Thursday, May 23, 2024

Colin’s Original Vision and its Implications

February 16, 2009 by  
Filed under Jean Coste

The title of the workshop is: Marist Tradition and Today’s Marist. My contribution, which is only part of the workshop, has its own title, if you like, which is this: “A Certain Idea of the Society of Mary: Colin’s original vision and its implication.” I would like to start with a few words about this contribution of mine.

After Vatican II, the main preoccupation in this kind of workshop and retreat was to show Marists the relevance of Colin’s thinking and of the Marist heritage. The new things that came out from the council –all these new trends and changes in the Church– were so powerful, so new for all of us. Our Marist heritage was so tied to the past -a Frenchman in the 19th Century– and all the books were in French. There really was a great danger that the waves from the Council would wipe out everything and nothing would be left of this pre-concilior Marist business. Therefore, there was a real urgent need to show the relevance of Colin’s thinking, of this Marist heritage and to insist on the points of contact. For instance: one of the great moves of the Council was to position and speak of Mary in the Church in the famous Chapter VII of Lumen Gentium. That was really something that Colin had done: to see Mary in the Church. We have insisted very much on that, to show that, after all, Father Colin was not so far off track.

I would say that now the time has come for something more. I would think and hope that we are in a certain sense more spiritually mature if you like than we were at the time of the council. We should not come here just to get a certain kind of euphoria, by seeing that after all, we are not so bad. I have been very interested in a sentence that appeared in your Boston Province magazine, Marist Issues. I think it was Dave Lebel who wrote it. He was speaking of some difficulties in the Society; I don’t remember exactly. He said, yes, we could get a certain kind of euphoria, like after a Coste workshop. When I realized that that was exactly what I was selling, a sense of euphoria to Marists here and there, fifteen days or perhaps three weeks or four weeks after which “ah, we all feel better!” After that, back to the ordinary hard life. That was really what I was doing, I am afraid. I like Dave Label very much and I don’t mean that he shouldn’t have written that. I think he has written something that was very good in a certain sense, but for me it posed a big question.

Now I think the time has come to do something more, not to create euphoria, but to study, to know. I would insist on the fact that the Colin I was speaking of after the Council was the true Colin. With a clear conscience I can tell you that I have never distorted Colin just to please the audience. The talks I gave during the retreats and workshops were based on long articles in Acta which were conducted according to the rules of good, historical studies, taking all the possible texts, thanks to the famous card-index of Mayet done by Gaston Lessard. We had all the possible references on one topic, we took all of them, we studied their origin and we made a scientific article. From the scientific article came a lecture, from the lecture a talk in a retreat, etc.

Therefore, I think it was an honest effort to get the real Colin, but it was also true that the accent was put on the contacts between this Colin and some modern preoccupations. The center of gravity was the contact was between Colin and certain modern aspirations. I think that now it is time to put the center, not on the point of contact, but on Colin himself: what really was Colin’s own thinking completely apart from the contact with us.

Colin may please us, or he may not please us, that depends, but we will speak of Colin and not so much on the contact between Colin and us. I insist on that, because it may be that this kind of workshop will be less gratifying for you, have less euphoria, less of a kind of unanimity for you. We will perhaps meet something that is a bit less interesting for us, less immediately exciting. But we cannot base a congregation on a Colin that pleases us. We have to base the congregation on the Founder as he was. The originality, if you like, of this workshop will be to try to recapture Colin’s vision as it was, independently from the impression it made on us. That does not mean that we will stop doing that though. One of the hopes of the workshop is to see how we stand in regard to this original vision. Therefore, our focus is Marist Tradition and Today’s Marist.

This work of filling the gap if you like, between Colin and us, is the work of the workshop. I will not be telling you, “You know, after that…,” and, “You will see that you…;” no, no, no. Every contact between that and us will have to be the work of the workshop itself, either individually or in groups. I don’t think you’re into this method, but I think it’s your responsibility to see how you stand toward this Colin.

