lady not there for the second time, she was not upset nor devastated. Accepting the X-Y-Z of her situation on the 5th day enabled her to grow spiritually mature… and this enabled her to kiss the ground repeatedly for sinners, as well as to drink and wash in the muddy waters on the 8th day. She gained a sense of humor… Tongues were silenced, truths were confirmed… Bernadette heard Our Lady say: “I am the Immaculate Conception!” Millions have been affected ever since, including thousands upon thousands of conversions… people entering the Apostolic Church. Many souls have recovered a sense of gladness and joy in the waters of Lourdes.


I will end with a scene from the life of 19th C. St. Conrad of Parzham which captures these two positions well. As a Capuchin friar working as porter at a Shrine of St. Anne in Germany, St.Conrad had to deal with many beggars. Once a beggar came to the monastery after the best food had been distributed.Br. Conrad explained at that late hour there was little to be had, but he brought him a bowl of soup from the kitchen. After the beggar tasted the food, he immediately threw the bowl at the feet of the brother, saying angrily: “You can eat those slops yourself.” Unruffled, Br. Conrad picked up the pieces of the broken dish and said: “I see you do not like this soup, I will get you something else.”

This is an actual homily given during the Easter season (2013) by a Traditional Roman Catholic Priest.

Hopefully, there will be more to come.

Helping Hand

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Catherine of Siena

Saint Catherine of Siena

“[T]here can be no doubt that, in Europe’s complex history, Christianity has been a central and a defining element, “ declared Blessed John Paul II on October 1, 1999, when he proclaimed Saints Bridget of Sweden, Catherine of Siena, and Teresa of the Cross co –patronesses of Europe.  “The Christian faith who shaped the culture of the continent and is inextricably bound up with its history…  For through their upright and honest lives inspired by love of God and neighbor, and countless Christians in a wide range of consecrated and lay vocations have attained a holiness both authentic and widespread, even if often hidden.  The Church has no doubt that this wealth of holiness is itself the secret of her past and the hope of her future.  …  Saint Catherine of Siena’s role in the unfolding history of the Church and also in the growing theological understanding of revelation has been recognized in significant ways, culminating in her proclamation as a Doctor of the Church [by Pope Paul VI, on October 4, 1970].”

The daughter of a cloth dyer, Giacomo Benincasa, and his wife, Lapa Catherine and her twin sister Giovanna were born in Siena, Italy, on March 25, 1347.  They were born after twenty –two brothers and sisters.  Giovanna soon died and, in 1348, the Benincasas adopted a ten-year-old orphan, Tommaso della Fonte.  From her childhood, Catherine felt a deep attraction to God and Mary. When she was just five, she used to fervently recite the Hail Mary, repeating it on each step going up or down the stairs. Later, she always would recommend recourse to Mary at any opportunity: “Mary is our advocate, the Mother of grace and mercy. She is not ungrateful toward her servants.” Around the age of six, she had a vision of Christ blessing her. This experience increased Catherine’s zeal. Her religious education included reading from the lives of the saints, hermits, and desert fathers, whom she would later try to imitate by a life of asceticism and solitude. Catherine’s attraction to the Dominican order increased when Tommaso entered the Dominican novitiate in 1353. At the age of seven, Catherine made a vow of chastity.


[W]hen she was twelve, Catherine allowed herself to be dressed fashionably to satisfy her mother and Bonaventura, her older sister. In August 1362, Bonaventura died in childbirth. After this death, the parents wanted to marry off Catherine, who categorically refused. They sought Tommaso’s support. Given Catherine’s firm resolution to be consecrated to God, her brother convinced her to cut off her hair, which irritated her parents greatly. Besides the punishments and bullying she endured, she was chased from her room where she liked to spend long periods alone in prayer, and she was forced by her mother, who did not understand her, to do the servant’s household tasks. So Catherine decided to make “a little monastic cell” within herself, in which she enclosed herself with Jesus while she worked. To facilitate her recollection and obedience, she strove  to see in her mother the Blessed Virgin Mary in serving her father, she imagined herself serving Jesus; her brothers and sisters were Christ’s disciples and the holy women…  Her ingenuity enabled Catherine to be contemplative in the midst of the world, to be in the world without being worldly, transforming the circumstances of ordinary life into encounters with God. Later on, she would tell her disciples that “everything done out of charity for one’s neighbor or oneself, all these external works whatever they may be, if they are done with a holy will, are a prayer.”

