New World, New Church
Father Colin, founder of the Society of Mary, asks Marists to find in the early Church a model for the Society of Mary. He doesn’t mean that we turn the clock back and imitate the physical lives of the early Christians; but he does invite us to try to understand what took place at the beginning of Christianity.
It could be put like this: a group of ordinary people from the world of their times gather together to remember Jesus, and form a communion of mind, heart, and love. This “community” was simply a gathering or a grouping, not a building or a structured group. And in that community of love – called a “church” – the Gospel was heard, transforming the lives of the people who then submerged themselves in their world, and began to transform it.
So it was a like a cycle: men and women from the world – gather in a communion – are transformed by the Gospel – submerge themselves in their world – and transform the world which becomes another communion – where the Gospel is heard, and so on.
The essential point is that the Gospels were written originally not for individuals, but for these “churches” or communities.
Even today, if the gospel is to be heard effectively, it is to be heard in the “community”.
So, the first requirement is to build a community of people who form “church”. And since the world from which people come and to which they return is constantly changing, so will the shape and texture of the “church” constantly change.
The Society of Mary’s origins lie precisely at a moment of extraordinary change in the history of Western civilisation: the great cultural shift of the Enlightenment. The world in which men and women lived was evolving into something quite different: a world which no longer assumed that God had an intimate part in their lives; a world which was jealous of its freedom and independence, and hypersensitive to any authority. At base, it was a world which was becoming more and more allergic to the Church as it was perceived, and Colin seemed to have an intuitive grasp of what was happening around him.
Given his temperament, Fr Colin could easily have joined those who saw this as the end of the world and the time for Divine Judgement.
In fact, the remarkable thing is that he saw his age as a time of challenge to present the Gospel in a new way. He caught the wave without knowing on what part of the shore it might cast him. He realised that the work ahead is to begin a new “church” where the Gospel can be heard.
The task is to enable “church” to happen in our day, because it is only when church happens that the Gospel can be proclaimed, heard, believed and inculturated.