A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Reflections on Marist Spirituality (3)

Fr Denis Mahony

Fr Denis Mahony

These reflections were first published in 2012 in Tutu - Another Way, written by Adele M.E. Jones with Michael McVerry sm. They are reprinted with permission.

 Mary in the early Church

How do we draw our inspiration from the mystery of Mary in the early Church? The mystery of Mary begins in the Incarnation, is found in Nazareth, reaches a climax at Pentecost and continues in today’s world until the end of time. Let us look at each of these in turn:

The Incarnation: Mary’s “yes” to God gave flesh to his Word, Jesus. Mary’s role continues to be the same today. Marists are to make Jesus come alive for the world, not merely by words but in action. Wherever we are or whatever we do we should be doing the work of Christ, making Christ present in our lives. We are to work “hidden and unknown in the world” – this is Mary’s way.

Nazareth was the place where Jesus in a quiet and hidden way grew spiritually in wisdom and understanding. For Marists Nazareth represents a time of spiritual growth, and experience of waiting on the Spirit who is quietly, gradually changing us from within. This is a work that requires time. Nazareth is a place of the heart: it is a place of deep faith and a centre point of stillness and silence. Nazareth is the contemplative side of our Marist life. Fr. Colin said: “I place myself in the house of Nazareth and from there I see what I have to do.” Because Nazareth is so important in the lives of Marists I will refer to it again.

Mary at Pentecost

Mary at Pentecost

Pentecost: at Pentecost Mary is not distinct from the apostles. She is in the midst of them as the Church comes to life. Mary is not the leader. She is there as a prayerful active presence. A Marist is meant to be a person of intense prayer, a contemplative in action. It is not a question of choosing one or the other, or of choosing one at one moment and the other at another, but of keeping the two realities in balance. A Marist, like Mary, is at work in the midst of the Church, quiet, hidden and as it were, unknown.

Marists today: For us Marists today Fr. Colin’s basic intuition, “Mary upheld the Church at its birth. She will do so at the end of time”, should still be our inspiration. The only Church that exists for us is the one we meet in our daily experience. Mary is calling us to play a crucial role in the Church today. If there is a Gospel need in the Church, then there is a Marist need. Marists need to become like Mary, so they can work like her, disappearing within the Church.

The Importance of Nazareth

I said I would refer again to Nazareth. As we have seen, for Marists, two important places for them are Nazareth and the New Born Church. At an annual retreat Fr. Colin spoke to the Marists: “Let us look to Mary in everything, imitate her life at Nazareth. She did more than the apostles for the new-born Church.” Fr. Colin sees Nazareth as the first cell of the Church before the Church really began. One has to go to Nazareth to find the true characteristics of the early Church. So we get an understanding of how important Nazareth was in Fr. Colin’s thinking.

Fr. Colin’s words, “I place myself in the home of Nazareth and from there I see all that I have to do”, describes a point from which I see what I have to do. I go to the Nazareth space within and place myself there alone before God and there I come to know in truth what I have to do. At another time at a General Chapter Fr. Colin said, “As for me, I place myself before God. When I feel that I am at peace and happy and I am at rest in the step I want to take, then I can walk forward. If I am not at peace and if I see reasons for and against without being sure, then I stop.” He does not use the word Nazareth, but it reproduces the same spiritual movements: I am not sure what to do, how to act, so in silence and stillness before God alone I wait for the light of the Spirit to make clear the way. I then leave Nazareth with confidence that I will be led by the light of the Spirit of God when I return to my work.

The Place of Contemplation

The Holy Family by Murillo.

The Holy Family by Murillo.

When Fr. Colin says that he goes to Nazareth he is not forming a picture of the home in Nazareth in his mind and seeing what people are doing there and so on. In my understanding, for Fr. Colin, Nazareth is another name for the heart or the soul. in faith one goes to the heart, the inner space where

God is and one remains there in stillness and silence. The eye of the soul is opened and one sees reality as God sees it, one can see everything in the light of faith because we are alone before God, we become capable of truly judging what we are doing and turning it in the direction what is essential. From that point we set out again to our work more enlightened than before.

Nazareth is Nazareth because of Mary’s faith. Nazareth is the place where Mary listened and pondered in her heart. How often we are told that Mary “treasured these things in her heart,” i.e., in her centre. Nazareth is the call to be alone with God alone and from that experience we see, we know, what we have to do. This is what the prayer of contemplation is.

Fr J C Colin sm

Fr J C Colin sm

Fr. Coste says, “a component part of the Marist spirit is the contemplative dimension, integrated into the very heart of the life and responsibility of Marists. Not loving solitude and silence means still being afraid of self, afraid of standing before self and before God, afraid of being no more than who one is. The day one accepts this confrontation with solitude and silence, then one can enter Nazareth and become identified with this third great foundational image of our congregation.”

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