Thursday, May 23, 2024

Instruments of Divine Mercy

February 16, 2009 by  
Filed under Jean Coste

We have seen that there is this wish of Mary to do something for the Church. In this stage of the history of the Church to make an ultimate effort to gather and to save all her children, because she is the Mother of Mercy, and therefore she wants to embrace all the world. Furthermore, we Marists, and certainly many others, are supposed to work to help Mary carry out her desire to save all her children, this plan of Mercy. We are the instruments.

Let us take the point that the Society from the beginning, exists for sinners; exists to save sinners, to be an instrument of this plan. You remember the first text about the Marists, the so-called “Revelation of Le Puy” to Courveille. Mary is there defending and saving souls, and we exist to battle with hell. Definitely there, we are in a supreme fight against hell and the devil to save souls.

Courveille got this inspiration, and he came after that to the major seminary of Lyons, and the first man he spoke to was Father Declas. You know that it has always been a good custom in all religious congregations and seminaries that the seminarians give haircuts to their confreres. It was so even in the major seminary of Lyons. And on a congé day, a free day, a few of them stayed at the major seminary to get a haircut. Courveille was getting a haircut from Declas, and Declas hears Courveille, who starts explaining his plan about the Society of Mary. And this is what Courveille told him:

“I am the first, despite my indignity, to whom Courveille opened his design. It was in 1815, on a Wednesday, a holyday. Both of us were at the major seminary of Lyons. He told me that he intended, when he became a priest, to be like St. Francis Regis, and to go into the countryside to help the poor people, who often have greater need of outside priests than people in the cities or large towns who have priests to choose from, whereas, the former often have only one priest and are exposed to making bad confessions. He asked me whether I wanted to be like him. I said, ‘Yes,’ etc.”

This is the first opening by Courveille and we have to understand this situation. During the French Revolution, you had from the beginning, a kind of schism. The Revolution decreed a kind of civil constitution of the Church, which, of course, could not but be schismatic. The Church has been founded by Jesus Christ with his own Constitution, so you cannot give any new Constitution to the Church. Therefore, you had two clergies: the schismatic one and the faithful one. In many parishes, the only priests they had for ten years were schismatic. Therefore, according to strict canon law, all the marriages blessed by these priests were invalid. Everything was invalid, since these priests did not belong to the real Church of Christ.

Also during this time, all the countrymen bought at a cheap price, all the properties from the former nobles and also from the Church. That also was a mortal sin. It was an illegal acquisition etc.

Just imagine the case of a good couple of countrymen who were married by a schismatic priest who was the only one available at that time, who had bought a good piece of land in order to enlarge their property, and have now had it for ten years. Imagine these people confessing this to the new parish priest who has just come. It was certainly a great, great difficulty. Hence, the need for missions, for an outside priest coming with extensive power just to wash all that away and give a great absolution. He would then forget everything and go away.

That was the great sense, if you like, of these missions at that time. That’s what Courveille is speaking of to Declas: we have to do that; we will not go to the big towns where they have plenty of confessors; we will go to the country, and help these poor men who only have their parish priest as a confessor. We will help them to wash away the past and to pick up again as good Christians and to go ahead.

There you see a typically missionary thrust, the missionary intention at the beginning of the Society. When after that there was not only Courveille and Declas but twelve of them discussing in the groves of the country home of the major seminary, the thought was, as Terraillon says, to inflame ourselves with this idea that we were the first of the children of Mary, but also the consideration of the great needs of the people. The Society of Mary was born from this tension between the awareness of being the sons of Mary, and having to act, in a certain sense, in the name of Mary and for her, in order to meet the needs of the people. This tension between the needs and this Marian spirit, also really explains, if you like, what we are all about.

In the first consecration they made at Fourviere, there was the act of promise, the act of the foundation of the Society of Mary, where they promised that we and all that we have will be spent in the salvation of souls. Ourselves and our belongings, we exist for that: to save sinners. And when Father Colin for the first time explained to the Pope the ends of the Society, he mentioned the missions to the faithful, the missions to the apud infideles, and also the education of boys, but the missions came first. We exist for that, to go to those in need, to go to the sinners, at home or abroad.I have already quoted on another day I think, the letter of Father Colin to Bishop Devie on October 1st 1824, when Declas joined them, and therefore, they were now three – two Colins and Declas, three at Cerdon:“Today the little Society of Mary begins” – it’s the real beginning of the Society.

