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Many of you might already know that as Sisters of Mary we do not take the traditional vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience as most communities do. And many of you might also have the very justified question: WHY NOT?? Hopefully this explanation can provide the answer!
First of all, it is important to know that while we do not take vows, as Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary we do have our own unique form of binding to God and to our community that we take very seriously. In place of the vows, we have what we call a contract/consecration. It is a twofold binding which includes a juridical contract, but also our covenant of love, through which we surrender ourselves to God and his kingdom through our Mother Thrice Admirable, Queen, and Victress of Schoenstatt. This contract/consecration also obliges us to live the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
As is the case in most communities, this way of commitment is also a gradual one. After our novitiate, we seal our contract/consecration for one year. After that year, the sister can then choose to renew her commitment for two years, and then for three years. At the end of those three years, the contract/consecration is then sealed forever. This gives both the sister and the community the opportunity to prayerfully and carefully discern God’s will with regard to her vocation.
In very simple terms: our contract/consecration, as a way of binding ourselves to God and to the community, is not as strong as the vow. Our founder, Father Joseph Kentenich, certainly respected the religious vows and the communities who make them. Why, then, did he establish our community with such a ‘weak’ form of binding when he could have had us take vows as most communities do?
When he founded our community, Father Kentenich wanted to give to our modern world a new type of person, a new type of consecrated woman. He recognized - even way back in 1926 - that we live in a time when people find it very hard to make commitments and remain faithful to them - especially with regard.
We need only think of the high rates of divorce and co-habitation, or the struggles many experience in embracing and remaining faithful to a religious vocation to know that this is a crisis in our modern world!
Therefore, like St. Francis of Assisi who founded a community with a special mission for poverty during a time when wealth and worldliness had penetrated the Church, or St. Igatius, who founded the Jesuits after the Protestant Reformation as an army faithful to the Holy Father and the teachings of the Church, Father Kentenich founded our community - and all Schoenstatt Secular Institutes - as a new type of community for OUR modern time. We should bear witness to the fact that it is possible to give ourselves completely to God and his kingdom and to remain eternally faithful to him - even if such a strong binding, like the vow, is not there. In that way, we should be a living example to all people, whether consecrated, single, or married, of a life of radical surrender to Christ and faithfulness to that surrender.
The words inscribed on our brooch - which we receive when seal our contract/consecration for the first time - give the answer:
Caritas Christi Urget Nos -
The love of Christ urges us!
It is not fear or exterior obligation that urges us, but love - a free and generous answer of love in daily life! As our Holy Father, Benedict XVI has reminded us in his first encyclical: “God is love!” Therefore all we do should be motivated by love.
No! He gave us such a binding so that we would freely choose to remain faithful, so that we would be bound from within to our vocation and to the One who has called us in love. In that way, we are also a reminder that freedom is not merely the license to do whatever I want whenever I feel like it. True freedom consists in using my God-given capacities to think, make decisions, and love in order to choose the best, the greatest, and the highest - namely God himself and his holy will.
This understanding of life, freedom, and commitments is essential to Father Kentenich’s vision of the new type of person and saint that he wanted to give to the Church through Schoenstatt.
Founded in 1926, our community became Germany’s first secular institute. Today, our community extends to all continents, working in 29 countries with members from 35 nations.
Secular Institutes are communities of consecrated life living in the midst of society (saecularis = pertaining to the world). The 1983 Code of Canon Law gives the following definition: “A secular institute iis an institute of consecrated life in which the faithful, living in this world, strive for the perfection of charity and endeavor to work for the sanctification of the world from within.” Pope Paul VI called them “research laboratories in which the Church can test the concrete possibilities of her relationship to the world.”
“If we ask ourselves what has been the soul of every secular institute that has inspired its birth and development, we must answer: it has been a deep concern for a synthesis. It has been the longing for the simultaneous affirmation of two characteristics:
1) full consecration of life according to the evangelical counsels and 2) perfect responsibility for a transforming presence and action within the world, in order to mold it, perfect it, and sanctify it.” (Pope Paul VI).
Members of secular institutes are “in the world and not of the world, but for the world.” They live in whatever providential circumstances God gives them, but they wholly consecrate their lives to God through the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. They are the newest vocation in the Catholic Church, and many say they are the vocation of the new millennium.
Pope John Paul II said that secular institutes provide ‘evangelical yeast’ to leaven all the dough of the world through the radical living out of the baptismal promises and so change the world from within by becoming “life-giving leaven.” The treasure of secular institutes is a new gift of the Spirit, combining consecration and secularity. The result is an apostolate of testimony, Christian commitment to society, and evangelization.
As Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary we have many possibilities corresponding to this concept: We work as a community in common projects, such as schools, hospitals, and social welfare initiatives, but also as individuals in various fields of work in order to act “as leaven . . . to contribute to the sanctification of the world from within.” (Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium 31).
Our style of life as a secular institute gives us the flexibility we need as a community to permeate all spheres of our modern world with the Gospel message. We live together as a community of life, but we also have the possibility to live on our own in the world (but always affiliated with one of our house communities). We work in various fields within the Church, but we also have the possibility to take on other tasks that are not strictly religious. In this way, through our presence and example these areas of life can be permeated a Christian, Marian atmosphere as well.
Many of our sisters wear a religious dress and thereby point to the presence of God through their appearance. Others forgo this common dress in an attempt to open for God those spheres of life in which religious signs may trigger resistance or produce misunderstanding.
Whether we wear our common dress or lay clothes, our purpose and mission is to contribute to the new evangelization, to bear witness to the presence of Christ within the world and lead all souls to him. The good of the apostolate, rather than personal preference or comfort, therefore determines to a large extent whether a sister wears lay clothes or our Marian dress.
Our service in the world ranges from missionary work in various cultures to contemplative life in an adoration community. In whatever we do, we see our fundamental attitude reflected in what the Second Vatican Council calls the “sanctification of the world . . . from within,” and a contribution to the mission of Schoenstatt for the renewal of the world in Christ through Mary from our shrines.
“The members of secular institutes are, by vocation and mission, the point of encounter between the initiative of God and the expectation of creation: the initiative of God which they bring into the world through love and intimate union with God; the expectation of creation, which they share in the daily and secular condition of life with others.” (Pope John Paul II, February, 1997)