In what sense will we go further? During the past twenty-five years, the studies have been centered on the history of the origin on one side with the publication of the big four volumes of Origines Maristes and Antiquiores Textus and also on the spirituality of Colin’s generalate. Why? Because the spirituality of Colin is known especially through this exceptional collection of the six thousand pages of the Mavet Memoires, which are really Colin speaking and taken down by Mayet. We also have the index cards of Mayet that gave us the possibility of asking Colin at any time, “What do you think of this?” and we could get the answer from this index. That is why we therefore studied the spirituality of the generalate.

It was only one day recently that I had the very bad experience, a kind of nightmare, of realizing that we have studied the spirituality of the generalate but we have never asked ourselves what was the spirituality of the Colin in the period of the origin before 1836. I think that’s where we are coming now. As a matter of fact, there have been three great stages in the understanding of Colin’s message.

You know that Colin died in 1875 and we may say that from 1875 up to 1955, was the first period in our understanding of Father Colin. During this period, what was discovered and spoken of was the generalate of Father Colin, the Colin as he was known by Jeantin, who had been his secretary during this period and who wrote the first life of Father Colin. He wrote this life in 1895. Since then, nothing up to 1955, nothing had been published on Colin and the spirit of Colin that was not taken from Jeantin’s biography.

Practically all the texts, all the documentation was taken from there. Therefore, this was a very unified period, and it was centered on the understanding of the Colin of this period, through Jeantin. Everybody knew that Father Colin means “hidden life,” and what kind of hidden life? It was typically his ascetical and personal interpretation of the hidden life. The Marist honors Mary within a certain mystery and this mystery is Nazareth. We therefore, do not give much importance to g1ory, honor, fame, and prestige but instead, we lead a hidden life like Jesus and Mary in Nazareth, we practice the hidden virtues. It was an ascetical, interior interpretation of the hidden life. I simplify things but it’s good sometimes to simplify.

After that came a period of the interpretation of Colin’s message. It is shorter, it is more or less from 1955 up to 1975. That is between the starting of the historical studies and the publication of new texts. Up to then we had just published Jeantin. Since 1955 we have had the publication of Antiguiores Textus, Origines Maristes, etc., and that up to the centenary of Colin in 1975. You perhaps remember that several times from Rome we asked you to send from your archives all the papers, homilies, and celebrations made about Colin in order to keep for posterity the image Marists had of their Founder in 1975, the year of the centenary. As a matter of fact, a lot of this material came. I made the analysis of it, and I was struck that there was a new unanimity in the understanding of Colin. It was no longer according to Jeantin’s view, but according to the results of the historical studies that I’d made during those twenty years.

What was new was that we had rediscovered the Colin of the generalate, the Colin from 1836 to 1854, Colin as a general, the great Colin known no longer just through Jeantin, but through Mayet, through the original words of Colin. It is a Colin who as general leads the Society, and heads the Society, an active one, towards a certain number of goals and ministries, with a certain spirit, a certain way of doing things. We also discovered a new interpretation, if you like, of the “hidden life.” No longer was it a hidden life that is ascetical and personal, but a hidden life which is a way of doing the apostolate, a way of preaching Christ, a way of approaching others. We discovered too of course a big image behind all that, it was perhaps not necessarily the image of Nazareth, and that on the contrary, the main image for Colin was rather the image of Mary in the Church. The famous words of Colin “hidden and unknown” were perhaps not so much an invitation to avoid having our names in the papers, or just a preoccupation of being personally unknown by others. Rather, they were a kind of insight into a certain manner of acting in the apostolate, an apostolic insight.

After that I realized that in a certain sense, one epoch was closed and something new had to start. I think that since 1975 up to now there has been a new stage. Now we are discovering the Colin of the first years, the Colin, if you like of 1816 to 1836 trying to recapture what was his original vision, this spirituality of the Marist origins.

Therefore, paradoxically, Colin has been rediscovered in a reverse order. First, the late Colin, and after that, the Colin of the middle, and finally, the Colin of the origin. It’s a fact.

However, I would insist that all these three Colin’s are the same one, unique Colin, but you know, what a man says depends in great part on the place he is speaking from. I have often heard Marists say, “Oh, he was such a good confrere, he was a really good one. Oh, but as soon as he became superior he became unbearable, he was completely different.” And it may be true that the position you are holding may create in you a certain number of reactions, of approaches, and you are not exactly the same man. Therefore, it is very important whether you have written something as a superior, or perhaps the year before, because it may be a different opinion. And it’s the same for Colin.