“Tomorrow, we will start a mission to La Balme.” Just as soon as they are three, the first thing they do, the very day after that, is to go three together to the nearest village, LaBalme. It’s not their village. They are not parish priests of that place. They will go as missioners and start to convert sinners and to bring the mercy of God to these poor people.

They did that for four years. For four years they were giving missions in the poorest part of the Bugey. It is while they were working for those four years that a fourth member, Jallon joins them, together preaching, hearing confession, losing their health confessing in a very humid confessional etc. But the spirit of the Society of Mary took shape there. It’s during these years that the first squad of Marists experienced what it was to work for Mary, and how to do that, and certainly discussed that among them. They were this little squad and they really founded the way of acting of the Society of Mary while spending themselves and all that they have for the salvation of souls in the Bugey.

This great missionary thrust is seen in doc. 282 OM where Colin explains what the Society is for:

“We beseech the supreme pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, that by his infinite mercy, he may pour the dew of his blessing upon the Society which has been born under the name and protection of the Immaculate Virgin, and that he may protect it, increase it, strengthen it with his Spirit, so that the Society may not only be of use to the faithful, but that it may also bring back to the fold so may sheep who have wandered pitiably from the path of salvation. After so many storms and the difficulties of the times, the harvest is indeed great. Beaten down by setbacks, weary on the road to perdition, the fields already seem ripe for the harvest. Then, we earnestly beg the Lord of the harvest to send laborers, laborers filled with the power and spirit of the Apostles, and completely empty of themselves, under Mary’s protection, to harvest this field for Christ and to restore the Roman Church with some consolation after so many storms. Oh, fortunate are we, if, by the divine mercy and the help of the Mother of God, this tiny Society of Mary can contribute to this to some extent. If the Queen of Heaven wills to add us sinners to the number of her most devoted servants, and, by her all-powerful intercession before God, to fire up our hearts with love and zeal for the conversion of sinners, and for preventing youths from being sucked into the usual whirlpool of vices.”

You see how in the mind of Colin, education is just a continuation of the mission work. It’s a question of preventing them from being sucked into the usual whirlpool of vices.

“Trusting only in the Lord, we hope for this grace from God’s highest mercy.” (Count the number of times in which the word mercy comes just in these three paragraphs.) “…from God’s highest-mercy, for God fills the hungry with good things, and to those who give freely, he gives freely in abundance.”

You see the enthusiasm of Colin, explaining to the Pope that we exist to go out to these sinners, and with the mercy of God, we shall try not to speak only for faithful, but really for sinners.
All this will be expressed in one typical expression of Colin, “…instruments of divine mercy.” I would be very grateful to any person who could tell me whether he has found this precise expression, “instrument of divine mercy,”’ rum misericordiarum instrumentum,” in any other person, in any other author. It does not belong to the Imitation of Christ. It does not belong to St. Vincent of Paul, St. Francis of Sales, St. Ignatius, the three great saints in our Founders thinking. It is not found in any of the books that Father Colin read. Up to now, I haven’t found the source of it, and it may even be that Colin has coined this expression.

In any case, it’s absolutely typical of him and where? It’s to be found in various kinds of documents: in sermons, in letters, yet very little in the Mayet index. That shows how we may perhaps be the slaves of our instrument of works. We have worked up to now from the Mayet index, but the Mayet index gives almost nothing about instruments of divine mercy, and it’s an expression which is very common in all the other things we have from Colin. That shows how we still have much to do, and are not to be slaves of what exists up to now.

Let us take this expression, and just follow it in order to deepen our understanding of its content.

It appears first in the sermons of Father Colin, especially the first ones, the introduction, the presentation of the missioners to the people. It is in these sermons that Colin presents himself like this: “The Divine Providence sends us in your midst, however unworthy we are, as instruments of His mercy.”

They knew then, from the beginning, what the missioners were for. They could have presented themselves as judges, as the preachers of the word of God but they don’t. They present themselves as the instruments of the divine mercy. It is to be found, at least, in two sermons.