One day, Catherine had a vision of Saint Dominic offering her a lily and a Dominican religious habit. In the face of Catherine’s determination, her father finally gave her permission to join the Sisters of Penance of St. Dominic (called the Mantellate, because of the black mantles, mantellata in Italian). These were primarily widows who devoted themselves to charitable works and got together to attend Mass and receive religious instruction. Presented by her mother, Catherine was rejected by the sister, who found her too young and perhaps too fanatical. But a bit later, overwhelmed by the zeal and courage Catherine showed in enduring a serious illness, the sisters agreed to accept her, and in late 1364 she received the habit.

“If I had not been there…”

[F]rom her novitiate, Catherine, who led a very ascetic life, was favored with apparitions and dialogue with Jesus. Yet along with these mystical gifts came moments of doubt and anxiety, and strong temptations. After an especially strong temptation, Our Lord appeared to Catherine: “Good and most sweet Jesus,” she said to Him gently, “where were you when my soul was prey to such torments?” – “I was in your heart, Catherine, for I only depart from those who first leave me by consenting to sin.” – “What! You were in my heart drowning in such disgusting thoughts?” – “Tell Me, Catherine, did these thoughts cause you joy or sadness?” – “Oh, Lord! Immense sadness and disgust.” – “And what was it that made you sad, if not My presence in your heart? If I had not been there, you would have consented to those temptations. It was I Who made you reject them and be distressed over them. And I was delighted by your fidelity to Me during this painful struggle.” In one of her letters, Catherine would divulge the precious lesson she drew from this trial: “God allows temptation so that our virtues might prove themselves and to increase. His grace; so that we might not be conquered, but conquerors thanks to our trust in the divine assistance that enables us say with the Apostle Paul: I can do all things in Him Who strengthens me (Phil. 4:13).”

Several figures from the Old Testament—Abel, Abraham, Job, Tobias—remind us that God makes His dearest friends pass through trial and temptation. It is by being tempted that we experience our weakness and the weight of the malice we carry within ourselves. This self-knowledge places us in truth and humility, and is very beneficial for our salvation. Temptation leads us to practice the virtue that is opposed to the vice toward which we are inclined. Finally, it forces us to turn to God in prayer—in this sense, it is a source of union with God. This is why the Catechism of the Catholic Church declares, “There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle” (CCC, 2015).

In 1368, Catherine’s father fell ill and died, in spite of his daughter’s prayers. That same year, in a vision that would forever remain in Catherine’s heart and mind, the Virgin presented her to Jesus, Who gave her a magnificent ring, telling her: “I, your Creator and Savior, espouse you in the faith, that you always will keep pure until you celebrate your eternal nuptials with Me in Heaven.” Catherine continuously felt even saw this ring, although it was visible only to her. From then on, Catherine put her love of God into practice even more by a yet greater care of the sick, and the poor. She did miracles for them. But she was also the object of ridicule and slander—some accused her of being a loose woman.

Catherine was graced with the gift of tears, the expression of a deep sensitivity and a great capacity for emotion and tenderness. Many saints have had this gift, which recalls the emotion of Jesus Himself, Who did not hold back or hide His tears before the tomb of His friend Lazarus and the grief of Mary and Martha, and also at the sight of Jerusalem, during His last days on this earth. “Remember Christ crucified. God and man,” Catherine wrote to a correspondent. … “Make your aim the Crucified Christ, hide in the wounds of the Crucified Christ and drown in the blood of the Crucified Christ.”

“The doctrine of Mary”

[T]hrough her brother Tommaso, Catherine met Bartolomeo di Domenico, a young Dominican. A great spiritual friendship was born between them. Bartolomeo taught her theology, and she was generous with her encouragements. Catherine’s fame spread, and she developed an intense activity of spiritual direction for people from every walk of life: nobles and politicians, artists and ordinary people, consecrated religious, and clerics. Around her formed a group of followers whom she urged to work for the salvation of others. She called zeal for souls “the doctrine of Mary.” For as she explained, “as a man, the Son of God took on the desire for His Father’s honor and our salvation. So great was this desire that in His ardor He ran through sufferings, shame, and insults to His ignominious death on the Cross. But, the same desire was in Mary, for she could desire nothing but God’s honor and salvation of souls.” Catherine also began to travel. But her activity aroused astonishment, both in Siena and in the Dominican General Chapter in Florence. She was given as a spiritual director a learned and humble priest, Raymund of Capua, a future Master General of the Order, who became her confessor as well as her spiritual son (today he is honored as Blessed).