After 1836, during the great period of his generalate, Colin was a superior, he was an administrator, he could not be too much of a fool, he had to be careful with the bishops and the other religious representing the body of the Society of Mary. Therefore, as with every superior, he lost a certain freedom of speech, a certain freedom to dream. Before that, he could more easily dream, more easily say what he really had in his heart and in his mind. That’s why this period of the origin is so important for us. We see Colin, catch Colin expressing himself with much more freedom, being much more genuine. And of course, this period of the original vision could at first sight, be not so gratifying for us. I now recognize that there was in me for years, a kind of unconscious resistance towards going into this period, because Colin is less reasonable and certainly less practical. He is really utopian, and there is a certain resistance in all of us to this vision of Colin. At first sight, this original vision of Colin is less congenial for us than perhaps the teaching of Colin during the generalate. But the best, our strongest raison d’être has been expressed at that time during the period of the origin. So, we have to cope with it. If not, we could not be real Marists.

Therefore the talks of this workshop will start from the texts, from the themes of Colin before 1836. We do not have a great deal of material though. Colin has spoken a lot, probably, but no one was there to note his speeches. He has written a lot of letters, but many of them have disappeared. The documentation is rather limited, and we will not get from Colin a lot of good ideas on every topic. Rather, what we may hope to recapture is this kind of global idea that comes out from the various texts, this global vision.

I think the great difference between Colin and his successor, Father Favre, lies there. It does not lie in the content of Marist life. Both of them thought that Marists should have the same ministries, the same exercises of piety, should practice the same virtues, and. practically the words to describe the De Societatis Spiritu were the same. How was it then that these men were so different that we were on the verge of having, in a certain sense, two Societies of Mary: the one of the Founder and the one of the Superior General? What was the difference between Favre and Colin?

That has been expressed marvelously well by Father Jeantin who was a secretary to Colin and a general assistant of Favre’s; he belonged to both camps in a certain sense. After reflecting for a number of years on the difference between them he gave a number of good reasons. But after giving all these good reasons, he says no, that’s not the real reason, and he writes this text:

“Such were the avowed motives which led Father Favre and his council to work immediately on writing our rule. I think, however, that ultimately, there was another reason, not put forward, but determining nonetheless, namely, that they did not have a precise enough notion of Father Founder. More than that, Father Favre and. his councilors did not have a correct notion of the Society of Mary. Anyone who is in the least familiar with Father Founder knows that the destiny of the Society of Mary is that of a religious order properly so-called. In this age of pride, of luxury, of materialism, of sensualism, of human and. earthly progress, of religious indifference, and even impiety, the Society makes its appearance in order to react against all those nefarious tendencies through humility, modesty, mortification, simplicity, and all the other virtues which made up Mary’s character and spirit.”

In Father Founders mind, the Society of Mary is to play a considerable and. important, albeit, hidden, role for the glory of God and the salvation of souls in these last times; hence, the high and lofty idea he has of the sanctity which members of this Society are to have.

But Father Favre did not share this view, he had less lofty ideas and feelings about the destiny of the Society of Mary. He saw it as a congregation of pious priests who lived under a broad and easy rule, who gave missions, ran schools, did apostolic work within a limited scope, and in a very unimportant capacity. Nor do I say this just on my own. I heard Father General, himself, talk about the Society of Mary in this way, and blame Father Colin for having too high an idea of the Society, and for wanting to found a great religious order. These are his own words.’

”So, you see, all the elements were the same. What was different? – The idea. Colin has a certain high idea of the Society of Mary. It has a role to play. It’s not just an association of priests. In that sense, if you allow me, I would compare Colin to a more modern man, Charles de Gaulle. You did not expect to see him come into this room, and be quiet sure, I am not a special follower of de Gaulle. This is certainly the last time that I will mention a French politician. But perhaps you know the famous first sentence of de Gaulle’s memoires that all the school boys of France have to learn. It is this sentence: “Toute ma vie je me suis fait une certaine idée de la France: All my life I have had a certain idea of France.”

