The Work of Mary
“To enable church to happen” may be a useful way of describing the Marist enterprise. Or perhaps it may be clearer to say, “to be present wherever ‘church’ is happening”, because forming a communion of mind and heart is the work of the Spirit, and not something brought about by human means.
The specific task of Marists is to be there – as Mary was at the beginning – wherever ‘church’ is coming into being, and enabling Mary’s spirit and attitude to touch this emerging Church.
This appears clearly from what Jean-Claude Colin retained of the words Courveille heard at Le Puy, although much of the point is lost in the English translation. Mary’s words are recorded as: “was the mainstay of the new-born Church.” What translates into English as “new-born Church” is, in the original French “Eglise naissante”, which really means “the church in the process of being born”.
This makes a significant difference to our understanding of Mary’s place in the church. Mary’s concern at the beginning was not simply for the Church which had already come into existence, but for the Church in the very process of coming into existence.
And today and for the future Mary is concerned for the places where the Church is coming into being.
The Marist pioneers spoke of this as “the Work of Mary” which they described in this way: that there be a group of people – a Society – whose task on earth is to support the Church in the same way as Mary did at the beginning; that there be a group of people who would be present wherever the new Church is coming to birth, and like a good midwife assist this Church into life.
This is why to the end of his life Colin envisaged the Marist project as a vast enterprise embracing all people: priests, religious and lay people, all working for the same goal. In our times, there are many places where the Church is being born or re-born, where it is emerging or re-emerging. There are individuals who are searching for God or rediscovering their faith. There are individuals and groups who find themselves on the edge of the official church and who struggle to find a community in which they can hear the Good News spoken to them. There are whole countries which are emerging from non-belief or from suppression of faith.
Colin’s insight in that Mary is especially concerned to gather these people, and to be among them by means of the men and women who bear her name and marks of her personality.
However much they may feel their personal weakness or the smallness of their numbers, Marists are invited to take part in this work, and to do it with urgency.