Therefore, you know, in his sermons, Colin presents himself and the missioners of his squad, as the instruments of divine mercy. And that will pass, also into the Rule. Most probably, it was already in the Cerdon Rule, but we don’t have the Cerdon Rule. The first thing we have is the Summarium of 1833. Let us read numbers 4, 42 and 43 of the Summarium:

“Our vocation is to travel to different places, and to exert ourselves for the salvation of our neighbors by preaching the Word of God, hearing confessions, catechizing the poor and children, and doing other works of the same kind.

“It is, therefore, up to us to be prepared to carry out these works out of obedience, with God’s help, under Mary’s auspices, anywhere in this world and for as long as the Superior wishes.

“Let the missionaries take care that through solid virtues, they become apt instruments of the divine mercies, and in that way, bear fruit in the Lord’s vineyard. They are not to trust in themselves, or in their own knowledge, and they should not get up to preach unless they have prepared what is to be said, and especially, as regards the younger missionaries, they should have the sermons they have prepared read by those whom the Superior has designated to correct what might not be quite correct, or smacks of vanity.”

You know, these texts come from a big section of the Summarium dealing with missionaries. It’s the biggest one. Colin deals with various things: exercises of piety, government, etc. And he has a special section for the missionaries. It’s where he puts the best of his heart. And he says, therefore:

“Let the missionaries take care that through solid virtues, they become apt instruments of the divine mercy.”

Here we really arrive at the spiritual content of his idea of the mercy of Mary; we have to become the instruments of the divine mercy; and how will we become that? It’s not just by saying: “Oh! I will be an instrument of divine mercy.” It is by preparing our-self interiorly, becoming “empty,” as he said in other texts, completely empty of ourselves in order to be able to become instruments of God. We have to be emptied, of whatever could be an obstacle to the action of God.

That is developed very well in the Circular of April 1st 1842, a very good Colinian text. I will just read the phrase on our point. Colin has insisted on the need to be united with Christ and his Mother in prayer, and he says:

“Only in this way, that is, by prayer, my dear confreres, shall we do the work of God, and become instruments of his mercy towards our fellow men, and shall ourselves, contribute to the great task of our perfection.”

We are discovering step-by-step the fact that to become instruments of divine mercy, is something we acquire only slowly, by prayer, by emptying ourselves, by practicing a lot of virtues.

This too will pass into our Constitutions, our 1872 Constitutions #428:

“Let them strive with all their strength to imitate these wonderful examples of humility as much as by grace they can, so that completely empty of themselves and of all vainglory, they may be filled with graces and become in the hands of God, worthy instruments of divine mercy towards their neighbor.”

This is still part of our legislation, the official message of Colin for us. It is to be found everywhere Colin is speaking more earnestly to somebody. I would like to read to you two letters of Colin in which we see a kind of synthesis of Marist life, and at the center of it is this idea of “instruments of divine mercy.” He is writing to Lagniet. Lagniet is in Verdelais, and as a good Superior, he has referred to Colin about the last mission he has preached:

“I was very anxious to get news of you and of your missionaries…”(Here, again, you know, the real Marists are the missionaries, and Colin is pleased to see that now, in Verdelais, they are doing what they were doing in the Bugey. They were preaching.) “So it was with the greatest pleasure that I read your letter in which you had a little something to tell me about each one of them.

“I thank God for making your work successful in your latest mission. Continue bringing to the people your evangelization, the genuine spirit of God, the spirit of the Society of Mary, a spirit which combines zeal and moderation, courage and modesty, prudence and simplicity, charity and self-denial, and God will continue to bless your efforts.”

“Work only for God’s glory, for the honor of Mary, and for the saving of souls. It is when we get free from the slavery of loving our self and our own interests, that we will become instruments of the great mercies of the Lord towards the sinner.”

You know, it’s a full program of the spiritual life, but oriented towards the practice of all these virtues. Why be empty of oneself? For the sake of being empty? No, but because we want to be filled with grace, and to become really like that, the instrument of this plan of mercy which is the plan of God and the plan of  Mary.

Another letter, this one to the novices in Belley. Colin liked very much the young men. He is sometimes very moved when he writes to novices, to young people. And he says:

“Continue to grow in virtue and in knowledge, so that you may be able one day to become the glory of the Society, and a worthy instrument of the mercies of heaven towards the sinners. Grow, above all, in obedience, in simplicity, in humility, in love of Jesus and Mary, in such a way that you may be able to say that you live by the life of her whose name you bear.”

