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Marist Bulletin - Number 144



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Mittagong, NSW, Australia – 14 May 2004

This third day of meetings in Mittagong centered on 3 events: Brother Seán’s conference; reflection and discussion on the viability and vitality of Marist life and mission in the Region of Oceania, and a celebration of our brotherhood.

The following are excerpts from Brother Seán’s conference during this morning’s opening session, putting things in focus for everyone in attendance.

Brothers, if our 20th General Chapter convinced me of anything, it convinced me of the fact that religious life and our Institute in particular stands at a significant crossroads today. Why so? Because the risks and consequences are so great. Our Chapter members saw them as no less than a choice between life and death.

And so, as their time together in Rome late in 2001 came to a close, they let the word go forth that a new Chapter of Marist life was about to unfold. It was to be one marked by a passion for Jesus and his mission, a spirit of sacrifice that would lead to transformation, and a rededication to the ideals that have always been at the heart of religious life. Quite simply, our 20th General Chapter reminded us all about who we are, and what we are meant to be about.

In solidarity with those Chapter members and their challenging Message, I must say that I believe more and more that the renewal for which we so long will come to our way of life and mission when we once again begin to be what we were meant to be: brothers, men of the Gospel, heralds of the mercy and Good News of Jesus Christ.

I must also admit that I am convinced today that we are where we should be in the process of renewal. We have suffered many losses during the last 40 years, and as was said so well yesterday, at times we have been humiliated. Perhaps we had become all too self-sufficient and needed to be reminded that Jesus Christ came as a Suffering Servant and not a conquering king.

But why do I say we are where we are supposed to be in the process of renewal. Because all the evidence we have at hand from previous times of upheaval in our way of life tells us that it takes at least 40 to 50 years for any group to fall apart sufficiently so as to enter into the heart of the process of renewal. We stand at that doorstep today; the second of the three chapters that make up the book of renewal is about to unfold.

We all remember our 20th General Chapter’s theme well: Choose life! I do regret, however, that in putting forth the verse from Deuteronomy from which it is taken, we did not call attention to the verse that immediately precedes it. For that passage tells us that Yahweh will, first of all, circumcise our hearts. It is a powerful image, reminding us that like David the shepherd boy soon to be King of Israel, we must be hollowed out before God’s spirit can rush into us.

…and so, in the years just ahead, we will have some hard decisions to make, but they are decisions that have always been at the heart of what we call religious life. We will have to read with courage and accuracy the signs of our times, reclaim Marcellin’s dream and charism for our day, age and circumstance, and most especially center our lives in Jesus and his gospel. This profound change of heart is the foundation upon which all else is built, for without it we run the risk of reading the signs of our times through the prism of our own fears and concerns rather than with God’s eyes, and of adapting for our own purposes the charism that came into our Church through a simple country priest and Marist Father whose name was Marcellin Champagnat.

Brothers, with this agenda on the table I must say I can think of no better time to be alive, and to be alive in religious life and in our Institute. But the challenges ahead are great, the work formidable, and the sacrifices significant. Pay little attention to the prophets of doom that exist in our world, our Church, our Marist Institute. Some are already encouraging us to go gently into that good night. I offer another point of view: quite simply, if our Institute and its mission are not renewed we will have no one to blame but ourselves. For God has been working overtime to bring about the change of heart that is so necessary.

I mentioned the other day that I often wonder what went through the founder’s mind that evening of January 2nd, 1817 as he walked back to the presbytery from that small house in LaValla. He had spent weeks fixing it up, and was indebted in part to Father Corveille, who extended him a loan so that he could buy it. Back at the presbytery Father Rebod was drinking and already bitter about the activities of his young associate. Numbered among those two first recruits was Jean Marie, formerly one of Napolean’s Imperial Guard, who would later become quite eccentric and leave the Institute.

Marcellin had little in terms of worldly possessions that evening. He had a house that we could politely say was in need of repair. He had two rather uneducated farm boys in residence, and he was in debt. But what the founder also had was a dream, and that dream consumed him, as it must each of us. It was a dream, the heart of which contained these three elements: a love of Jesus and his gospel, the impulse to evangelize poor children and young people, and the intention of establishing a community of brothers who could to be a living witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ. Over the years that dream has spread throughout our world and touched the lives of countless young people; it has made a difference, it has changed the lives of so many.

So, let us be up and doing. The new day, about which Basilio spoke so often, is about to dawn. We have work to do, and with God’s grace we will do it humbly and we will do it well.

Thank you.


The remaining three sessions today were devoted to reflection and dialogue about Marist viability and vitality in the Oceania region. A plenary assembly, work in groups, and individual reflection and personal prayer provided different ways to get to the heart of this topic, so important for the present and future.
The day concluded with Brother Darren Burge of the Sydney Province summarizing the day’s events.
There was a social hour at suppertime – a social is the word used in the English-speaking world to denote a relaxing time of informal conversation over some liquid refreshments.

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