Psychologically, that’s exactly the case for Colin. Not that Colin said, “All my life I have had a certain idea of the Society of Mary,” but he has said sentences so close to that. He said for instance, “This idea of the Society of Mary has been a desire all my life.” Or, “I have always had the idea that a Society of Mary was destined to….” He is the man who all his life has had a certain idea of the Society of Mary and has done everything according to this idea. And this idea is something global. You may distinguish the level of the vision, as such, where everything sticks together, and after that, of course, you see the implication. The implication is that there are a number of spiritual attitudes, basic attitudes at the level of structures. Colin was not a Confucius. He did not launch a certain wisdom, a certain spirituality for a family of souls. He did not found a spirit. He founded a body, a body which is animated by a spirit, no doubt about that, a body with its own physiognomy, its own structures.

We therefore have to see whether with this vision we may do whatever we like at any time, under any form of government. Is all that secondary? Or, do such things come out of this vision come out of a certain concept, perhaps even of a government, even a choice of ministry, etc. In that sense I think we will meet a certain number of the expectations.

All of what I have just said, if you like, is an introductory talk. I now come to the first real talk of this workshop: the first approach in this famous vision of Colin.

Whenever we deal with a great leader, a great thinker, the founder of some big movement or religious congregation with a certain vision of things, the problem is always, “what was for him the real starting point?” There is always something not discussed, not even proved. Everybody, every person, every creator has a kind of postulate. He starts from that, and all the consequences and developments follow on for him from that the starting point. You know, during years and years of studying Colin, I had an impression of what his postulate, his starting point was. I’ll give you this example.

During the past twenty years, great insistence has been given to this idea of Mary in the Church, Mary as the Mother of the Society of Mary. It was certainly not secondary. It is central in Colin’s conception. Colin, during his generalate, saw Mary in the infant Church and in the actual modern Church in relation together and this was one of his great insights and inspirations. Therefore, it’s not a question of denying anything of that kind. It was central for Colin, but it remained in the realm of the exemplary. Mary in the Church is the model of the Society of Mary. You have a model. You may try to know it, develop it, allow it to inspire us. In a certain sense, it could be said that from among other interesting figures of Mary, Colin, and we Marists, chose this one. We could have chosen Mary at the Annunciation, or Mary in some other mystery. But no, we chose to imitate Mary in the Church, and that is our originality.

But as soon as you say that, I don’t know. I realize that I am not Colin and that I might be missing something that was more essential for him. Also basic for him was that the initiative was not ours but Mary’s. We do not choose a model, we are chosen. Mary has chosen us for something that she wants. Now I am convinced that that is the starting point: not any initiative of ours. We think that this model of Mary in the Church is good, we decide to take it, we decide to imitate it. But if we want to be really Colinian, we have to accept the contrary, that we do not choose, but that we are chosen, that the initiative is not ours, that Mary wants something and that we have to enter into what she wants.

Now we have to go back to the first text concerning the Society of Mary, the kind of inspiration Courveille had at Le Puy on August 15th 1812 and which he then wrote down years later. I have tried to prove elsewhere that the substance of this revelation was certainly what he was giving to his first companions in the major seminary of Lyons in 1815. I like the way this revelation, this inspiration comes: “Here is what I want. I have always imitated my divine Son, etc., etc…” The first words, “Here is what I want.” I think that’s the starting point of the Society of Mary. Everything starts from that.

We will read this text some more but you will tell me, that’s good, but that’s Courveille, it is not Colin! Of course they were very different, and Colin fought during his last years to make very clear that he and not Courveille was the founder of the Society of Mary. But he has never denied that the name and all that the name implied, came from Courveille. He said one day:

“Before going to the seminary (he speaks of himself in the third person), he had the idea of a Society and indeed was consecrated to the Blessed Virgin, but he did not have the name, Society of Mary. This name came from Father Courveille.” (O.M, doc. 819 4:6).

So, he got the name then and whatever the name implied, this idea came from Courveille. And it starts with this kind of inspiration: “Here is what I want.”