You have here a kind of summary of the #1 of the Constitutions; you bear the name of Mary, you have therefore to be ex quasi vivere, – simplicity, obedience, humility. All that, but why?  In order to be able some day to become the instruments of the mercies. One day, you will no longer be scholastics or novices. You will be preaching, you will be hearing confessions, you will be saving souls, and you have to prepare for that.

I think that’s clear enough for you. But it goes still a bit deeper, and Colin will say that the Marist has to adopt almost officially an attitude of mercy. He says in number 37 of A Founder Speaks:

“His Lordship, the bishop of Belley, has been of great help for me for theology, cases of conscience, ways of dealing with things in the confessional. My way of doing things is very close to his. They even say I am more broadminded than he is. In the Society, we shall profess all those opinions which give greatest play to the mercy of God on account of the great weakness of poor human nature, without, however, falling into laxist theology.”

Oh, no question of becoming heretics, of teaching whatever we like. No. We will still be good Catholic theologians, but we will “profess officially all those opinions which give greatest play to the mercy of God.” Practically, that meant adopting the Equiprobalism of St. Alphonsus of Liguori, instead of the Probabilism, which was the commonest theory among the French confessors at that time.

I think it’s clear: Marists have to be instruments of divine mercy. And what attitude, if you like, will they adopt towards sinners? That which is expressed in the Summarium, number 45.

“Let them thirst for the salvation of souls, and strive to have a discreet zeal. Let them everywhere conduct themselves with such prudence and charity, that they might appear to beseech sinners to convert, rather that to rebuke them. Let them kindly welcome those sinners who come to them and spare no effort to restore them to life.”

Therefore, in order to be instruments of divine mercy, we have to be empty of ourselves, to practice these hidden virtues, etc. But we have also to adopt a certain way of acting with sinners. The great secret is to beseech them to call them, to implore them, not to rebuke them and to reproach them and to say, “You are sinners!” etc.  It is an attitude of call which is finally the attitude of Christ, the Son of Man, who did not come to condemn sinners, but to call them to conversion. And that’s a great attitude towards somebody who has committed a sin. It’s not to rebuke him, but to call him to salvation. That was the basic attitude Colin expressed in these texts of the Summarium.

Now we will use the texts that Mayet has taken down when Colin, a few years later, spoke of his way of acting with sinners. And I think that the first thing we have to do is accept the man as he is. I will read you a text of Colin you know, perhaps let us first try to figure out what was the image of the preacher at the beginning of the last century. We may sum up that the preacher was in a position of strength.

Although unworthy, he was the representative of the only perfect society, the Catholic Church. He knew all the truth, and he knew all the possible means for salvation. Those are the three great parts of the Catholic catechism. And in all that, although unworthy and a sinner himself, he had the fullness of the truth about everything.

And who is the listener? The listener is the one who fails. He certainly does not know all the things he should know. He does not practice all the duties he should practice, and he does not even use all the means for salvation that have been given to him. Therefore, he has something to do: to recognize his failures and to come to repentance and to accept, to recognize himself as a sinner.
Yes, that was really the position of the preacher at the beginning of the last century. Colin certainly shared the theology behind that. Let us not think that Colin was a theologian ahead of his time. He shared the theology behind that. But he tried earnestly to change the mentality that accompanied this theology. And that’s the only thing he could do. He was not enough of a theologian to change anything. But he changed in himself and the mentality of others, about the way of dealing precisely with these sinners.

Even at the level of theology, he has made a step that many of his contemporary men did not do. I will read you a text that you will not find very original. The content of this text is known to you and you will find it very simple. But it was not self-evident at the time of Colin:

“He once said to us in 1848” (n. 169 of A Founder Speaks) “Massillon was excellent perhaps, for his own time” (Massillon is a great preacher of the 17th Century) but I would not dare to preach him today. He always seems to be rebuking his congregation. When I was a young curate, I preached a sermon: “No integrity without religion.” Now-a-days, I do not think that I could, in conscience, preach that, although it is true, in a certain sense, there are, nevertheless, such things as purely moral virtues.”

We could say, it’s self-evident, that there are purely moral virtues. It was not self-evident for the priests of the time of Colin. If you don’t put God as the basis of everything, your moral virtues are just fake virtues. They are not real virtues. You may be an honest man, only if you’d put faith in God as the basis of that. And Colin preached that, and it is an excellent sermon. It’s an excellent means of bringing persons to God. But after years and years, Colin said, I could not in conscience preach that, because I have met persons who don’t believe in God, and who are, and have a great moral integrity.