During Pentecost 1374, Catherine received the stigmata of Christ: the wounds in the hands, feet, and side of Jesus Crucified were imprinted in her flesh, but invisibly, as she had formally asked of Christ. For her, spiritual life consisted of union with God Who is a “way of truth,” and on this way, Christ’s Passion is the best guide, “preferred above all books.” Love led Catherine of Siena to imitate Christ and His sacrifice on the Cross, through a life of asceticism, penance, prayer, and service to others. In this way, she became an “alter Christus” (another Christ). Her love of neighbor drove her to the point that one day she did not hesitate to enter the cell of a man condemned to death, in order to implore him to be reconciled with God. Nichcolo di Toldo had been sentenced to death for political reasons. Catherine’s visit to his prison cell transformed the young man, who made his confession, heard Mass, and received Holy Communion. The day of his execution, to his great joy, Catherine was there. He did not stop whispering the name “Jesus” and “Catherine”. After the execution, the saint saw his soul enter the bosom of God like “the bride arriving on the doorstep of her spouse”. Later on, God would reveal to Catherine how this condemnation had allowed Niccolo do Toldo to return to a state of grace and the friendship of God, and so to obtain salvation and eternal life.

An indispensable ministry

[F]rom 1375 0n, Catherine worked for the return of the popes from Avignon to Rome (since 1309, the papacy had resided in Avignon for political reasons), as well as for the unity and independence of the Church, which perhaps no saint loved as much as her. “The Church,” she wrote, “is nothing else than Christ Himself”, the depository of God’s love for man; and the hierarchical Church is the indispensable ministry for the salvation of the world. That was the source of Catherine’s passionate respect and love for the Supreme Pontiff, in whom she saw “sweet Christ on earth,” to whom is owed affection and filial obedience. “Whoever disobeys the Christ on earth (that is the Pope) who represents Christ in heaven, will not participate in the fruits of the Son of God.”

The saint was already teaching in her own way the doctrine on the primacy of the Supreme Pontiff, which would be defined by the First Vatican Council in 1870; all, pastors and faithful, “are bound to submit to [the Roman pontiff] by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, and this not only in matters concerning faith and morals, but also in those which regard the discipline and government of the church throughout the world. In this way, by unity with the Roman Pontiff in communion and in profession of the same faith, the Church of Christ becomes one flock under one supreme shepherd. This is the teaching of the Catholic truth, and no one can depart from it without endangering his faith and salvation” (First Vatican Council, “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ”, ch. 3, DS 3060.)

Catherine’s exhortations put into action the mission she had received from God. It was not for her to disrupt the essential structures of the Church, or rebel against the shepherds, or make innovations in worship or discipline, but to return to the Spouse of Christ the Church’s original vocation. In fact, “Although by the powers of the Holy Spirit the Church will remain the faithful spouse of her Lord and will never cease to be the sign of salvation on earth, still she is very well aware that among her members, both clerical and lay, some have been unfaithful to the Spirit of God during the course of many centuries … Led by the Holy Spirit, Mother Church unceasingly exhorts her sons to purify and renew themselves so that the sign of Christ can shine more brightly on the face of the Church” (Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes”, no.43).

 As Pope Paul VI remarked, “St. Catherine loved the Church in its reality, which, as we know, has a double aspect. One is mystical, spiritual, invisible, the essential one, fused with Christ the glorious Redeemer…; the other is human, historical, institutional, concrete, but never separate from the divine aspect. One may wonder if our modern critics of the institutional aspect of the Church are ever capable of grasping this simultaneity … Catherine loves the Church as it is… Catherine does not love the Church for the human merits of those who belong to it, or represent it. If we think of the conditions in which the Church was at that time, we can easily understand that her love had very different motives… St. Catherine does not hide the failings of ecclesiastics, but as she inveighs against such decadence, she considers it a motive and a need to love all the more” (General Audience of April 30, 1969).

In His arms

[T]he reform of the Church concerns first and foremost the clerics whom Catherine held in high regard. In fact, she wrote in her DIALOGUES these words God had revealed to her: “I have chosen my ministers for your salvation, so that by them the Blood of the one, humble, and immaculate Lamb, my Son, may be administered to you” But she always worked for the reform of the laity. She wrote to a man who had given himself up to carnal passions: “Oh, my dearest brother, sleep no more in the death of mortal sin! I tell you the ax is already at the root of the tree. Take the spade of the fear of God which the hand of love makes use of. Spare me this corruption of your soul and body. Do not be so cruel to yourself, do not be your own executioner in decapitating yourself, cutting off this head Who is so sweet, Christ Jesus! … Put an end to your disordered living. I have told you and I repeat it; God will punish you if you do not mend your ways. But I also promise you that, if you wish to convert and take advantage of the moments you have remaining, God is so good, so merciful that He will forgive you, will receive you in His arms, will give you a share of the Blood of the Lamb, shed with so much love that there is no sinner who cannot obtain mercy. For God’s mercy is greater than our sins, if only we desire to change our lives.”