Here comes your first difficulty. Is everything based on the inspiration of a man whose life already had some bad aspects? You know, for me, this text has a great importance. For me, the Society of Mary certainly is not based on the authenticity of this revelation. The awareness of Mary’s will has been very well expressed in this text. It came to Courveille, and through Courveille, it came to Co1in and others, but it is a conviction that does not depend entirely on the revelation. If the revelation had concerned some practice such as novenas, or something absolutely definite and the revelation was false, everything is false. But here, it is rather a kind of awareness that, in this day and age, Mary wants something. Courveille could have invented that, if you like, but for me, that does not destroy the awareness of something which has its own value independently from the day, the place and the man who got this idea.

For me it is clear that what gathered the first Marists, what gave them their dynamism and kept them united was this conviction that, in this day and age after the revolution, in this new world, Mary wanted something. We were in the age of Mary, and a new approach had to be taken in apostolates, and everything like that. They came together under this name of Mary and nobody knows exactly how this name came about – the ways of God are mysterious. The fact is that we are forming this group under the name of Mary which has never been given to anybody else! No Society from the beginning was ever named Society of Mary! Isn’t that a grace? Isn’t that a sign that we have a mission? It’s certainly from that conviction that the first Marists got their dynamism. And, in a certain sense, that’s what we also have to recapture today if we don’t want to be a dying body, but to find again a real dynamic insertion into the Church and the world.

How did Colin express this vision before 1836? For that, read the first volume of Origines Maristes and you will find all the texts in which Colin speaks of the Society of Mary. I was immediately struck by the fact that we have two presentations of the Society of Mary by Colin in the period of the origin. First, you have what I would call the official one, and it is more or less this one:

“A new, little Society is starting. It has two ends: personal perfection and the salvation of the neighbors. It will attain these ends by placing itself under the name and the protection of Mary, and it will be dedicated to preaching missions at home and abroad, education of youth, and various other ministries. And it will comprise these three religious congregations: Fathers, Brothers, Sisters, and also a Confraternity for lay people.” (OM. Vol. 1, doc. 69, 264. 269, 282, 294, 299)

That’s the official presentation of Colin: a little society, just starting with these characteristics, many of which are not so original. The two ends and the ministries are not so very original either. But you also have the name Society of Mary, and you also have this structure with several branches.

Now, you have another presentation which is not very frequent, and which is precisely the presentation of the vision. It is not to be found in many texts, except in an especially good one. If you like, it could be rebuilt this way: Mary, the Mother of Mercy, an infinite mercy, wants in these last days to gather all her children to save all of them, that is what a mother wants. She will never be resigned to the fact that her sons and daughters will be lost. Therefore, Mary, Mother of Mercy, wants in these last days, to gather all her children to save them all, and the Society of Mary is the instrument of this plan. It will have a plurality of branches in order to encompass the whole world, all Mary’s children, and the Marists will be so detached from themselves so as to become the instruments of this plan of mercy.

You know, it’s the same thing, but the starting point is completely different. The first presentation is centered on the Society of Mary, that is, as a juridical institution, a body, the Society of Mary as one of the various societies in the Church. Everybody knows what a religious society is, you have the Jesuits, you have so many others. Now there is a new one. He starts from the Society, the Society is named, it’s qualified by Mary, etc., etc. That’s the typical presentation of the Society when Colin is speaking to a bishop, to a cardinal, to the pope, it is a presentation of the Society.

The second one starts from Mary, from Mary’s desire to help the Church today to defend souls, and very, very interestingly for us, it is used by Colin whenever he speaks of lay people. It is at that moment that he cannot stick just to the framework of the presentation of the good traditional society. No, it’s more than that, you know, and therefore, at that moment, the vision comes out.

I would now like to re-read the revelation of Le Puy because it is the first precise expression of the Society of Mary in line with this vision. Although it’s from Courveille think of the great influence that the text has on Colin. When Courveille was praying in the Cathedral of Le Puy, he “heard, not with the ears of the body, but with those of the heart, interiorly, but very distinctly:

“Here is what I want. I have always imitated my divine Son in everything. I followed him to Calvary itself, standing at the foot of the cross when he gave his life for man’s salvation. Now, in heaven sharing his glory, I follow his path still in the work he does for his Church on earth. Of this Church I am the protectress, I am like a powerful army defending and saving souls. When a fearful heresy threatened to convulse the whole of Europe, my divine Son raised up his servant, Ignatius, to form a Society under His name, calling itself the Society of Jesus with members called Jesuits, to fight against the hell unleashed against his Church. In the same way, in these last days of impiety and unbelief, it is my wish and the wish of my Son that there be another Society to battle with hell, one consecrated to me, one which will have my name which will call itself the Society of Mary whose members will call themselves Marists.”