Therefore, you know, you already have this kind of conversion in Colin. We have to accept the man as he is, and not try a priori to condemn him.

A great insistence of Colin’s was not to identify the man with his category, or with his profession. You may know that, at that time, a number of professions were automatically the sign of a man in a state of mortal sin. Not only the prostitute, of course, but even all the comedians and those who organized dances and innkeepers, who, because they were selling wine during the Mass and during Vespers, were preventing men attending the offices of the Church. Therefore, they were practically at the door of hell, if not yet in hell.

But Colin insisted very much not to identify the man with his profession. I don’t know whether I have a text here, but that does not matter. In any case, he said something very, very nice: that during all his missions, he has been the personal friend of all the innkeepers. That’s great, you know, because try to figure out the mentality of the innkeepers, knowing that the missioner was to come: Oh gosh! Here again! Here he comes! I will immediately become once more the black sheep, the one who prevents men from going to Church, and I will be condemned to hell etc. And he sees Colin, who comes and shakes hands: You are my friend, and, A-ah-ah (a sigh of relief)… You know, Colin was this man who, in spite of all his theology, went from seeing the sinner to the man, not to see in the woman, adultery, but a woman! Colin has spontaneously found again this attitude which is basically, the attitude of Christ in his pastoral attitude towards sinners.

Now, another thing of Colin’s was that we should try to put ourselves in the shoes of the listener. And here, I would like to start reading texts, because Colin speaks better than I do.

“Messieurs, let us learn to understand the human heart. Let us put ourselves in the place of those we are speaking to. Would outburst of invective against us win our hearts? (And we all know that that is not the case when somebody starts to yell at us, we are not at all disposed for any kind of conversion.) Let us, on the contrary, find excuses for them, congratulate them on their good qualities -there are always some- but no reproaches. I do not know of a single instance where invectives from the pulpit have done any good, not a single one.”

Let us try to place ourselves… We know our reaction. We know that when somebody tries to say, “Oh, you …, we just shut up. Why, therefore, are we doing that to others? Why? Tell me! And another text: 99, paragraph 1:

“‘Messieurs,’ he said, ‘each century has its sickness. In the past, there was faith, but the heart was sick. Now, the malady has risen to the head. We live in a century of pride, of madness. We must cure this spirit by our simplicity, by our humility. In the pulpit, let us not seem domineering, or else we shall alienate people. Man is more jealous than ever of his freedom and his independence.”

Colin is trying to know his fellow man. And he is not so full of praise for them. This is a “a century of pride,” etc. but they are like that. And, therefore, let us not be domineering. If so, we just block them forever, we alienate them. We have to accept them as they are and try to really deal with them.

And, also, the best text, 102 paragraph 33:

“‘We are living in an age when everything should be done in a modest fashion. The more modest we are, the more we shall be doing God’s work. Every age has a certain arrogance. And ours has more than its share, an arrogance that has its source in unbelief. It is only by being unassuming that we can achieve success now-a-days. We must win over souls by submitting ourselves to them.”

That’s the great secret of Colin. It is such a nice sentence. Once in a retreat at Sainte Foy the preacher was the great Albert Celin, a theologian, a scripture man. When he heard this passage read, he became radiant and he said that it had certainly not come from Colin, that it must have come from St. Francis of Sales. But, unfortunately, no, we looked together, and it is not in St. Francis of Sales. It is really Colin.

You tell me that we should win over souls, I tell you that we should win over the souls by submitting ourselves to them. That is exactly the reverse position. Not the position of strength: I know what you should believe, what you should do … No! I rather submit myself to them: who are you? At what stage of your spiritual evolution, at what stage is this parish? I submit myself to you, and I will say the words that you need. I will try to introduce, not the reform that I would like to introduce, the practices of piety that I think are better, but those that I think will be good for you at this present stage of your spiritual evolution.

You know, that’s the first thing for the preacher: to really put himself in the shoes of the listener, not identifying the man with his category, with his profession, but to be able to really submit ourselves to him and to bring the word of God by forgetting as much as possible ourselves, our preferences, etc.