Catherine knew that sanctification is attained through the sacraments of Penance and Communion, as she wrote to one of her disciples: “You must frequently purify your soul from the stains of sin through a good and holy confession, and nourish it with the Bread of Angels, that is, the sweet sacrament of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, God and Man.” She revived among her disciples the practice of frequent communion, which at the time had become very uncommon, and taught that the best preparation for sacramental communion was spiritual communion. This consists in aspiring to receive the Eucharist with a real and ardent desire, and this desire should not be solely at the moment of communion, but at all times and in all places.

The leaders of the city of Florence asked her to intercede with the Pope to obtain reconciliation between the papacy and their city. Catherine left in April 1376 for Avignon. She met the Pope and asked him for three things: to leave for Rome, to re-launch the Great Crusade, and finally, to fight the vices and sins in the bosom of the Church. In the city of Avignon, Catherine became the object of some mistrust due to her growing influence with the Pope, and also because of her ecstasies which sometimes took place in public. The Pope had theologians secretly keep her under surveillance who after investigating found nothing to reproach her with.

An immense pain

[O]n September 13, 1376, Gregory XI, a French pope, with poor health and a timid spirit, left Avignon for Italy, which was suffering violent disturbances. He arrived in Rome on January 16, 1377. Catherine herself had returned to Siena, before being sent by the Pope to Florence, a city still in revolt against the papacy. Catherine turned the Florentines’ gaze toward “Christ crucified and sweet Mary,” and told them that a society that is inspired by Christian values could never have sufficiently grave grounds for dispute to justify taking recourse to the reason of weapons rather than the weapons of reason. In 1378, she was granted numerous ecstasies which are the basis of the DIALOGUES, spiritual treatises that she dictates to five secretaries.

On March 27, 1378, Pope Gregory XI died. Shortly thereafter, Urban VI was elected to succeed him. But some cardinals, most of them French, who were displeased with the new Pontiff’s authoritarianism, gathered in Fondi on September 18, 1378, and elected Cardinal Robert de Geneve as Pope, who became the antipope Clement VII. This separation from the legitimate Pope was for Catherine of Siena a very serious act insofar as it led to a schism that would last for forty years. Catherine left Siena and arrived in Rome on November 28, 1378. She was received by Pope Urban VI, who viewed her presence as significant support. Feeling this division of the Church as an immense pain, she began a crusade of prayers and recommended acting with charity so that the problems within Christendom might be successfully resolved. She called on princes and cities to obey the Pope, and asked religious and hermits to support him. On January 29, 1380, during her last visit to the Basilica of Saint Peter, Catherine, absorbed in ecstasy in her prayer, saw Jesus approach her and place on her feeble shoulders the heavy and agitated barque of the Church. Overwhelmed by such a great weight, she fainted and fell to the ground. Not long thereafter, sick and exhausted, undoubtedly as a result of her many penances, she said her farewells to her friends. On April 29th, as the sick woman felt her end drawing near, she prayed particularly for the Catholic Church and the Holy Father. Before dying, she declared, “I have consumed and given my life in the Church and for the Holy Church, which is a very special grace for me.” Then, her face radiant, she said these words of the Lord’s: “Father, into Thy Hands, I commend my spirit” (Lk. 23:46), and gently bowing her head, she fell asleep in the Lord, at the age of 33.