The other text of Colin which is an expression of the Society of Mary presented in the line of this vision is paragraph 109 of the Summarium of l833. Colin is again writing to the cardinal and to the Pope, and he is presenting the general aim of the Society, but this time he goes off track from the normal presentation, and he will explain the vision.

“The general aim of the Society is to contribute in the best possible way both by its prayer and its efforts to the conversion of sinners and the perseverance of the just, and to gather, so to speak, all the members of Christ, whatever their age, sex or standing, under the protection of the Blessed Mary Immaculate, Mother of God, and to revive their faith and piety, and nourish them with the doctrine of the Roman Church. So at the end of time, as at the beginning, all the faithful may, with God’s help, be one heart and one mind in the bosom of the Roman Church, and under Mary’s guidance, may attain eternal life. For this reason, entry to the Society is open to laymen living in the world in the confraternity of the Third Order of the Virgin Mary.”

He has to justify the fact that the Society will not be just priests and nuns. He cannot explain this without coming back to the vision that now is the time to gather all the children of God into one people of God under the guidance of Mary. He does not say precisely in the text that this is what Mary wants, but that’s really what is implied in it. That’s what I call a presentation of the Society of Mary in line with the vision. You can find other elements along this same line in OM document 282, paragraph 6, and also in other texts at the end of the life of Father Colin that we will read in the following days.

I will finish with something even more interesting. It is a typical expression for the period of the origin. When the first Marists, Colin, Champagnat, the Foundress of the Marist Sisters had to speak of what they were working for, they had to find a word, and the word they used was not the Society of Mary. The word  they used was: l’ouvre de la Sainte Vierge; or, in other texts, “Mary’s work” l’ouvre de Marie. This way of speaking had, if you like, two functions. In a certain sense, we may say that it was a broad term that was very handy, very good to cover the various congregations. Various congregations were planned. They could not have exactly the same name. The Brothers were the Little Brothers of Mary, the Sisters were supposed to be the Daughters of the Congregation of Mary etc.; therefore, there was a certain need for a broader term that would cover the various congregations and also the confraternity for lay people, etc.

But that’s not the only reason. In one or two texts we see Colin use the word Society of Mary precisely to cover the various branches. Therefore, it is not just a practical need for some broader term. It was especially used to reassert that the project they were working was not their own, that the initiative was not theirs. It is typical that this famous expression, the work of the Blessed Virgin, comes whenever it is a question of crisis, a moment of difficulty, a moment of despair. Colin writes to Champagnat, Champagnat writes to Colin, and it’s at that moment, when there would be a reason, perhaps, for losing hope, that this term comes up again. I would like to read just a few texts.

What I like, is that this very precise term, the work of the Blessed Virgin, is to be found equally under the pen of the three founders, Champagnat, Colin and Chavoin. Let us listen to Champagnat, (OM. Doc. L85, paragraph 1); he is writing to the Vicar General, Cattet in December 1828:

“You have always shown an interest up to now in the work of the Blessed Virgin,” and he continues, “The Society of the Brothers cannot positively be regarded as the work of the Blessed Virgin but only as a branch posterior to the Society itself.” That is the great issue, the work of the Blessed Virgin. Yes, I am the Founder, the Superior General of the Brothers, but don’t believe that they are for me. No, they are just a branch of something greater that is called by him, the work of the Blessed Virgin.

Also, OM doc. 323, paragraph 2, Champagnat is writing to Cholleton. This is a moment of great difficulty for the Fathers in the diocese of Lyons: “There is nothing that I am not ready to sacrifice in order to rescue from the shipwreck the work of the Blessed Virgin.” Here, it’s not the Brothers, but rather the Fathers’ branch that is in difficulty, and he’s ready to sell one of his properties to do whatever is needed in order to rescue the work of the Blessed Virgin.

