Thursday, May 23, 2024

Making Fr Colin’s Vision of the Society of Mary Work For Us.

February 16, 2009 by  
Filed under Spirituality for Today

When Father Colin resigned as superior general of the Marist Fathers in 1854, one of his main concerns was to give himself, at long last, the leisure he needed to finish writing the rule for Marists. This rule had now been in the making for more than thirty-five years. In the eighteen twenties, Colin had seen himself as mandated by God to write it; after that, he had worked on it, prayed over it, consulted about it, rewritten it in the light of experience. Novices had been trained under it, Marists had been nourished by it. Now, the time had come to give it its definitive shape before asking the Holy See to approve it. For this Colin needed to be relieved of the time and energy consuming task of superior general. Marists would be asked to accept this rule as God’s will for them; it was vital that there be nothing in it that did not express God’s will. This could only be achieved by prayer, by listening to the wisdom and experience of others, by fidelity to the ideals which had inspired Marists from the very beginnings. In this crucial matter of the rule, Colin had refused to pick the fruit before it was ripe. Now, he would finally be able to do things properly.

Fr. Favre, the new superior general, took a totally different view. The Society had functioned for nearly twenty years without an officially approved rule. This could not go on. Candidates inquired about the Society, bishops wanted Marists to work in their diocese; they needed to know under what rules Marists operated. Favre was an efficient and clearheaded administrator. He saw the need and took care of it. A year and a half after Colin had resigned, Favre took five weeks to write a rule, had it printed, took it to Rome, and by 1860 had obtained for it the approval of the Holy See. After six years as superior general, he had accomplished what Colin had not managed to do in eighteen years.

Colin withdrew into silence. He was forced out of it in 1863, when Father Mayet, through another Marist, questioned him very explicitly on this situation. These are some of the things Colin said in reply:

“You are mistaken if you think Fr Favre requested my permission or my agreement to do the rule. I only became aware of his draft for a rule when he showed it to me in print. I expressed to him my sorrow, my discontent; I told him he was taking a fearful responsibility upon himself. Well, he told me, do you want to do it? I accepted willingly, asking him to place at my disposal two people for the necessary length of time. He refused them to me. Then I understood that it was a mind set, a settled thing, & that they did not want me.

Fr Favre is learned in theology. For a rule he has no idea. He has never reflected on those matters. Those thing cannot be improvised. Do people think that when God chosen someone there is not something? This rule has no foundation. . . Everything is totally changed. . It is another society.

It is a work which takes the place of the pristine one. It is a human work. . . made in a human way… It is no longer the pristine work.   (OM. doc. 803: l, 8,10-12.)

It took ten more years for the situation to be resolved. In 1873, the Holy See gave final approval to the constitutions on which Colin had by now worked for more than fifty years, and the rule written by Favre was left aside. Favre was a humble man, he had never meant anything but to do well, and he bowed to the clearly expressed will of the general chapter. It does not seem, however, that he ever understood why Father Colin should have been upset. All Favre had done was to re-express Colin’s own ideas in a more reasonable form and more elegant Latin. With the best will in the world, he seems to have failed to grasp where he and Colin differed.

Father Jeantin knew both men well and it will be worth listening to his attempt at articulating this difference. In the text we are quoting, Jeantin lists the reasons put forward by Favre for setting out to write the rule independently of Colin, and he goes on to say:

Such were the avowed motives which led Father Favre and his council to work immediately on writing our rule. I think that ultimately there was another one, not put forward but determining nonetheless, namely that they did not have a correct enough view of Father Founder. I will go further: they did not have an accurate enough view of the Society of Mary. Anyone who has in the least been in contact 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 of 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 Founder’s 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 great and high idea he has of the sanctity which members of this Society are to have.