“Historically, Catherine’s sacrifice seemed to fail,” acknowledged Pope Paul VI. “But who can say that burning love of hers disappeared in vain if myriads of virgin souls and hosts of priestly spirits and of faithful and industrious laymen, made their own? It still blazes in Catherine’s words: ‘Sweet Jesus, loving Jesus.’ May that fire be ours, too, may it give us the strength to repeat Catherine’s words and gift, ‘I have given my life for Holy Church.’ “


Dom Antoine Marie, osb


Helping Hand

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Father Joseph Kentenich – Dilexit Ecclesiam

Father Joseph Kentenich


October 1912. A storm was shaking the seminarians’ residence hall in Schoenstatt, Vallendar, not far from Kolblenz, Germany. The older students were protesting a school rule they believed to be too strict. Antiestablishment graffiti were all over the walls. The two priests in charge of spiritual direction resigned. A young priest, Joseph Kentenich, was hurriedly appointed to replace them in order to reestablish trust. During his first talk with the students, he introduced himself with these words: “I place myself entirely at your disposal with everything that I am and have, with my knowledge and my ignorance, with my strength and my powerlessness, but above all, my heart … we are going to learn to educate ourselves on our own, under the protection of Mary, so we become men of firm character, men who are free and priestly.” Right away, the new spiritual father and the seminarians who were rebelling a short time ago got along well. From this meeting was born the Schoenstatt movement. Who is this priest whose memory is venerated by millions of Catholics?


Joseph was born the illegitimate son of Katharina Kentenich on November 18, 1885 in Gymnich, close to Colonge. This very poor women, who was pious notwithstanding the extramarital relationship into which her son was born, passed on to Joseph her profound devotion to Mary. When she brought her eight-year-old son to the Orphanage of St. Vincent in Oberhausen, she brought one of the few valuable objects she possessed, a gold chain with a cross. She hung it around the neck of a statue of Our Lady, asking the Mother of Jesus to see to his upbringing from that point on, and then put the cross around Joseph’s neck. These years in the orphanage were difficult for the child, who ran away twice and played many pranks. But he would earn good grades at the orphanage, and more importantly, was profoundly affected by his consecration to Mary.

Joseph first expressed his desire to become a priest in 1897. Two years later, he was admitted to the minor seminary in Ehrenbreitstein, run by the Pallotine Fathers, members of a missionary congregation founded by Saint Vincent Pallotti in Rome in 1835. In 1904, he entered the Pallotine novitiate in Limburg. He expressed his spiritual process with these words in his journal: “God is my only goal. He must also be the star that guides my life.” However, the novice experienced great difficulties that arose from his intellectual nature. The basic philosophical question “Does truth exist, and how can one know it?” tormented his intellect. He greatly desired perfection, but suffered from tremendous insensitivity, an inability of sorts to love God and neighbor. Devotion to Mary made it possible for him to overcome this crisis, and discover the personal love that God, Jesus Christ, and the Virgin Mary had for him, a love that was not an abstract idea, but a loving reality.

Three pillars


[A]fter receiving permission in 1903 to make religious profession, Joseph Kentenich was ordained a priest in Limburg on July 8, 1910. An attack of tuberculosis prevented him from realizing his dream of going to Africa as a missionary. After arriving in Schoenstatt in 1912 under the circumstances mentioned earlier, he soon founded an association of lay people, which would become a Marian congregation in 1914. The three pillars of Schoenstatt are love for the Virgin Mary, personal sanctification, and commitment to apostolate. His superiors granted the founder permission to use the modest chapel dedicated to Saint Michael, which was disused and had been turned into a tool shed. There, on October 18, 1914, the founder gathered twenty or so young men. Here was heard for the first time the liturgical invocation that was to become the movement’s motto: Nos cum prole pia benedicat Virgo Maria (May the Virgin Mary with her loving Offspring bless us!) Father Kentenich’s idea was to make this chapel a great pilgrimage site: “May all those who come here to pray experience the splendor of Mary!” This desire was soon fulfilled—pilgrims flocked there.

In 1915, a teacher gave Father Kentenich a picture of the Virgin and Child. In spite of the work’s low artistic value, the founder was attracted by the tenderness of Mary’s gesture, pressing Jesus to her heart. He placed the icon above the altar. Venerated under the name Mater ter admirabilis (Mother Thrice Admirable), the picture appears in every Schoenstatt site. In the middle of the war, a magazine under this same patronage was sent to youth fighting on the front. In May 1918, a twenty-year-old member of Schoenstatt, Joseph Engling, a fervent seminarian who supported peace between nations and an apostle among his fellow soldiers, offered his life to the Mother Thrice Admirable for the growth of Schoenstatt. On October 4th he was killed by a shell in northern France. The founder put forth Joseph Engling as an example.

