Saturday, July 13, 2024

“In this World”

While the work of Mary is something clear and simple, it can never be defined in fixed activities, because how the work of Mary is to be done will depend on the changing times, cultures and needs of the world. Two of Colin’s early realisations will help us here.The first one is summed up in three words he uses in his Constitutions: Marists find their rightful place in this world. This realisation was probably an element in Colin’s transformation at Cerdon. From one whose only thought was to retire into the forest, Colin emerged as a Founder and Superior General of a Congregation whose horizons extended to the end of the world. He began to realise that the arena for the work of Mary, where she wants Marists to be, is in this world.

In the world because Marists are not to be monks or hermits, but people of the market place. In this world, because Marists find themselves in the world as it is, and not in an idealised world of the past, or a utopian world of the future. And finally, they are in the world, and not on the sideline watching with regret the passing of an age.

The second conviction for Colin was that if this world, and the whole of this world, is the arena for Mary’s work, then a vast organisation is necessary: priests, religious and laity all working in their own environment and according to their own vocation.

This idea was clearly grasped at the beginning, especially by the lay people. Even in the early years at Cerdon, the Colin brothers had gathered about 30 lay men together in the presbytery. In Lyon another group of men formed, showing astonishing initiative.

In the course of time, several other branches developed: groups for single women, for mothers, for girls, for young men, for married men, and for diocesan priests. These people knew they belonged “in the world”.

However because of the decision of the Roman authorities, “Society of Mary” came to mean only “order of priests”.

By 1872 the “Third Order” was no longer considered as one of the branches of the “Society”; it had become a loose appendage of the Marist priests.

Something of the cutting edge of the original plan was lost.

When a congregation is defined as a “congregation of priests” then inevitably lay people become objects of the ministry of the priests. As we understand the project today, lay people are not the objects of the priests’ ministry, nor even sharers in their ministry.

Rather, all Marists – priests, religious and laity – are to involve themselves in “the work of Mary” and to do it “in this world”.

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