But Father Favre did not share this view and 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, undertook apostolic works within a limited scope and in very secondary fashion. Nor do I say this just on my own. I heard Father General himself talk about the Society 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). (Jeantin, NHC, APM 131.6)

In Jeantin’s terms, Colin and Favre differed in how they viewed the Society. One had vision, the other not. What is vision? How does it work? How can we make Colin’s vision work for us? While I was pondering these questions, I happened to read Flannery O’Connor’s collection of letters, edited by Sally Fitzgerald under the title The Habit of Being. As one watches the artist reflect on her work, three factors emerge and combine into a structure where one can see how vision works to produce a work of art, and it seemed to me that such a structure could provide a metaphor to illustrate how vision worked for Colin and how it can work for us.

The three factors are:

  1. the certainty about her gift;
  2. her ruthless discipline;
  3. her ability to be in touch with the world.

Section 1
Flannery O’Connor is fully aware that whatever it is that she can do, it is not something over which she has control. It is a gift. If you don’t have it, nothing will take the place of it. As she puts it: “Ultimately, you write what you can, what God gives you” (Habit of Being, p. I 15). Which means, of course, that an artist’s first concern will be to identify his or her gift. It is a delicate matter, and at the same time one which can be settled with great certainty: you know when you have succeeded. For instance, commenting about the topic of love between man and woman, about which she has not written, O’Connor writes: “I should keep my hands off it until I feel that what I can do with it will be right, which is to say, given” (Habit of Being, p. 117). The artist knows she has identified her gift when what she does has about it a quality of not made-up, of something discovered. O’Connor writes about one of her stories, for instance: “I think it’s one of the best stories I’ve written, and this because there is a good deal more in it than I understand myself’ (Habit of Being, p. 140). Of course, when the artist has thus identified her gift, she will display a confidence which others will find disconcerting. Sally Fitzgerald writes that Flannery
was capable, at twenty three, of flooring a patronizing publisher with one courteous but steely letter when he proposed to ‘work with her’ to ‘change the direction’ of her first book

causing the publisher to complain that:

she suffered from ‘hardening of the arteries of cooperative sense’, adding, ‘It seems most unbecoming in one so young’. (Habit of Being, p. xi.)

Such is the first ingredient of the rich mixture we would call vision: a certainty about direction accompanied by a sense that one is not in control. This is where the river flows, but where the river comes from and where it goes is not for me to decide. This certainty and this sense of having come upon something I could not have fabricated myself, are a basic aspect of how Colin relates to the Marist project.

In the last years of his life, when Colin was trying to convey to his secretary Jeantin that his relationship to the Marist project was more complex than Jeantin figured, Colin pictured himself as someone who recognized his direction when he saw it. Colin did not initiate the Marist project at the major seminary of Lyon, but he always refers to the seminary project as having been conceived and meditated beforehand by someone other than the one who manifested it (OM, doc. 117, lines 21-22; doc. 753, 1). Colin spoke of himself, therefore, as having had the idea of something like the Society of Mary before he came to the major seminary, and he told Jeantin:

This idea was very useful to me. How often people tried to have me join this or that work: With this idea in mind, nothing of all that suited me. But as soon as Mr Courveille manifested the project of a Society of Mary, I told myself: That suits you: And I joined them.  (OM. doc. 819, 9)

When Colin found the Marist project, he found something he had been longing for, for a long time. Now he knew this was where he belonged.

Colin’s certainty about the Marist project was not limited to this initial moment. It dominated his spiritual experience for six years. Around 1838, this is how Colin described his feelings during these years:

Over a period of six year, I experienced extreme sweetness when thinking of this Society, with a clear feeling that it was the work of God. Young men often have ideas of the sort; I felt a great difference between this work and what we call young men’s ideas, which I never did like. (OM. doc. 447).

