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Marist Bulletin - Number 117


A new year filled with hope and opportunity

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The United Nations is designating 2004 as the International Year of Rice, of Deserts and Desertification, and of commemorating the Struggle to Abolish Slavery. These celebrations highlight three values: the absolute need for food to overcome malnutrition, respecting and nurturing nature, and recognizing the equality of persons before the law as a guarantee of their human dignity. From these three international; observances flow three challenges linked to our Marist educational mission: the values of solidarity in the just distribution of our goods, of caring for nature to foster sustainable growth, and of fighting against all forms of slavery, especially as it impacts the lives of children and youth. With specific educational programs, we can help these values come alive.

We’ll soon be announcing to our online audience the start-up of our Marist Congregation’s official web page. All signs point to its inauguration in February. Our address will be: www.champagnat.org

Brother Superior General and his Council have given the green light to celebrating a Marist vocation year, to begin on September 8, 2004 and come to a close on August 15, 2005. This will be a special time for us to listen to the calls of God, the Church, and the world. Today, as in Marcellin’s time, children and young people need Marist brothers, as well as lay Marists passionately living the charism of Champagnat. Reflecting, praying, and giving witness are resulting in activities fostering vocations in the Church and our Marist Congregation. Youth will now have the floor.

Starting off the year with a religious celebration dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God, is a very special joy for us brothers and lay Marists. The following is an excerpt from Brother Seán Sammon’s Circular, “A Revolution of the Heart - Marcellin’s spirituality and a contemporary identity for his Little Brothers of Mary.” Our General Superior affirms that Marcellin’s spirituality contains three basic elements: confidence in God always being there, devotion to Mary and reliance on her protection, and the presence of the uncomplicated virtues of simplicity and humility. Here’s what Brother Seán writes about the second element, Mary’s place in our spirituality.

Marcellin’s spirituality and a contemporary identity for his Little Brothers of Mary (pages 53-57)
Brother Seán Sammon, Superior General

The place of Mary
A second feature of Marcellin’s spirituality was its Marial dimension. The founder was trongly attached to the Mother of Jesus. He named us after Mary, saw her as the Institute’s first Superior, and called her our Good Mother. Yes, he made her a central part of our spiritual heritage.
Marcellin’s relationship with Mary matured over time. His complete trust in her and confidence in her protection grew into a union of some intimacy. Eventually she became his confidant.
The founder’s devotion to Mary was expressed in sermons, novenas, and letters. His February 4th, 1831 message to Brothers Antoine and Gonzaga is but one example of this aspect of his spiritual life. The founder wrote, “Get Mary on your side; tell her that after you have done all you can, it’s just too bad for her if her affairs don’t go well.” Marcellin trusted completely in Mary’s intercession: once her petitioners had done their best, she had to take responsibility for seeing these plans through.
The founder encouraged our early brothers to follow his lead in their devotion to Mary. For example, he asked them to display a picture or statue of her in the house, and wanted them to carry on their person something to remind them of her. Later, he advised the touching practice of offering to Mary the keys of the house. “She is in charge of us,” he said. “She is our patroness, our protectress.”
Marcellin also counseled these early brothers to take Mary as their Mother. She was to be a model for imitation, and a person to be approached with childlike confidence. At the Annunciation, Mary’s response to God was trusting and direct. The founder wanted us to be no less wholehearted in our “Yes.” In the Rule of 1837, he included a special prayer, “Abandonment to the Most Holy Mother of God.”
What does the founder’s devotion to Mary tell us about his personality? A great deal. Marcellin was a man who, over time, became increasingly more aware of his limitations. He realized that the gifts required for the adventure in which he found himself exceeded his natural capacities. How explain its success? Sincere of conscience, our founder gave credit for all that had been accomplished to Mary, whose help he had always requested and whose inspiration he followed as faithfully as possible.
Mary of the anawim, of Nazareth, of the New Testament, of today
But what about us today? What is Mary’s place in our Institute’s spirituality and in your life and mine here at the dawn of a new millennium? First of all, we do well to acknowledge the rich diversity that exists in the Institute when it comes to Mary. Various countries and cultures have their special images of her, as well as places of pilgrimage and days of celebration.
With that said, however, we must also admit that our understanding and appreciation of this extraordinary woman of faith today is not much different from what was commonly held by 19 th century believers. That fact may help explain why devotion to Mary has waned since Vatican II in both our Church and Institute. The mother of Jesus had been frozen in time, trapped in images created by Renaissance artists, placed on a pedestal, and elevated beyond our reach.
Here at the dawn of the 21 st century, we as an Institute need a new appreciation of Mary: one in keeping with the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, and, at the same time, respectful of the varied and rich traditions that are so evident among us. It goes without saying that this woman of courage and strength who was so important to Marcellin, should have a central place in our spirituality, just as she did in his.

Our challenge
The world of the 19 th century was very different from ours. For example, we are far more aware of our multiculturalism, and of the differences that exist among us. Paradoxically, at the same time, we sense that we are closer than ever before, and have a greater opportunity for mutual understanding than perhaps at any other time in history. This is the world and Church for which we must develop a new language to describe Mary. Simply put: what is needed today is a theology of Mary that is suitable
for the 21 st century. To make a difference, it must be sound, empower us spiritually, and challenge us ethically.
Vatican Council II taught us that holiness and the absence of sin are not antithetical to ordinary day-to-day elements and events that make up our life on this earth. Instead, God’s grace plunges all of us into the heart of the world.
Mary’s life was a genuine human journey. To deny that fact and take her out of the ranks of humanity is unfair to her and to all of us. This woman of faith was never, and will never be, divine. To persist today in applying titles to Mary that appear to give her the qualities of God brings confusion rather than clarity.
Mary was a Jewish woman of her day who observed the Sabbath and all the practices associated with the special fervor of the anawim, or poor of Yahweh, among whom she was numbered. Hers was a commonplace and obscure life. Here was a woman who searched, felt anxious, laughed and cried, did not understand everything, and had to find her way from one stage to another as she traveled life’s journey. And life did not treat her gently. She lived through the human lot that falls to us all: tears, distress and bitterness, courage and greatness, agony and death.
Though artists have for centuries pictured her as reading the last book of the Old Testament as she waited expectantly for Gabriel’s visit and the news that would assure her inclusion in the first book of the New Testament, Mary was, in all probability, illiterate, unable to read like the vast majority of men and women of her day. Therese of Lisieux reminds us that we love Mary not because the Mother of God received exceptional privileges but rather because she lived and suffered simply, like us, in the dark night of faith. Mary was a daughter of this earth; she had human passions, joys. She shared all the human concerns that we experience today.
But, Mary also waited expectantly for the coming of the Messiah. And because she always looked at the world through the eyes of faith, she was able, over time, to recognize him in the Suffering Servant who was her son. As an individual, she made difficult choices in life with courage, and grew, in time, to be an elder in the budding community of the Church. So, while we hold fast to Marcellin’s image of our Good Mother, today we are ever more aware of the fact that Mary is also our sister in faith, and a prophet among the Communion of Saints.
Personally, I often hope that in relieving Mary of the burden of being the ideal woman or someone larger than life, and in taking her down from the pedestal on which we have placed her, she will be able at last to be herself in our Church and Institute.

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