The Great “No’s”
Society of Mary historian Jean Coste uses the phrase “the great NO’s” to refer to the stand Marists are to make against greed, pride and power: and he seems in this attitude one of the essential elements of the Marist way. Colin’s approach was not so much a critique of the Church itself – his loyalties lay too deep for that – but rather a critique of many who represented “church”, and particularly the clergy of his day.
Jean Coste points out further that each of these convictions of Jean-Claude Colin was founded on a significant personal experience; each was related to the attitude of Mary as Colin understood it; and each found some concrete expression in the Rule he wrote for the priests and brothers of the Society of Mary.
Chief among the experiences of Colin were his personal background, and two incidents which profoundly marked him.
Years after the event, Colin spoke of a traumatic experience which occurred when he was a young man. He was sick, and presumed to be dying, and was horrified to discover that those who gathered round his bedside could talk only about who was to receive his inheritance at his death.
There even seemed to be some attempt to prevent him from taking the medicine which would cure him!
This childhood experience created in him an instinctive horror for any form of greed.
Later, he noticed the same spot of greed in meetings of priests, where the two recurring topics of conversation seemed to be money and criticism of bishops.
Probably these two experiences, more than most other experiences in his life, made Colin aware of how easily and subtly the desire for money, power and personal aggrandisement can enter into peoples’ lives, and cripple them spiritually.
Colin was influenced by the writings of Mary of Agreda, a Spanish mystic, and from these writings and from his own personal reflection on the mystery of Mary in the early Church, Colin could see how much these attitudes were at variance with the approach of Mary.
As a young priest at Cerdon, when he was jotting down his first ideas for a Rule for Marists, he laid down specific rules to counter the possibility of these attitudes taking root in Marists’ lives. In fact, some of these rules were unrealistic and were subsequently removed from the Constitutions, but they enshrined a very realistic conviction: that greed, pride and power limit the effectiveness of one who wishes to present the Gospel of Jesus.