Colin makes a clear distinction between infatuation and the `sweetness’ he experienced. He also indicates a strong link between the feelings of peace and joy which he calls sweetness and the thought that the Marist project comes from God. It is not a human work, it is not an enthusiasm of young men. It is something God wants. Colin once told Mayet how profoundly this sweetness affected him:

At the beginning, when I thought of the Society, for six years I experienced tangible comfort just at the thought of it; when I heard a piece of news, I glowed all over, my face became radiant. (OM. doc. 519, 7)

More important than its emotional impact is the fact that Colin’s certainty provided the setting out of which flowed his work on the constitutions. In Colin s words, he was, at that time,
filled interiorly with a strong confidence equivalent to a kind of certainty that the project came from God and that it would take shape in the long run.  (OM, doc. 815, 3)

In a closely related text, Colin spoke even more explicitly about the relationship between his certainty and the work on the constitutions:

In the first years of my priestly ministry, I found myself committed to work for the society of Marist Fathers and even to prepare its first constitutions. The impulse which led me to this work was less a voluntary and freely chosen impulse than an inner impulse, I would say an almost irresistible one, with the conviction that the Society was part of God’s design, that it would succeed, without knowing how or by what means nor whether my work would one day be of some use.  (OM. doc. 816)

The texts we have brought together so far give us a fairly clear picture of what the Marist project did for Colin, how it worked for him. First of all, it struck a note in him. He had nurtured certain aspirations throughout his youth and the project appeared as a response to them: “That suits you:” Then, after Colin had committed himself, together with his companions, to bringing the project about, it took him over and it became his experience of God’s presence: an overwhelming certainty that God wanted the project filled him with joy for years and prodded him to work for the project by embodying it in a rule.

If we ask: how did Colin know that God wanted the project, part of the answer must he that he knew from the graces he was aware of having received. But another part of the answer lies in Colin’s belief that Mary said so. When Courveille spoke about the Marist project at the major seminary, he always presented it as something that Mary had told him she wanted. And Colin tells us very clearly that those words of Mary inspired and guided the birth of the Society. But his words, spoken in January 1848, also show how Mary’s words were still powerfully at work in his view of the Society’s mission in those troubled days (a month before the third French Revolution toppled the monarchy and established the second republic):

Let us not look at what the societies that have come before us have done. When a society begins, it is to fill a specific need. Yes, gentlemen (and here he used a solemn tone), I am pleased to repeat it here once again, these words: I have upheld the church at birth, I shall do so again at the end of time, were, in the very beginnings of the Society, what served us as a foundation and an encouragement. They were always before us. We worked in that direction, if I may so speak. True, the times in which we live are very bad; mankind is very sick. It will need powerful help at the end of time. The blessed Virgin will be the one to give it. Gentlemen, let us be glad to belong to her Society and to bear her name.  (FS doc.l52)

“These words were always before us. We worked in that direction”. What a world opened up before people who saw themselves within a design that related the beginning of the church with the specific needs of Colin’s troubled times: How could the early Marists have been fearful and small-hearted with such a vision before them, but above all with the awareness that God s saving design did not depend on their own abilities for its success but on the will and power of the Lord himself? Mary’s words to Courveille were the gift which Colin and the first Marists identified as God’s gift to them.

To acknowledge that gift meant entering into something that surpassed them by far: the Society of Mary was not just “young men’s ideas”, it was Mary’s work. Like the artist who has identified her gift and who knows where she wants to go, Colin and the early Marists worked toward their goal with a confidence and clarity of purpose that found its source not in their own limited abilities but in the Father ‘s unlimited tenderness.

Section Two
What we have said so far about the way Colin’s vision of the Society of Mary worked for him had to do with scope, with a sense of direction, with confidence about one’s place in the universe. That is the element we compared to what happens as the artist identifies his or her gift. Flannery O’Connor’s example will help us isolate a second factor just as crucial as the first for the quality of the artist’s work. Flannery writes:

Maritain says that to produce a work of art requires the`constant attention of the purified mind,’ and the business of the purified mind in this case is to see that those elements of the personality (of the artist) that don’t bear on the subject at hand are excluded. Stories don’t lie when left to themselves. Everything has to be subordinated to a whole which is not you. (The Habit of Being, p. 105)

We are now in the realm of discipline. No matter how rich and how vast the vision of the artist, it will not exist as a work of art without hard, intelligent and meticulous work. The ‘constant attention of the purified mind’: the mind is to be stripped of all that is foreign to its intent, nothing is to interfere with its one goal, and at no time can the artist release her attention. Self centered concerns are out of place. The slightest breach in the artist’s discipline will show up as a flaw.