Spiritual fatherhood


[I]n 1919, Father Kentenich created an apostolic union to bring together students and teachers across Germany. The aim of the union was “the formation of lay apostles, in the spirit of the Church.” Each member was to : (a) choose a priest as a spiritual director, (b) practice a written examination of conscience, (c) establish a spiritual daily schedule and abide by it, and (d) meet with one’s spiritual director every month. In addition, members of Schoenstatt ask the Immaculate Virgin for “tender sensitivity for the virtue of purity.” Chapels dedicated to the Mother Thrice admirable were erected throughout Germany. In 1920, the movement was opened up to women through the Apostolic Alliance. In 1926, the founder created the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary, consecrated women living in the world. The founder reminded the many priests who came to make retreats (1,100 priests in 1930) of their duty to be spiritual fathers. According to him, one of the primary causes of the moral crisis of our time was the absence of the father.

What is meant by the father’s non-participation in the family? It means not raising the child, not appropriately exercising authority, and not providing an example of spiritual life, including practicing one’s faith. Pope Benedict XVI alluded to this in a speech on May 23, 2012: “Today the father figure is often not sufficiently present and all too often is not sufficiently positive in daily life. The father’s absence, the problem of a father who is not present in a child’s life, is a serious problem of our time. It therefore becomes difficult to understand what it means to say that God is really our Father.”

Father Kentenich wished to promote the development of “organic,” as opposed to “mechanical” human thought. In doing so, he intended to emphasize that religion must not be thought of as an abstract system, but as a living reality deeply rooted in the human heart. At the time of the rise of the red (communist) and brown (National-Socialist) totalitarian regimes, he rebelled against the depersonalization of man: “Confronted with the domination of matter and mass, we fight for the splendor and power of God and for men and women filled with God.”

After Hitler rose to power in January 1933, the police began to keep Schoenstatt under surveillance, and its founder in particular, whom the Gestapo considered very dangerous, given that they aimed at stifling spiritual renewal in Germany. Yet starting in 1935, it was certain ecclesiastical circles that created the greatest difficulties for Father Kentenich, by contesting his “peculiar ideas”—his Mariology seemed too eccentric to them. The founder often said that the merits of devoted souls must be offered to the Blessed Virgin, to become the “Capital of graces” on which she would yield a profit. Under this concept borrowed from modern economics, we find a classic spiritual tenet. As early as the beginning of the eighteenth century, Saint Louis-Marie Grignion spoke of the servants of Mary as “capital” that the Mother of God uses for Her actions “to the greatest glory of God, in time and in eternity.” However, the criticisms against Schoenstatt continued, marked by a lack of understanding that pained the founder: “Even if the difficulties grow worse,” Father Kentenich confided, “we have our little motto that works wonders: Mater habebit curam (the Mother will take care of it.)”

Revealing the inner void


[I]n 1940, the Nazi persecution of the Catholic clergy intensified. On September 20, 1941, Father Kentenich was called in by the Gestapo, who quoted back to him something he had said behind closed doors, but had been reported by an informer: “My mission is to reveal the inner void that is National Socialism, and in doing so to defeat it.” The police imprisoned Father Kentenich for a month in an unventilated room, to break his will. He was then transferred to the prison in Koblenz. Thanks to the collusion of two guards, he received what he needed to celebrate Mass there, and exchanged letters with Schoenstatt. He offered himself completely, giving to the Mother of God “an unconditional free hand,” to do with him as she wished, and asking one and all to participate in his sacrifice to obtain “duration, fruitfulness, and holiness” for his spiritual family.

In March 1942, Father Kentenich left for Dachau, a concentration camp close to Munich, at the very time that living conditions there were getting worse. Of the 12,000 prisoners, 2,600 were priests. The Germans were gathered together in one barrack where they were allowed to attend Mass each day, celebrated by one of them. It wasn’t until March 19, 1943 that Father Kentenich was able to celebrate his first Mass at the camp. Every evening, he gave a spiritual talk to his fellow prisoners thanks to the protection of “kapo” Guttmann (the kapo was the head prisoner in each barrack), a Communist with a very violent nature, but who was fascinated by Father Kentenich’s behavior. He had seen him share his meager daily ration of bread and soup with a needier prisoner. Guttmann would save the life of the founder of Schoenstatt, who was fated for extermination in the gas chamber owing to his poor health. The day an S.S. doctor visited to select the sick prisoners, the kapo his Father Kentenich. Sent to the disinfection commando, Father Kentenich could from then on move freely around the camp.

