Founded in France early in the nineteenth century, and gaining
approbation by Rome in 1836,
the Marist Fathers have travelled to work in most corners of the world.
Small in numbers compared
with other older communities, they have continued to minister in a
wide variety of cultures and in a wide variety of ministries.
Father Jean Claude Colin is considered by the Marist Fathers as
their Founder, and he along with other founding members, including:
St Marcellin Champagnat (Founder of the Marist Brothers) and
Jeanne Marie Chavoin, (Foundress of the Marist Sisters)
established a way of living the gospel “after the manner of Mary”
that still resonates with people today.Father Colin saw Mary living
in the pages of the gospel stories without making a fuss of herself,
without great fanfare, but with great fruitfulness –
he described her presence as ‘Hidden and as it were unknown” –
and set that as the model for the Marist Fathers’ style of presence
in the church and the world. Marists were to “do Mary’s work” rather
than simply to admire and honour her, and therefore their mission
involved “building a new church” – giving birth to something new
and wonderful in the world at each turn of our story, just as Mary did in
giving birth to God’s Word in Jesus.
While living with great loyalty to the Church authorities,
Father Colin urged Marists to let people rather than rules be their first
point of reference. Their way of ministering the gospel was always to
err on the side of mercy. Such spirit still resonates with today’s people,
and even though Marist Fathers are diminishing in numbers, those who
continue in their ministry still bring a certain refreshment to God’s people,
a certain liberation of spirit and a certain hope that their journeys are
honoured in God’s eyes, even in the midst of their own wounds and
struggles. To live the gospel after the manner of Mary can call us still
to a spiritual resource that is creative, life-giving and hope-sustaining
in this new moment of the new millennium.
Father Colin and his founding confreres, people
such as St Peter Chanel, (martyred in the Pacific in the early
1840’s), Champagnat, Jean-Claude Courveille and others, have left us
a way of living the gospel that still rings true after all the profound changes
that our culture has known. Their spirit can still offer the Church and the
world much-needed refreshment. Here is a reflection by French Marist
priest Francois Marc who died at age 45 - he muses on what the church
would like if it were to be formed "after the manner of Mary".It is an ongoing
source of encouragement of hope for me so I share it with you as a
wonderful expression of what our Marist vision of Church is about.
A MARIAN CHURCH
Francois Marc s.m.
I would like to plead for a Marian church; not for a church which multiplies
processions and blesses huge statues....
Rather a church which "lives the gospel after the manner of Mary.
The Marian church follows Mary into the mountains, going off with her to
encounter life; she visits men and women, and though things may seem
to be sterile, she is on the watch for what is coming to birth, for possibilities,
for the life which beats in things. The Marian church rejoices and sings.
Instead of bemoaning its fate and the world's woes, she is in wonder at
the beauty there is on the earth and in the human heart, as she sees
what God is doing there.The Marian church knows she is the object of a
gratuitous love and that God has the heart of a mother. She has seen
God on the door-step, on the look-out for the improbable return of a son;
she has seen him throw his arms around his neck, place the festal ring
on his finger, and himself organised
the homecoming feast. When she pages through the family album, she
sees Zaccheus in his sycamore, the woman taken in adultery, the
Samaritan woman, foreigners, the lepers, beggars and a common
prisoner in the place of execution. So you see, the Marian church despairs
of no one, and "does not quench the smouldering flax."
When she finds someone on
the side of the road, wounded by life, she is moved by compassion, and
with infinite tenderness tends their wounds. She is the safe harbour,
who is always open, the refuge of sinners, "mater misericordiae",
mother of mercy.
The Marian church does not know the answers before the questions
are posed. Her path is not traced out in advance.
She knows doubt and unease, night and loneliness.
That is the price of trust. She takes her part in the conversation,
but makes no claim to know everything. She accepts that she must search.
The Marian church lives in Nazareth in silence and simplicity.
She does not live in a castle. Her home is like all the other homes.
She goes out to chat with the other villagers.
She weeps with them, she rejoices with them,
but she never preaches at them. Above all she listens.
She does her shopping, she goes to look for water at the well,
she is invited when there is a marriage. It is in these
places that she encounters people. Many people are pleased to
have her rest a while in their home; they consider it a
blessing. The Marian church stands at the foot of the Cross.
She does not take refuge in a fortress or in a chapel or in
prudent silence when people are being crushed. She is vulnerable
in her deeds as in her words.
With a humble courage she stands alongside the most insignificant.
The Marian church lets in the wind of Pentecost, the wind which impels
one to go out, which unties tongues. In the public square,
not for the sake of hammering doctrine, nor to swell her ranks,
she proclaims her message: the promise has been kept, the fight
has been won and the Dragon crushed forever..
And this is the great secret which only she can murmur: to win the victory
God has laid down his arms.
True, we are in an intermediate time, the time of human history.
And that history is a painful one.
Yet every evening at the end of Vespers, the Church sings
the Magnificat. For the Church knows where he joy is to be found.
And look: God has not found our world or its afflictions,
its violence or its wickedness uninhabitable. It is there that he has
met us. And there on the Cross, we have seen the "mercy",
the open heart of God.There at the foot of the Cross, a people was born -
a Marian people. "Seeing his mother and near her,
the disciple whom he loved, Jesus said to his mother: 'Woman this
is your son.'
Then to the disciple he said: 'This is your mother'. From that moment,
the disciple made a place for her in his home."Brothers and sisters,
let us belong to this people. Let us make a place for Mary in our home.
Let us enter with her into the "humble and heart-rending happiness"
of loving and being loved. And in the words of Therese of Lisieux,
the Church will be in this world, " a heart resplendent with love."
Francois Marc s.m.
~Our Marists have worked in Japan as a gift of reconciliation since 1950.
This picture I took while working with them in 1993.
Since then three of this little band have finished their life's journeys.
The Cherry Blossoms in Nara - the ancient Japanese capital where our Marists still minister.