Jeantin points to a similar link between Colin’s view of the Society’s destiny as a great religious order and the high degree of sanctity he required of Marists. The scope of the mission entrusted to the Society called for Marists to root out of their heart and their work all that did not pertain to the business at hand, namely extending the Father’s mercy to all.

When Jean-Claude Colin showed the first draft of his rule for Marists to a Sulpician in Paris in the spring of 1823, he was told that his rules were made for angels rather than for humans (OM. 819. 46) In the fifty years that followed, Colin had ample opportunity to learn about and to take into account the limitations of humans, including himself, and in that sense it is unfair to center our attention upon the early stage of his rule. Still, in his last years Colin brought back into the rule some of these pristine ideas, and they may be the ones that lead us more directly to the heart of his concern. Let us simply not reduce Colin’s spirituality to these few points nor forget that he too knew that love is the work of the Spirit. I chose two items to illustrate Colin’s fierce determination to get at the roots of selfishness in Marists, especially in superiors: confessing thoughts of covetousness and remaining hidden and unknown.

All must take extreme care lest the spirit of covetousness invade the house or hold sway, under whatever pretext. The superior or any of his councillors who should retain this spirit of covetousness for more than a quarter of an hour shall confess his fault before the whole council & say how long he persevered in it. (AT h,5 )

A marvellous example of unenforceable law! Colin himself recognized this very soon and did away with the public confession, but only to insist even more strongly that the spirit of covetousness is totally foreign to Mary’s spirit, and least of all is it to be seen in superiors. Ten years after writing the preceding text, Colin used some of it in a chapter on superiors:
The spirit of the Society is alien to covetousness and to self interest. Let (the superior) foster this spirit in himself and breed it in others, nor should his conduct ever, under whatever pretext, be dictated or inspired by covetousness. He should be most vigilant in this matter.  (AT s, 70)

Another ten years later, this article had been expanded into one of the most forceful paragraphs regarding the superior general, who bears the first responsibility for keeping the Society on course. The text is long, but it deserves to be heard.

The spirit truly proper to the Society consists in this, that they be alien to all covetousness for earthly things and especially to the worldly spirit, and that they should conduct themselves with such poverty, humility, modesty, simplicity of heart, unconcern for vanity and worldly ambition, that while they must attend to all ministries which may help the salvation of souls, they appear unknown and even hidden in the world. Let the general diligently foster this spirit in himself and breed and preserve it in others. Love of poverty should not lead him to do anything detrimental to the Society; however, his trust in God and in Mary’s protection must be such that never, under whatever pretext, even that of the glory of God, should his conduct be dictated or inspired by covetousness. Let him also take the greatest care lest the worldly `spirit of newcomers taint the small flock of Mary, our mother, namely this small society, and render it deprived of the fruits of salvation. The superior shall be most vigilant and most severe in this matter. (AT a, 224)

The text you have heard sounded familiar, I hope. It was written by Colin in 1842, and later large portions of it were incorporated into the article on the spirit of the Society. The length of the article, the continuity of Colin’s concern about covetousness, the urgency with which he charges the superior general to watch over this, all point up the vital importance Colin attached to this point. At the same time, as the article develops into a description of Marist spirit, Colin sees that this spirit cannot be restricted to avoiding covetousness. Avoiding pride is just as crucial, and that is how hidden and unknown enters the picture at this point.