What has to be discovered still, is the fact of hearing confessions, where, really, the priest is dealing with sinners directly. Here you have a marvelous case, the one of the Montlosier affair. Montlosier was a man who was a kind of publicist, the official publicist of the anti-clerics. He wrote several pamphlets against the Jesuits, etc.

This man at the end of his life was dying. At that time to die without any religion, without any sacrament was something so exceptional that even Montlosier finally called for the priest. The curate of the parish came, and he saw that Montlosier finally was not opposed to the idea of confessing his sin, and receiving absolution. Therefore he said,  that’s the right moment to do the right things. I know that when somebody has publicly damaged the Church, he must make a public retraction.

So he said to Montlosier, You have to sign a public retraction. Montlosier said, Oh, let us wait a minute. And, in the meantime, all his friends came and said: No! Don’t! Don’t! You will not be defeated by the priests at the end of your life. You will not deny your life. And when the curate came the second time, Montlosier said: No, no signed retraction. And, therefore, the young curate says, There is nothing to do. He slammed the door and he left, and, Montlosier died without sacraments. He was buried like a dog, which, for the time, was, absolutely incredible. Therefore, the bishop who endorsed the position of the curate was attacked before the Supreme Court as using undue interference, and it became a d’affair of state, and all the newspapers were speaking only of the big Montlosier affair.

Even at the small town of Belley, in the mother house of the Society of Mary, they were discussing it. A young theologian who was Favre, the one who will be the successor of Father Colin, said:

“But, how could he have received absolution? Does a man have contrition when he refused to retract?”

“He did not refuse entirely,” said Father Superior.

“He only refused to sign, to put it in writing, to make it public. To have contrition, a man is not obliged to acts of heroism.”

“But, pursued the young theologian, “that retraction is indispensable.”

“Yes, it is indispensable,” said Father Colin, “but I do not know that it is indispensable that it be made public. It seems to me that they should not perhaps have presented him with the full sacrifice they required of him straight away. Possibly they should not have placed such a high price on the granting of absolution. If they had asked less, maybe he, himself, would have done much more than they wanted.

They should, perhaps, have continued to hear his confession, to bring him into contact with the workings of grace. When grace begins to work in the heart, it does so very powerfully.”

I think that is an excellent text. After that, he says, I don’t condemn the bishop. I’m not trying to say that the bishop was wrong. But myself, I would not have acted like that, you know.

You see the idea: the young curate arrives. He has knowledge. He has his manual. In the manual it is clear: public offence = public retraction. Yes or no? No? Boom! I’m leaving. For Colin, it’s not a question of that. It’s a question of the man. It is a question of this person and the movement of this person. This person, the famous Montlosier, is accepting to confess his sins, but how is it that you think only of your theology and are forgetting the man? Why not withdraw yourself and put this man in contact with grace.

That’s it. We have God and the man. I admire this conception of grace of Father Colin’s. When I was told what grace was, it was an object. We had the grace of God. We lost the grace of God. We recuperated the grace of God as an object. It was something. Here, you know, the grace of God is the biblical concept. It is God, himself, loving people, coming to him. Let this person meet his God, and go! God in the background, you foolish young curate with all your manuals. And you put your manual before God and this man, and you just sent him to hell when he was ready to meet his God. That’s to be the instrument of divine mercy. That’s a new conception of the ministry and it is tied precisely with vision. You see now how this vision is coming down to practical attitudes in our ministry that are really interesting for us.

Another text now about young people. You know, one aspect of Father Colin’s that is not so well known is his attitude towards young people. He used to be a spiritual director, if you like, for many students, university students, and he received them at night, and he dedicated a part of his ministry, his priesthood to these young people

“Ah, yes, there is great good to be done among these young men, but you have to offer them a helping hand. Go along with what is needed, and not be too demanding. Personally, I only ever ask for what I cannot avoid asking for. I take a broad path. I wait till their faith grows. Then, they find for themselves, and everything follows on.”

It’s the same attitude. The priest here knows everything about what the young man should do. He should go to confession, to communion every day. He should say the Rosary every day. He should belong to the arch-confraternity of the Sacred Heart and such and such a thing.