On July 16, 1942, two new branches of Schoenstatt were created in Dachau, under the responsibility of two lay prisoners—the Secular Institute for Families and the Secular Institute of Schoenstatt Brothers of Mary. Transferred to various blocks, the founder began his apostolate each time again in spite of the personal risk he ran. During the three last months of 1944, the hardening of the Nazi regime and epidemics resulted in the deaths of ten thousand prisoners at Dachau. It was at this time that, in an astonishing act of faith full of hope, Father Kentenich, in a place that resembled hell, founded a group of followers the international movement that extended the Schoenstatt foundation to the whole world. In December, Bishop Piguet, a French bishop who was a prisoner, ordained a Schoenstatt seminarian, Bless Karl Leisner, in the utmost secrecy. Suffering from tuberculosis and very weak, Leisner was able to celebrate only one Mass before he died. He was beatified by John Paul II on June 23, 1996.

On April 6, 1945, with the Americans approaching, the prisoners were freed. On May 20th, the feast of Pentecost, Father Kentenich returned to Schoenstatt. He immediately set to work, to establish a barrier against the double peril the founder lucidly discerned—Communism in the East, and practical materialism in the West. His experience of internment would help him teach his followers how to maintain internal freedom. Two martyrs of Schoenstatt, Fathers Reinisch and Eise, the first succumbing to disease in Dachau, the latter beheaded by the Nazis, would often be involved as heaven protectors by all the members of the Movement.

Secular institutes


[I]n March 1947, Father Kentenich, who was received in a private audience by Pope Pius XII, thanked the Supreme Pontiff for publishing the constitution Provida Mater Ecclesia two days earlier, which crated Secular Institutes. This term refers to a group of Christians, lay people and diocesan priests, living in the world and forming among themselves a society of consecrated life. The aim of these institutions is to help their members try to achieve the perfection of charity. Although not religious in the strict sense of the term, the members of secular institutes can make private vows. In October 1948, the Holy See established the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary as a secular institute. At the same time, the founder went to Latin America, then Africa and the United States, to introduce the movement there.

However, opposition continued to mount against the movement, whose solidity and expansion aroused jealously. The opposition was not about points of doctrine, but primarily about expressions used in certain prayers and on the founder‘s role, which was considered too all-encompassing. The bishop of Trier, the bishop of the diocese in which Schoenstatt was situated, ordered a canonical visitation. While the visitor’s report overall spoke very highly of Schoenstatt, it nevertheless lodged  several thorough criticisms to which Father Kentenich was invited to respond. Father Kentenich believed he needed to elevate the discussion by drafting a long document on the Schoenstatt movement, which was presented as a remedy for idealism, the disease of Western thought.

Starting in the eighteenth century, this way of thinking, which came from the philosophy of the Enlightenment, radically separated ideas from concrete reality. It is still found in our time, particularly in the form of relativism, a system under which absolute truth does not exist: “To each his own truth.” During the Mass for the opening of the 2005 conclave, Cardinal Ratzinger drew the cardinals’ attention to this danger: “Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled a fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be ‘tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine,’ seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires. We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism. An ‘adult’ faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth” (Homily, April 18, 2005).

God speaks


[F]or the founder, Schoenstatt was an antidote for this poison, because it was not a abstract theory but a practical application of Christian doctrine. Nevertheless, his lengthy declaration annoyed the apostolic visitor, who sent the matter to the Holy Office in Rome. In 1951, Father tromp, a Dutch Jesuit, was appointed apostolic inspector with far-reaching powers. Taken aback by the unconventional terminology Father Kentenich used, he considered the Father a fanatic, an innovator, and even a sectarian. After having relieved him of all his duties leading the movement, he assigned him to reside in the Pallottin house in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was prohibited from maintaining any correspondence with the leaders of the movement. Yet, undisturbed and obedient to Providence, which was acting through the ecclesiastical authority, the exile wrote, “Does God not speak clearly through events? The Church wishes to put our obedience to the test, in order to know by it whether our movement, and the bearer of the movement, are marked by God.” In 1959, Father Kentenich was assigned as pastor to the German-speaking parish in Milwaukee, which included many emigrants from this nation. “He spoke to us about the Father of heaven,” some of his parishioner would later report, “like no one we had ever heard before.”