Though it only became part of a definition of Marist spirit as late as 1842, hidden and unknown also went back to the days of the rule drafted in Cerdon twenty years earlier. Whereas avoiding covetousness did not lend itself to much development as a spiritual theme, hidden and unknown proved to be a very fruitful expression. You already noticed that the article on the superior general presented hidden and unknown as the product of combining spiritual attitudes like poverty and simplicity of heart with the ability to undertake all forms of ministry for the good of people. This sentence was actually the condensed form of an earlier article where Colin spelled out more fully the implications of hidden and unknown for the ministry:

. . .to remove all obstacles to the bearing of greater fruit in the vineyard of the Lord, let them show themselves everywhere humble of heart and let them always conduct themselves with such prudence and especially such modesty, giving no one ground for abusive language, that, following in the footsteps of the blessed Virgin Mary, although they may, and if they can, they must spend themselves in whatever ministry for the salvation of souls, still they are, as it were, to appear hidden and unknown in the world. (AT e, 21)

The English translation is only slightly more awkward than the Latin text. Colin has kept adding and qualifying as he tried to reflect the complexity of concrete situations. A rewarding way of reading A Founder Speaks is to follow Colin as he applies hidden and unknown to an astounding variety of situations and uses it as a key to unlock the door to the heart of people who have slammed it shut in the face of the church. Hidden and unknown is a very complex instrument indeed: it is made, on the one hand, of a whole series of virtues never quite the same list but always akin to each other: poverty, humility, modesty, simplicity of heart; on the other hand, it goes everywhere, does everything. The only question it asks is: will it do good to this person? Colin saw that as the way in which Mary went about being of help in the early church. Indeed, the text we quoted earlier about Mary upholding the church at its birth begins with a consideration on hidden and unknown:

Gentlemen, only later will people appreciate an expression which is in the rule: unknown and even hidden. You could say that the whole spirit of the Society is there. Let us then stay firmly within our vocation. Though we must exclude no work of zeal from our activities, we must always remain unknown and even hidden. Let us not worry about our honour: if we do well, we shall have merit before God. Let us seek only the honour of God; as for us,… unknown. Let us not look at what the societies that have come before us have done. (the text goes on with the passage quoted earlier) (FS doc.152)

Colin felt it had taken him a whole lifetime to begin to explore the richness of hidden and unknown. In 1869, at the age of seventy nine, he said:

When God speaks to a soul, he says many things in few words. This saying, for instance: Unknown and hidden in the world. (OM, doc. 819,122).

What Colin says here about hidden and unknown, namely that it was a word of God to him, he has said about some of the most crucial points of the constitutions: they may seem excessively severe but they are not of his own making. Colin squirmed when people interpreted this as meaning that Our Lady had appeared and dictated to him. At the same time, he knew he had been moved to writing by a spirit other than his own.

Colin was also keenly aware that the Society of Mary itself was not of his own making. That is why the words whereby Mary willed the Society into existence: I have upheld the church at birth I shall do so again at the end of time, were constantly before the first companions. Mary wanted the Society; therefore they could rely on her and did not have to rely on themselves for a task which so clearly exceeded their power. How does one cope with the notion of renewing the church at the end of time, namely now? It requires a kind of confidence that can only come from the awareness that this is what God wants you to do. The abilities required for such a mission are of the same order. The emptying of self that will qualify one to be part of this project will need to be as extreme as the project itself. That is why it is not something that one fellow human imposes on another. It can only be a dictate, as it is the work, of the Spirit. To return to the metaphor suggested by Flannery O’Connor’s reflections on her work, the artist’s awareness of her gift and the need she sees for unrelenting discipline in her work are inseparable from each other. Discipline alone will not produce a work of art, but neither will the most abundant gifts without discipline.

