First of all, I again greet you after a long time with the beautiful greeting: Nos cum Prole pia benedicat Virgo Maria. (Virgin Mary, bless us with your holy Child.) It is the first time that these Sodality words resound at this place. May they continue to resound and re-echo throughout the time to come.
Father, Mother and children are happy when they can take possession of their own home, even if, when compared with the magnificent rented lodgings they are leaving, it is insignificant and poor. The thought, ‘This house belongs to us’, by far outweighs all the other advantages. We may also experience such pure family joy today. This little chapel belongs to our Sodality family, over which our heavenly Mother reigns. It belongs wholly to us, only to us. We ungrudgingly leave the more beautiful house chapel, our rented lodgings until now, to others. We are happy, and we will let no one rob us of this happiness. Besides happiness, a justified feeling of pride makes our hearts swell. For this shrine, which in living memory has been more or less abandoned, desolate and empty, has been restored at our request and given to the Mother of God. At least since the Pallottines have been living here the walls have not been more beautifully decorated than they are now. May we discover a favourable omen for the future development of our young Sodality in this happy fact?
Certainly! It would be a sublime task, worthy of the zeal and exertion of the noblest characters, if we Sodalists managed to introduce glowing love for Mary and ideal striving for virtue into our student body, such has not existed until now.
Yet why do I express myself so hesitantly and modestly? Have I lost confidence in you? It is true, only the ruins of our previously flourishing Sodality remain. However, new life will soon rise up from these ruins. Your loyal co-operation last year and the genuinely Marian spirit you have made your own assure me of this. Although a number of ideals may have crumbled under the smoke and dust of everyday life, and although a number of principles, which we drew up in the course of last year and considered unalterable, may not have survived the test of everyday life in practice, one thing has remained, of that I am sure: It is the conviction that being a true Sodalist cannot be separated from genuine moral and religious greatness in keeping with our state in life. Just as at the end of the last school year, so today our souls are filled with the will to conquer, to reach our Sodality ideals. No, my dear Sodalists, I have not lost confidence in you. I know that by building on what we have achieved until now we will make great progress, just as we intended last year.
This gradual development of the grace of our vocation, and the higher degree of the religious and apostolic spirit that results from it, is, however, not the goal I want to place before you. My demands are incomparably higher. Each of us must achieve the highest conceivable degree of perfection and holiness in keeping with our state in life. Not simply the great and greater, but even the greatest heights, have to be the object of our intensified striving.
You will understand that I only dare to present such an extraordinary demand to you in the form of a modest wish.
However, if you want to know where this wish has come from, allow me to tell you an unspoken favourite idea of mine.
When Peter saw God’s glory on Tabor he called out in delight, ‘It is good to be here. Let us build three tents here.’ These words keep on coming into my mind. Just as often I have asked myself: Would it not be possible for this Sodality chapel to become our Tabor where Mary reveals her glory? Without doubt we could not undertake a greater apostolic act, or leave our successors a greater legacy, than to ask our Queen and Sovereign to set up her throne here in a special way, to distribute her treasures, and work miracles of grace.
You can guess what I am aiming at. I would like to make this place a place of pilgrimage, a place of grace, for our house and the whole German Province, perhaps even further afield. All who come here to pray must experience Mary’s glory and confess, ‘It is good to be here. Let us build tents here; this is our favourite spot.’
A daring idea, almost too daring be spoken openly, but it is not too daring for you. How often in world history has it not happened that what is small and insignificant has become the source of the great and greatest things. Why should this not be the case also with us? Whoever knows the past of our Sodality will not find it difficult to believe that Divine Providence has something very special in store for it.
As I say this, my dear Sodalists, I feel that I have struck the right note. Your hearts are on fire. You have made my plan your own. I confidently place it and its execution into your hands, and I have no reservations about entering it in our chronicle. Later generations can then pass judgement on us.
Will we achieve our goal?
As far as it depends on us and I no longer say this hesitatingly and doubtfully, but with great optimism all of us, my dear Sodalists, will spare no pains to attain it. Just as a chapel of our Lady in Florence for our second patron, St Aloysius, so this Sodality chapel must become the cradle of our holiness. This holiness will draw our heavenly Mother down to us with gentle force.
It happened more than five hundred years ago. The English and French were tearing one another to pieces in a bloody war. France was almost on the point of being totally destroyed. At the same time a simple French village maiden was praying fervently to the Blessed Mother to save her King. Suddenly the Archangel Michael appeared to her and said, “She who our great God acknowledges as his Mother has commanded me to come to you and tell you to take up the sword, to clothe your body in steel, and defend the cause of justice. You will free the city of Orleans from the enemy and lead the King to Reims for his crowning. Behind the altar in the Church of St Catherine in Fierbois a sword has been buried. Have it dug up and gird yourself with it.”
The maiden’s name was Joan of Arc, and she has become known in history as the Maid of Orleans. Pope Pius X beatified her in May 1909. It seems to me that at this moment, here in the ancient chapel of St Michael, our Blessed Lady is speaking to us through the lips of the holy Archangel, ‘Do not worry about the fulfillment of your wish. Ego diligentes me diligo. I love those who love me. First prove that you really love me and that you are serious about what you intend to do. You now have the best opportunity to do so.
According to the plans of Divine Providence, the world war with its powerful impulses is meant to be an extraordinarily helpful means for you to work at your self-sanctification. I demand this sanctification of you. It is the armour you have to put on, the sword with which you have to free your Fatherland from its overpowering enemies, and place it at the head of the ancient world.’
That, my dear Sodalists, is the profound significance of the present war for the future of our Sodality and our chapel. Everything depends on our perfection in keeping with our state in life. For this, however, the war is
1) an extraordinary catalyst,
2) and a truly worthy object of our endeavours.
Let us now weigh up these two timely thoughts.