A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Reflections on Marist Spirituality (4)

Fr Denis Mahony sm

Fr Denis Mahony sm

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.

[Last paragraph from the April issue]: 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.

All this is summed up in #228 of our Constitutions:

“Let them learn from the first Marists to find in the presence of Mary at Nazareth and Pentecost, in the early Church and at the end of time, the secret of their own presence in the Church and the world today: a presence attentive to God and vibrant with zeal, so that while doing great things for the Lord, they may seem to be unknown and even hidden in the world. This was Mary’s work. It is expressed for all Marists in the words of Jean-Claude Colin:

Kepler track

Sunrise over the Keppler Track - a reflection of Marist spirituality

Let them always bear in mind that they belong by a gracious choice to the family of the blessed Mary, Mother of God, from whose name they are called Marists, and whom they have chosen from the beginning as their model and their first and perpetual superior. If therefore they are and desire to be true children of this dear Mother, let them try constantly to breathe her spirit: a spirit of humility, self-denial, intimate union with God, and the most ardent love of neighbour. So they must think as Mary, judge as Mary, feel and act as Mary in all things, otherwise they will be unworthy and degenerate children.

Therefore, following the footsteps of their Mother, let them above all be far removed from any worldly spirit and from all greed for earthly goods, and completely emptied of all self-interest. Let them strive to deny themselves completely in all things: seeking not their own interests, but only those of Christ and Mary; considering themselves as exiles and pilgrims on earth, indeed as worthless servants and as the refuse of the world; using the things of this world as if not using them; strenuously avoiding in their buildings and living quarters, in their style of life, and in their dealings with others, all that suggests display, ostentation, or a desire for attention, loving to be unknown and subject to all, without deceit or cunning; in a word, acting always with such great poverty, humility, and modesty, simplicity of heart, and lack of all vanity and worldly ambition, and moreover so combining a love of solitude and silence and the practice of hidden virtues with works of zeal, that while they must take up the various ministries by which the salvation of souls may be furthered, they may appear unknown, and even hidden, in the world. Let them all cling to this spirit in the knowledge that it is the pivot and foundation of their whole Society.”

The first paragraph:

  1. ‘Family of the Blessed Mary’ – Marists are called to live the mystery of Mary’s presence in the Church.
  2. It is a covenant – Marists are called by a gracious choice and we respond.
  3. The name of Mary is given to us, and we accept it. This is the sealing of the covenant between God / Mary and Marists.
  4. Become like Mary – humility, self-denial, union with God and love of others.
  5. ‘Think, judge, feel and act as Mary in all things’. What we do we try to discern with the eyes and heart of Mary, to act out of her dispositions, values, ways of thinking, rather than our own. Her concerns become our concerns.

Where is Mary going, where is she leading us?

The second paragraph:

We are to follow in the footsteps of Mary. Where is Mary going, where is she leading us? Into the world, not away from it,

  1. To identification and solidarity with God’s people, the poor, the sinners, the marginalised, getting into the hearts of men and women;
  2. But to get there, we are led through those negative elements – the three great NO’s to greed, pride and power – which help us to avoid the alienation and isolation and separation from people that are brought about by selfishness;
  3. To solitude, silence, hidden virtues – the Nazareth pole of our Marist spirituality. Marist spirituality is a lived tension between Mary in the early Church and Mary at Nazareth.

This paragraph tells us how to be really open with people, how to get into that position where we can really feel with them, as Mary felt with them, how to experience the same sort of concern Mary felt and wants to communicate to us. It moves us to be compassionate, to be a healing presence. It is the goal of Marists to bring Mary’s spirit to the Church and world, radiating beyond us, let go by us, passed on by us to others so it can inflame them and move them to take their own initiatives in doing the work of Mary.

Some important Marist themes:

God Alone

The theme ‘God alone’ is at the heart of all Father Colin’s thinking. These two words were often on the lips of Father Colin:

‘If you wish to serve God, you must see him alone, you must be independent of creatures. We should exist before God, as if there were none but he, seeing him alone, walking boldly by faith.’

‘Let creatures mean nothing to you, my son. Look to God alone.’

‘We should thank God for having sown our path with contradictions. That will teach us not to place any store by creatures, to look to God alone, to act for God alone.’

‘That word simplicity says a lot. I understand by it not seeing anything but God, acting only for God, never having creatures in view, seeking even to blot out thought of creatures.’

Hidden and Unknown

The riches of the Gospel are so vast that they cannot all be lived to the full by everyone at the same time. They inspire people in different ways, in different priorities. For Saint Francis, the founder of the Franciscan Order, it was ‘Go and sell what you won, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, then come and follow me’ (Matthew 19:21). For Saint Dominic, the Founder of the Dominicans, it was ‘Go throughout the whole world and preach the gospel to all people’ (Mark 16:14). For Marists the priority lies in Jesus’ admonitions concerning the most important features of Jewish piety: almsgiving, fasting, and prayer.Almsgiving

Jesus said, ‘Be careful not to parade your good deeds before men to attract their notice… do not have it trumpeted before you… your almsgiving must be secret; and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you… When you pray, go to your private room and, when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in that secret place… When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that no one will know you are fasting except your Father who sees all that is done in secret; and your Father… will reward you’ (Matthew 6:1—18).

Father Colin saw the core of Marist life indeed in this context: ‘We must always remain “hidden and unknown.” Let us not be concerned with our honour. If we do good, we shall have merit in the sight of God. Let us have her (Mary’s) spirit, let us do good “hidden and unknown in this world”. May the world not know of our works, but the eye of God will see them from heaven and we shall be rewarded for them. Marists are called to do great things but “hidden and unknown”. When God speaks to a soul, he says many things in few words. So it was with the saying, “hidden and unknown”.’

At the time of Father Colin the clergy were inclined to see themselves as superior to others and many were unable, when hearing confessions, to put themselves in the shoes of the penitent; educators were more concerned with results than the value of the child. In all these and many other situations, Father Colin senses that there is a better way of doing things. The Marist was to be attentive to the needs of others rather than being preoccupied with self, submitting self to others. Marists are to use their talents for the work of Mary, not looking for personal fame, influence or prestige. Marists are to be self-effacing, preferring to be in the background, remaining hidden and unknown.

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