Section 3
There is a third factor in the structure of the metaphor used to illustrate how vision worked for Colin: the artist’s ability to touch his world. Perhaps a different image will help us put a finger on this aspect of vision. You may remember having held a compass and watched its needle dance as it searched the magnetic pole. Two things make the compass work: the needle’s ability to connect with the pole and its ability to move on its pivot. The further the pole, the more precise the direction given by the needle. At the same time, the needle and its pivot must be made in such a way that contact between the two is minimal, so that the needle can move freely and respond to the slightest move of the person holding it while always pointing north. The first factor works by virtue of the distance between the pole and the needle and of their attraction to each other. The second works by virtue of the meticulous care taken to remove all that would impede the free movement of the needle. The third factor is not part of the compass: it is the point where you are standing as you hold the compass and where you want to go from there. It is the context within which the compass can tell you something. In terms of our original metaphor, that of Flannery O’Connor, the third factor is her sense of belonging to a very concrete and specific world, that of a believer in the South. The South and the church are her context; she has her way of looking at them, of coming to grips with them, and the value of what she writes is judged by them. She did not write in a void.

“The act of writing is not complete in itself. It has its end in its audience” (The Habit of Being, p. 458). While Flannery did not mind being misunderstood by most, she valued highly being understood by some (The Habit of Being, p. 90)

The way Colin thinks about the Society of Mary comprises a similar ingredient: a sense of place, of a place where you stand and from which you work. Without that element, the Marist project would be little more than a sect, the private universe of religious enthusiasts, dedicated to building a world of their own rather than cope with the one they have. Talk about the end of the world and the total renunciation of material goods has, indeed, inspired many a religious group over the centuries, and Marists could easily have turned out to be just one more, had it not been for Colin’s stubborn insistence that the Society should rather perish than cut itself off from the body of the church, more concretely from the local bishops (OM, doc. 425, 8; 467). It was not easy to resist the temptation to go ahead without the bishops, as Courveille wanted to do. Bishop Devie, especially, who was Colin’s local bishop in Belley, thought little of his grandiose plans. How could a priest with such good judgment in everything else be so unreasonable when it came to the Marist project? Why not join the diocesan group of missionaries the bishop was trying to organize? And the bishop applied all the pressure he could on Colin and his companions to bring them around. That was when Colin took a vow to have three thousand masses said if ever the Society of the blessed Virgin had thirty members. It got them eight years later, and the three thousand masses (plus one, for good measure) were duly said (OM, doc. 749). So if Colin worked for a religious society, it would be for that of Mary and for no other, and Bishop Devie understood this when Colin mentioned the three thousand masses.

Colin would not sacrifice the Society to the bishop. At the same time, however, there could be no Society apart from the bishop. For Colin, this was built into his understanding of the Society and he made it an essential point of the rule that the Society would deal with bishops in such a way that they could consider it their society. When Colin was superior general, he said one day, while chatting after lunch: “Ah! gentlemen, there are three things in the rule I very much want to be in the mind and in the heart of all Marists”. The first was hidden and unknown. Father Eymard suggested that the second was: “Be pleasant to all”. No, Colin said, that is not special to Marists. The second is “that we must behave with such esteem and regard for the bishops that they will look upon our Society as their own”. And he went on to say:

Gentlemen, these words as their own were not put in by chance. It was only after thinking it over many times. While I was doing the rule, when these words presented themselves, my mind came to rest. That is the only expression I found that said what I wanted to say. (FS, doc. 119, 7)

What did Colin want to say? A year later, speaking to a priest from Lyon (who later became bishop of Toronto), Colin made his thought even clearer:

If God gives me the leisure to work on the rule as I want to do soon, I want to draw a clear line of conduct concerning respect for bishops, the union we must have with them. In a diocese the Society is not to draw everything to itself nor to work on its own; it is to work at the common task, the task of the church, of the bishop, and it is to act so as to put the bishop in evidence. (FS, doc.150, 4)

You may have noticed how close we are to the hidden and unknown. In its apostolic work, the Society is to disappear. It is to make itself hidden and unknown, take the spotlight away from itself and direct it on the local church represented in its bishop. It does this by identifying itself with the local church, by standing in its shoes, as it were, so as to embrace its goals, its concerns, its point of view.