In 1953, some had suggested to Pope Pius XII that he dissolve Schoenstatt, but he refused to do so. The question arose regarding the status of the movement: should it be integrated into the Pallottin congregation, or should it become autonomous? The superiors of the Order recommended the first solution, but other Pallottins thought, with Father Kentenich, that Schoenstatt was liable to deteriorate unless it was completely autonomous. In 1962, through the intervention of several bishops, Bless John XXIII entrusted the matter to the Congregation for Religious. In December 1963, Paul VI named the bishop of Munster, Bishop Hoeffner, Schoenstatt’s moderator and protector. Anew apostolic visitor was appointed, who gave a positive report. In 1964, under unanimous opinion of German bishops, a pontifical decree declared the separation of Schoenstatt from the Pallottins—this separation took place peacefully. The only thing the members of the movement had yet to do was obtain permission from Rome for the founder to return home. In October 1965, Father Kentenich was restored to his duties leading the movement. Now having reached his eighties, he was received by Paul VI a few days after the closing of the Second Vatican Council. He predicted that the council would ‘bear its fruit, but would have negative effects at first, owing to the uncertainty of large portions of the hierarchy, clergy, and laity with regard to the image of the Church … this uncertainty can be overcome by turning our gaze to Mary, the first image and the Mother of the Church.”

During Christmas 1965, Father Kentenich, whose patriarchal face was bedecked with a long white beard, was greeted enthusiastically at Schoenstatt. His movement now included five secular institutes—the Schoenstatt Fathers, the Institute of Diocesan Priests, the Brothers of Mary, the Sisters of Mary, and the Institute of Our Lady of Schoenstatt for consecrated people. In addition, there were Unions and Leagues that brought together priests, lay people, and families. During the final years of his life, the founder devoted his energy to broadly exerting his spiritual fatherhood. In these years after the Second Vatican Council, an influential theology called for an “adult faith,” the individual’s autonomy, and the application of democratic principles in the Church. Father Kentenich countered the fashionable ideas by insisting on the fatherhood of God and on the fatherhood that the priesthood should exert in the Church, particularly in the episcopate. This fatherhood, which has its origins in charity, is also the basis of authority and implies obedience. Mary’s maternal care was the movement’s other essential charism, which was lived out through a covenant of love with the Mother Thrice Admirable.

In a talk to the annual conference of German Catholics in 1967, Father Kentenich declared, “We are living in apocalyptic times… heavenly and diabolical powers are clashing on this earth… What is at stake in this confrontation is domination of the world—this is quite visible today.” The solution is recourse to the Virgin Mary, “the special weapon in the hand of the living God.” During his last year on earth, the year 1968 was maked by the rebellious spirit in the Church as in the qworld. Father Kentenich continually brought up this subject: “Mary’s task is to bring Christ to the world and the world to Christ… we are convinced that the great crises of the present age cannot be overcome without Mary” (September 12, 1968).

Dilexit Ecclesiam


[T]hree days later, Father Kentenich celebrated Mass in the brand-new sanctuary of the Adoration Church, which had recently been consecrated on Mount Schoenstatt. Six hundred Sisters of Mary attended the ceremony. When he returned to the sacristy for the prayer of thanksgiving, the celebrant suffered a sudden heart attack. He received last rites and died several minutes later. His mortal remains rest in the very spot where he breathed his dying breath. In accordance with his wished, Delexit Ecclesiam” (He loved the Church; Eph. 5:25) is inscribed on his tomb. Today, the Schoenstatt movement, active in more than 100 countries, numbers about 100,000 members and exerts an influence on millions of associates. The founder’s process of beatification began in 1975.

May Father Joseph Kentenich’s example encourage us to enter into an alliance of love with the Most Blessed Virgin Mary that will make us instruments in the hands of this Mother Thrice Admirable. Through her, may all men and women go to Jesus Christ, the only Savior, and through Him, to His heavenly Father!

Dom Antoine Marie, o.s.b.


Note: In light of the situation the world is in now and all the abortions that are performed every day, it would do us well to heed Father Joseph Kentenich’s advice and go to Mary for help. Send a note to the Holy Father asking him to consecrate Russia to her Immaculate Heart. Put the note in a blue envelope. It will cost about $1.10 – 1.30 to send just a small slip of paper with these simple words: “Holy Father for the love of God and obedience to the Blessed Virgin consecrate Russia to her Immaculate Heart NOW in union with the Bishops of the world.”

This should also be an eye-opener for those thinking of aborting a child. How many babies have been aborted that would have been very holy people, or the one who would develop a cure for cancer or some other disease. Think about it! If you know of someone contemplating this terrible way out of their bad choice, tell them about Father  Kentenich. At least his mother had the courage to give him life and to give him a chance to live as God intended.

Address for the Holy Father:

His Holiness, Pope Francis I
The Apostolic Palace
00120 Vatican City, Europe


Helping Hand

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