Sarah-Leah Pimentel, Cape Town, South Africa •
Over the last few weeks, I have spent my weekly Adoration hour meditating on a series of Fr. Kentenich’s sermons given in 1962 to the German immigrant community in Milwaukee (Exchange of Hearts, translated by Fr. Jonathan Niehaus). In the series, our founder speaks about an “exchange of hearts” to describe the Covenant of Love, where we exchange our weak hearts with Mary’s strong heart. He says that this is the antidote for the “disease” of our times, where we have forgotten how to love.
It was the third sermon (September 30, 1962) that prompted me to write this reflection. This sermon — entitled “Exchange of Hearts in Impersonal Times” — was given less than two weeks before the start of the Second Vatican Council, which he said would “chart a course for the future so that the world…can find its way again to God.” Even though Fr. Kentenich was speaking 54 years ago, it touches a nerve. Pope Francis is also trying to chart the Church and its members into a time of great mercy and compassion, which is the enactment of the vision of Vatican II.
The world is becoming “unglued”
However, this new era in the Church — then as well as now — happens at a time when the world has, in Fr. Kentenich’s words, “practically been turned upside down, is becoming unglued, coming apart at the seams.”
He adds that modern man is “presently treading on a fiery volcano and we are constantly aware that the volcano could erupt at any time.” Just turn on the news and we see reports of violent protests, terrorist attacks, the ravaging effects of war, the devastation of natural disasters, the effects of the damage we are inflicting on our planet. It really does seem as if the world is becoming “unglued.” At some point, we go into overload and just can’t take it all in anymore.
We are faced with such confusion, despondency and hopelessness that our natural, self-protective instinct is to withdraw into ourselves. This becomes the consequence of our fear, stemming from a world that appears to be careening out of control.
Withdrawal as a response to fear
And so, we develop defence mechanisms. At its worst, we detach ourselves completely, preferring to live in our small bubbles of safety, divorced from reality and create our own version of reality.
Alternatively, we focus on one of the many issues plaguing our world and make that our personal battle. This allows us to contribute something to the greater good. However, we also risk becoming one-sided in our battle and forget to see the many other issues calling for our Christian response. When we are only looking at our side of the battlefield, we don’t even think to cross to the other side to look at the same issue from the perspective of the other. Like the first group, we also risk creating a bubble, and fail to recognise that perhaps the best solutions to the great ethical challenges of our times come when divergent sides encounter each other in a space of mutual purpose and find negotiated solutions.
Overcoming fear with through the “exchange of hearts”
At the heart of it, both of these responses, are responses of fear. We act this way because the assault on our emotions leaves us paralysed, unable to love. This is precisely the malaise of our age. In the sermon, Fr. Kentenich points out that “our hearts have lost the ability and strength to love in a personal way.”
The further we detach ourselves from a love that is personal, the more we become “infected with secularism and worldliness, gradually suffocating our love for religious things and the supernatural,” says Fr. Kentenich.
We can only hope to overcome our fear and open our hearts once again to love if we consecrate our hearts to Mary. Our founder says that in all this confusion “Our Lady has the mission to save the world once more…placing us in the arms of his [God’s] mercy.” Fr. Kentenich invites us not only to consecrate our hearts, but also the hearts of our families, “of nations and of the whole world.”
In Mary’s heart, we unite ourselves also to the heart of Jesus. “Through these two hearts, the Eternal Father wants to rekindle the love of God in the hearts of men and attain a deep, deep union of love, even with mankind today,” says Fr. Kentenich.
More than just words
He warns us, however, that our consecration should be more than just a covenant of words. Our Covenant of Love for the whole world should also be accompanied by our actions, our experience of a life lived in the Covenant of Love, “so that the exchange of hearts between our hearts and the heart of Mary will become as perfect as possible.”
Love is what enables us to be merciful. We have spent the last year reflecting on mercy, finding practical opportunities to practice mercy. At times, it was very difficult because we found ourselves being challenged to love those whom we more accustomed to despising or overlooking. It was only when we faced our inability to love and asked for God’s help that we were able to love others. And it was only through the power of love, that we were able to practice mercy.
Love and mercy will renew the world
We cannot forget the lessons of this year. As we head into Advent and a new year in the Church’s life, we need to continue to show mercy, especially to those who are marginalized, those who contradict us, and those who challenge the values we hold so dearly. We need to continue to act merciful even though we are living in a time of fear and a change in our world order. We cannot do this without love. We cannot do this without the perfect love that emanates from the hearts of Mary and Jesus. We cannot do this unless we exchange our weak hearts with their strong hearts.
Only then will “Divine mercy overtake Divine justice, and Divine mercy and kindness will disarm divine justice.” Equipped with mercy and a love that is personal, Fr. Kentenich assures us that “we are on the best path to renewing the world and to supporting the renewal of the human family today.”