Michael Okpala I., Nigeria •
Upon entering the Shrine, there is an inscription on the antependium (the decorative front to the altar cloth) in the Shrine. That saying (or inscription) “Nothing without You, Nothing without us” is rightfully the foundation of Schoenstatt Spirituality (and even Christian Spirituality). This is because at the center of Schoenstatt Spirituality is the Covenant of Love that is built on the foundation of this saying. The saying indicates a bilateral spirituality, a spirituality wherein we need the Blessed Mother, and she demands our cooperation. This inscription – “Nothing without you, Nothing without us” – is an expression of the Covenant of Love. On the one hand and first part, it indicates Schoenstatt’s (our) resolute dependence on the presence and activity of Mary in the Shrine, while on the other hand and secondly, it indicates the necessity of our cooperation and striving so that the terms by which Mary was persuaded to come and dwell in Schoenstatt are met.
The origin of this saying
Although the saying is a later development, from 1933, it can be traced back to the First Founding Document in 1914. In the First Founding Document, our father and founder, Fr. Joseph Kentenich, while addressing the young sodalists, presented before them an extra-ordinary challenge: extraordinary because the world had been bedeviled by a cancerous mediocrity that stifled every attempt to cure oneself of the disease; extraordinary because the ferocious cares of the flesh make holiness herculean; extra-ordinary because the challenge is a selfless one and selfishness seems to be as rife as the air we breathe; extraordinary because we live in a world (especially Nigeria) where cutting corners pays more than straightforwardness. He presented this extraordinary challenge in the form of a humble wish and it reads: “Each one of us must achieve the highest conceivable degree of perfection and sanctity according to his state of life. Not simply the great and greater, but the greatest heights ought to be the object of our increased efforts.”
Why did Fr. Kentenich present this extraordinary challenge? Reading further in that First Founding Document, we see that this extraordinary challenge was presented in view of the goal of making the Blessed Mother erect her throne in the Schoenstatt Shrine, and that the Schoenstatt Shrine, through Mary’s establishing her throne, may become a place of pilgrimage, a cradle of sanctity, and a place of grace, where the Blessed Mother would distribute her treasures and work miracles of grace. It is on the basis of this very point, that the saying can be rightfully traced to the First Founding Document, because, we see Fr. Kentenich’s recognition of our dependence on Mary, and Mary’s demand for our own co-operation in it.
The meaning of this saying
Fr. Kentenich was careful in his choice of the word ‘miracle.’ In the spirituality of Schoenstatt, the Blessed Mother works miracles but does not perform magic. While we depend on the presence and activity of the Blessed Mother in the Shrine, the Blessed Mother herself wants to be part of our history: to help us salvage the kingdom of God from its overpowering enemies; to erect her throne among us, and to work miracles of grace and miraculously distribute her treasures.
The fundamental point that makes the work of the Blessed Mother miraculous and not magical is the fact that she wishes to perform these with our cooperation. It becomes magic, when we just relax in our cozy confinements and things not worked for begin to happen. She wants to collaborate with us to achieve her mission, to distribute her treasures and work miracles of grace through our contributions to the capital of grace, and to make Schoenstatt a place of pilgrimage, a place of grace and a cradle of sanctity. She wants to do all these and lots more, but, with us – with our cooperation.
The Blessed Mother demands only six (6) things of us Schoenstatters:
- Prove first by your deeds that you really love me
- Increase your striving to the highest degree
- This sanctification I demand of you
- Diligently bring me contributions to the capital of grace
- Fulfill your duties fervently
- Pray fervently
This spirituality of a cooperative effort reminds me of one of St. Augustine’s sermons – “The God who created you without your help will not help (or save) you without your help.”
It is only on the grounds of the above that six (6) promises are also assured us:
- It will please me to dwell in your midst
- And miraculously distribute gifts and graces in abundance
- From here I will draw youthful hearts to myself
- I will educate them
- To become useful instruments
- In my hands.
However this does not present the idea that our contributions are equal to the promises gained. The Covenant of Love is a mutual agreement between two unequal parties. The Covenant of Love is more the desire of the Blessed Mother than ours. She is more the person even sealing the Covenant. That is why even when we fall out of human frailty, she remains faithful. She only wants us to prove our love to her, and take our resolution seriously.
Nothing without you, nothing without us: what does it tell us as Schoenstatters?
The Mission is not our own: In the saying “Nothing without you, Nothing without us,” we recognize that the mission is the Blessed Mother’s. It is not our own mission. And because it is not our own mission, we must depend and always make recourse to her the owner of the mission. We are only the Blessed Mother’s instruments. This very fact should make us more humble. The mission cannot be achieved if we do not make our contributions to the capital of grace in prayer, sacrifice and daily striving for sanctity.
Selflessness is a virtue: In the 1914 Founding Document, the Fr. Kentenich’s extraordinary challenge to the young sodalists was not simply for their own glory or personal gain, but so that the Blessed Mother would erect her throne in their midst, and hence make Schoenstatt a place of pilgrimage and grace for all peoples. We see here that the emphasis was ‘all peoples’ and not them as such. In the Covenant of Love, our contributions are not solely for ourselves but for others. And who are these others? They are the ones who visit the shrine, youthful hearts and the world at large.
We must contribute something: The economy of our salvation is not left to God alone. While God desires to save us from the dung heap of sin, he also demands our co-operation however minute. Even the sincere desire to cooperate with God’s plan itself can go a long way. In the same vein, the Blessed Mother’s mission demands that we too contribute our own share. Imperfect and infinitesimal as our contributions may be, what is important is that sincere desire and striving, and it is this that the Blessed Mother cherishes. If we must be collaborators in her mission, we must contribute our own share.
We must eschew mediocrity: Mediocrity is a life of half-measure; it is a life that is comfortable with minimalism; it is a life that is comfortable with a collectivistic mass-mindedness. We must eschew this life if we want to be covenant partners with the Blessed Mother. Fr. Kentenich says we must strive for the highest (not just high or higher) conceivable degree of perfection according to our state in life. We must not be satisfied with the mentality of the crowd. We must be resolute in being the best; resolute in seeking justice in a world bedeviled by injustice; resolute in holiness even with the prevalence of sexual misconduct in Nigeria; resolute in speaking the truth even when people try to hold on to lies and encourage us to do likewise.
Be the best in what you do: You do not need to be a priest to be holy. Married or single as you are, let holiness envelop your being. Fr. Kentenich wants us to respect our individual originality and original individuality. We do not need to be like the others to achieve greatness. In your own particular state in life, BE THE BEST. If you are a medical doctor, severe any form of deception; if you are a lawyer, be firmly gripped by the love for truth and justice; if you are a bricklayer, do it as if you do it for the Blessed Mother. Simply be the best in what you do.
The best partner
The Blessed Mother has brilliantly proven herself to be the greatest partner we could ever think of. This is because she wants to be close to us. She wants to make us her beloved children. But she cannot do that if we do not want her to be our mother. That is why in John 19:26 while Jesus said to Mary: “Woman behold your son,” He also added saying to the disciple: “Son behold your mother.” He recognized that because Mary wants us to be her children, she also demands that we make a move of also wanting her to be our mother.
The Blessed Mother wants to be close to us and through that draw us to the Triune God. She wants to use us as her instruments, she wants to be part of our lives and histories, and she wants to draw us close to herself.
Are you and I ready to co-operate with her? Are we ready to give a positive response? And by that cultivate a deep, sacrificial spirit infused in a covenant character? If yes, then let us follow her nearly and love her dearly.