But I will try to forget about that. I will ask only what I can ask him, that is, whether he deliberately breaks a mortal sin, to use the term of the theology of the time. After that, I wait until their faith grows. I am interested in him. I am interested in all that he practices. I wait until their faith grows. “Then, they fend for themselves, and everything follows on.” They will perhaps not only go to communion every day, but they will perhaps leave Europe to go as lay missioners to Samoa or Fiji. They will, perhaps, do infinitely more than we think if we put them in contact with God. Ah, that’s really what we are supposed to do.

And another text which is one of the nicest ones, when Colin speaks directly about sinners (n 86 F. S):

“Let us have compassion, mercy on poor sinners. Let us not ask of them more enlightenment than they could be expected to have. Let us form a true idea of their position, and then we will absolve them more readily…”

Don’t forget, at that time, to give absolution was not so easy. If somebody had been in the habit of a certain sin during a certain time, he could not receive absolution but only after a certain number of confessions. “Let us form a true idea of their position and then we will absolve them more readily…

“Take a man standing at the entrance to a tunnel. Light is already faint. He takes a few steps, darkness engulfs him. He walks on further. It is pitch black, and he gropes in the dark. So it is with a soul which has forgotten God. The first mortal sin is like the entrance to the tunnel where the light is faint. The second mortal sin drives him further forward. Then, finally, as mortal sins succeed one another, the guilty soul finds himself in pitch darkness. When grace seeks it out, and good will responds, it is like a little glimmer of light in the depths. It is impossible that the poor sinner, who is in at such a depth could enjoy the same enlightenment as you. Do not rebuff him. Receive him back into grace. Ask little of him, and grace will do the rest. Little by little, they will dawn upon him as he goes forward. He did not fall into darkness suddenly, and he will return imperceptibly to the light.”

Here is Colin’s conclusion. It’s marvelous, because after that, somebody should say: therefore, we just have to be good, we just have to give the absolution to everybody, why bother with all these moral laws, you know. It’s a man, and, therefore, let us be good, merciful, and give absolution. Do what you like … On the contrary:

“Messieurs, let us educate ourselves. The more learned a man is, the more he opens up to you when you consult him. If he is only a fraud, he puts a spoke in your wheel and prevents you from going further. Therefore, let us educate ourselves. Let us study day and night the moral theology until we really know all of it.”

“…Rome was very useful to me on this point. It was there that I have learned the maxim, ‘Law was made for man. If I cannot save him with the law, I shall try to save him without the law.’”

I think here again we have to see what Colin says. It certainly does not mean: I will save him without the law. It does not mean I just take Humanae Vitae and I throw it into the waste basket. No. I think to save him without the law means the system of law that every confessor learned. He was a follower of the tertiaries, the probablism and the equiprobablism etc. a lot of systems. Everyone chose one system that corresponded to his own conscience, and in conscience, it followed him. He was, in a certain sense, a prisoner of this system. If you have such and such a category of sin, in such and such a condition, you could not give absolution according to your system.

What Colin means, is that if I cannot save him without my system, without this armour, I will leave the armour and I will go on doing that. I will because, if you like, we exist to save man and not to save principles. We are not here to exercise our own system but we will meet this man and put him here again in contact with grace. To “receive him back into grace, ask little of him, and grace will do the rest.” It’s always this conception that we are here just to help the man to meet his God. We are like the man in the promptbox, who is not supposed to interfere, to jump on the stage and to take part in the play. He would ruin the play. He just has to stay in the promptbox and suggest to the actors what they have to say. But the real play is between these two: the man and his God.

Here we are at the spiritual attitude of  “hidden and unknown.” All in all, we become instruments of divine mercy if we empty ourselves, if we accept to be hidden so that we don’t interfere between the man and God, but we simply help them to meet.

That’s essentially what I wanted to tell you: Marists are supposed to become instruments of divine mercy. It is not something which is easy. It implies a certain number of choices to empty ourselves.
An instrument of divine mercy – it implies also a certain mentality. To change a certain mentality of the preacher who is in his position of strength, to adopt au contraire all that’s contrary. The attitude that we are to have is to win over souls by submitting ourselves to them and to adopt this way of action which is looking at the man rather than as a sinner. We do not present him with the light that I have, the practices that I would like him to do, but really try to take him as he is, and to put him in contact with God and to disappear. Both together will do much greater things than those I would even dream of for them.

Source: Jean Coste, FRAMGINGHAM RETREAT (adapted transcript), July 1980 Conference 4.

Comments are closed.