San Pío V, José Benito Cotolengo y Nuestra Señora de África
The document is a combined report of the Procurator General’s Office and the Laity Bureau of the Marist Brothers on an ecclesial topic[i]of considerable importance to the future of the Marist charism: the bonding, commitment, attachment and/or belonging of lay people[ii]to the Institute or some other wider ecclesial structure related to the founding charism[iii] of Marcellin Champagnat.
The XX General Chapter (2001) made the following recommendation to the General Council:
To undertake a study of various forms of belonging to the Institute and to allow lay people, in agreement with their Provincial and his Council, to live various forms of Marist commitment (ad experimentum). Based on these experiences, the General Council will put the juridic framework into place to enable the XXI General Chapter to eventually make a decision on this matter.[iv]
Similar expressions to this attachment and belonging are repeated in the Chapter message[v]and, even more strongly, in the final message of the International Assembly on Marist Mission, in Mendes (Brazil) in September 2007[vi]. It was at this gathering that mention was made not only of belonging to the Institute but of new forms of attachment to the Marist charism.[vii]
In spite of this insistence, in the years following the XX General Chapter there has been little progress on this matter, especially because, above all, work had to be done on coming to terms with just what a personal commitment of lay people to the founding Marist charism, in the Champagnat tradition, might mean. Connecting to a charism presupposes a gift of God that one has to be aware of receiving. This does not happened apart from a process of discernment that includes the following steps: information, invitation, welcome, formation, accompaniment, confirmation in one’s experience of the charism, commitment, some basic structures that open up the vocational dimension of being a lay Marist …
On the other hand, it would have been difficult for forms of juridical attachment to emerge at the Institute level if there has not been some concrete experimentation in the administrative units. Lay people themselves, once they become aware of having received a gift (charism), will seek the best way of becoming integrated into and attaching themselves to the Institute and the Marist charism.
In the matter of attachment to the Institute, as Brothers and lay people we have to find new juridic structures that involve both parties since it is not something that can be done unilaterally. If lay people decide to move towards an attachment only to the charism of Champagnat, it is up to them to choose their own organizational structure to embody a new expression of the charism. In such a case, the Church would have to ratify that it is really the Marist charism of Champagnat.
The General Administration of the Institute can certainly launch a reflection to help understand better what is meant by bonding, commitment, attachment and belonging to the Institute of the Brothers or to other new structures that embody the Marist charism of the Founder. This is what we are trying to do in this report, knowing that it is not definitive, that additional reflections are needed before we have any success in giving concrete shape to new Marist realities faithful to the heart of Champagnat. One such reflection is to be found in the document Around the Same Table: The vocation of lay Champagnat Marists.
We begin with a short historical overview of the relationship between laity and Orders or Institutes of Consecrated Life (CL) after Vatican II (Chap. 1). Similarly, we trace the juridical, canonical history of the CL (Chap. 2). This can give us another perspective on the evolutionary (dynamic) character of institutions born from a founding charism. Then, we present various existing examples of Marist commitment and attachment (Chap. 3), as well as different future possibilities for Marist Laity in the Champagnat tradition (Chap. 4). We conclude with some recommendations for the coming General Chapter and Administrative Units around the world (Chap. 5)
[i]This is a topic that concerns more than the Marist Brothers; in one way or another, nearly all the institutions of Consecrated Life are working on this today. The magisterium of the Church has encouraged people to take their reflection further and to undertake some relevant trials: the apostolic exhortation Vita Consecrata (1996), 54.2, 55.2; Starting Afresh with Christ (2002), 31; a document of the Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating together in the Catholic Church, 28-29
[ii]Throughout this document, lay people refers to both men and women.
[iii]We are using the expression founding charism in the sense given to it by Antonio Botana FSC, in Sharing charism and mission with lay people. The Gospel Family as horizon, Notebook 62 of the collection Frontera-Hegian, Vitoria, 2008. The founding charism, which belongs to the Church, is to be distinguished from its historical concretization in a determined Institute of Consecrated life, in our case, the Institute of Marist Brothers. The founding charism is open to all states of life; by contrast, the way this is followed through in history in religious life is linked to another charism, that of the consecrated life. This is the specific meaning (founding charism) is used throughout this document whenever we speak of charism of Marist charism. That is, it does not refer to the founding charism applied to the Consecrated Life of the Brothers.
[iv]XX General Chapter, Choose Life, 47.3
[v]XX General Chapter, Choose Life, 30, 44.7 et 47.5
[vi]Mendes Document: 1.6, and particularly its second call: Champagnat Marists in partnership.
[vii]Mendes Document: 2 Vocation-3