Many threads in Colin’s thinking come together at this point. By placing themselves within the church, by not drawing attention to themselves, by pursuing the work of the church rather than their own, Marists are practicing one aspect of the hidden and unknown. They are also doing something very close to the way Colin saw Mary being present in the church. You are by now thoroughly familiar with the words Colin believed Mary had said: “I have upheld the church at birth; I shall do so again at the end of time”. For us, an expression like that can quickly become empty. For Colin, it evoked a very rich set of ideas. He had meditated at length on Mary’s presence in the early church. He had contemplated Mary praying with the apostles in expectation of the Spirit, but also, as the church developed, supporting, encouraging, counseling, being a hidden and powerful presence, and all the more powerful for being hidden. That the imaginative support for this meditation came from Mary of Agreda’s writings is ultimately irrelevant. That meditation can be nourished just as well by Scripture and the faith of the church in Mary’s continuing presence.

More importantly, Colin’s meditation was not so much a looking up to Mary as a learning to stand where she stands. Colin learned from her by placing himself, like her, within the church and asking himself: What do I see? what needs to be done? how shall I go about it? Colin found his own answers. He wants us to find ours. What he tells us is: Be where Mary is, hidden at the heart of this body of believers which is the church. Work from there, go out from there. Be her eyes, her ears, her hands, to all those who need her care.

Our question was: How did Colin’s vision work for him; more immediately, how can we make it work for us? Flannery O’Connor helped to articulate an attempt to answer in three steps: recognize your gift and recognize that it is a gift; discipline yourself and keep out of your work all that distracts from it; finally, keep in close touch with the real world. Perhaps yet another image will help to tie things up. Take a bunch of grapes. Not on the supermarket shelf, but out in the vineyard, on the vine: round, green, plentiful, juicy, fresh, sweet. What a joy to behold and to eat! What are they made of? Of the warmth and light of the sun, of the wetness and freshness of the rain, of the hidden flavours of the soil. Pure gifts! The vine dresser has no control over them. He is at their mercy. That is one element of Marist vision: a free gift that cannot be forced and that makes it so that Colin, Marist tradition, Marist spirit, Marist mission are the sun, the rain, the soil in which I thrive. More specifically, Mary’s words to Courveille at Le Puy, Colin’s inspirations at Cerdon, are gifts we cannot afford not to recognize if Marist vision is to work for us. Let us go out and bask in that sun, let that rain drench us, let our feet touch that soil. Let us expose ourselves to the vision that the first Marists had before them as they started the Society and which was their sun and their rain: Mary’s words at Le Puy and all that flowed from them.

That is the first step. Grapes on the vine are not wine. There must now take place the pains- taking, meticulous, delicate work of wine making. It involves a whole series of complicated operations, recipes, traditions, do’s, don’ts, and any mistake along the way can make the wine turn sour. Here, of course, we are no longer dealing with elements over which we have no control like the sun, the rain, the soil. On the contrary, the whole process consists in control: the time, the temperature, the containers. What matters here is attention, constant care, monitoring. The genius of Colin and the richness of Marist spirituality lie in the concrete and detailed instructions they provide for working in the line of our mission. What are the pitfalls, what must be avoided, what must I watch? This is the work Colin calls the emptying of self.

Marist vision will work for us if we take the trouble to learn and to practice, to become skilled craftsmen in the art of disinterestedness, of being hidden and unknown.

Rich and juicy grapes treated with care and skill produce good wine. What is the good of it, unless you can bring your friends together around the table to share it with them? Step one: a mission received from Mary, our gift. Step two: a method taught us by Colin, our craft. Step three: the real world, the people in it with their real needs, the real church to live in and to build up. Our Marist mission, our Marist spirituality are not ends in themselves. The point of them is to enable us to be within the church, today, here, the kind of presence that Mary was, a presence that sustains the church, that works from within it in order to build it. Marists don’t live in a world of their own, don’t form a church of their own. The table to which they call people is the one table at which all can sit and where, no matter how varied the wines being poured, the same words are said over them by the same host: This is the cup of my blood. It will be shed for you and for all.

Gaston Lessard

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