Now, Chavion, the Foundress of the Marist Sisters, writing to the bishop: “We have never doubted that God wanted the work of the Blessed Virgin in this diocese.” And towards the end of her life, just a few months before she dies, when she is already relegated, already forgotten like so many foundresses, she writes  to the Chapter and she says “I desire only the perseverance and the prosperity of the work of the Blessed Virgin, but I fear very much it’s downfall.” She’s very pessimistic at this time, and I am sure it was not just for the Sisters, it was not just “our” congregation, it was something more. We were engaged in something that was the work of the Blessed Virgin, and what she is fearing is perhaps its downfall.

We also have from the pen of Peter Colin writing to the bishop in OM document 92, paragraph 5:

“I would have so many things to communicate to you regarding the Society of the Blessed Virgin.”

After that, you have many quotations from Colin. I’ll just take a few of them. For instance, writing to Champagnat: “On the Belley side, everything seems to go towards the success of the work of the Blessed Virgin.” In the year 1830, at the moment of the revolution when there is a moment of crisis and difficulty: “I am still holding to the work of the Blessed Virgin more than ever.” To Champagnat a year later: “I am wishing for you a disposition to suffer everything for the work of Mary.” Another opportunity: “I see with joy your zeal and your dedication to the work of Mary.” Another text: “I don’t want to delay any more to submit to you our reflection as regards the work of Mary in the diocese of Lyons.”

You will say it’s just an expression. The “Society of Mary;” “the work of Mary” there is no difference.  No, that’s not true! Look now at the consecration. The consecration is a precise act of committing myself to something that exists, the Society of Mary. In that consecration you don’t have “the work of Mary,” it would be too vague. You are committing yourself to the Society of Mary, to obey its Superior, to stand with a number of confreres, and to work on a certain number of practical things. You are committing yourself to the society of Mary because you believe in the work of Mary, of which the Society is a part.

An analysis of the vocabulary of when Colin and others used these is very revealing. “Society of Mary” and “work of Mary” are not just equivalents. No. “Society of Mary” is the visible part, the visible body to which I commit myself. For instance, when the first three Marists come together (Peter Colin, Jean-Claude Colin, parish priest and curate at Cerdon) and finally Declas comes. Now they are three and according to the tradition of the Church, “Tres faciunt capitulum” – “When you have three, you have a community.” Colin immediately takes the pen and writes to the bishop:

“Today, the little Society of Mary begins.” It is not the work of Mary. The work of Mary has begun years ago, but the Society begins, the visible Society of history. You could read all of Origines Maristes looking for this expression and you would see how interesting it is to discover through the vocabulary what they had in mind.

For me, Colin is a great witness of the power of this vision, but also Champagnat and Chavoin. Marists really are what they are supposed to be when they are interested, not so much in their Society, but in Mary’s work, which implies much more. You know, Favre was totally dedicated to the Society of Mary. Certainly, he was a self-denying man, he sacrificed himself for the success of the Society when he saw the difficulties with Colin. He was totally dedicated to the Society but I would say, as Jeantin said before, that he was not very convinced about the work of Mary. That’s the difference between Colin and Favre liking the same Society of Mary. For Colin, the Society of Mary was one of the realizations, if you like the best realization, of the work of Mary which was greater. It is typical of Favre that as soon as he was General, he said that we have to have Constitutions, we have to write something to organize the Society. He felt that he was the center of gravity, he was the Society. He decides he will organize the Society and write the rules. Colin, in a certain sense, was never completely interested in only the Society. He was taken by this idea that in this day and age, Mary wants to do something; and from this came the Society of Mary – the Marist Sisters, the Brothers, the lay people and the Confraternity of Our Lady of Victories. They all gather people under the banner of Mary. That’s Colin, Colin taken up completely by the work of Mary.

This concept calls for plurality, calls for creativity and the center of gravity is no longer our Society. It is not we who are interesting, it’s really Mary. There you more or less have the essential first approach to Colin’s vision. Mary, the Mother of Mercy, wants to gather all her children.

Source: Retreat transcript, Boston Province Retreat, Conference 1, Framingham, 1980

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