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Marist Bulletin - Number 270


Marist Blog – Br. Pau Fornells

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Today we gather here four reflections from Brother Pau Fornells, Director of the Bureau for the Laity. In sending these texts we are trying to animate you to join the reflexion by sending your comments through our web page.

Charism, spirituality and mission are inseparable

Can you “be Marist” without a direct link with the mission that Marcellin sensed as the will of God for him and his first brothers?
It is obvious for the brothers that this is unquestionable and our Constitutions define it perfectly: “(Marcellin)… founded our Institute for the Christian education of the young, especially those most in need.” (C 2c)
But for lay Marists? Here the opinions are not always unanimous; at least, it does not seem that the ideas are so clear. Some defend that the mission of lay Marists by antonomasia is in the family itself, in its work on the secular world and its evangelical projection in the circle of persons who constitute its ordinary social framework; that being yes, all of that is impregnated by the experience of Marist spirituality in the style of Champagnat.
Many Marist fraternities of the Champagnat Movement do not propose in their community plans any activity in relation to “the Christian education of the young, especially those most in need.” Some propose it only accidentally: collecting of funds for some solidarity action, participation in activities of the closest Marist work, continual prayer for the tasks that the brothers and the teachers are developing. When I say “accidentally” I am not referring so much to the importance of actions, but to the fact that there is not a strong awareness of the essential elements of this mission.
On the contrary, other groups or fraternities do not arrive at understanding their Marist vocation without feeling their heart beat so that each child and each young person is loved and brought up as a true child of God, and they put all their creativity in the service of a unique mission shared with the brothers.
Where can we find the response to this polemic that threatens the clarity of an identity of the Marist lay vocation?
I think that we will all agree in saying that we must seek the truth in the Church itself, who is Mother and Teacher, according to the words of Pope John XXIII. Thus, in the light of the theology and of current ecclesiology, authenticated by the documents of the Second Vatican Council up to the apostolic exhortation Christi fideles Laici (Cfr. Nº les 2 et 33), that the Church shows itself to be unanimous in affirming that charism, spirituality and mission are inseparable.
In religious families and in new ecclesial movements, what is at the origin is always the mission and the charism (gift of God) which attracts us towards it and inspires in us adequate responses for each time and in each place. From there, spirituality is born, which is not something disembodied and foreign to the mission. Without mission, there is no spirituality, because this is the particular and proper experience of mission. Pious groups disinterested in mission belong to a false past, for the Church itself can only be defined by the mission that Jesus Christ himself has entrusted to it.
If we form an association (both religious and/or lay) it is for the mission, with a common charism (in our case it is the Marist character according to Champagnat) and from then on the charisms proper to the religious life or the lay lifestyle, specific vocations and particular gifts. But there is no means of living spirituality, which was engendered by a charism (gift of the Spirit), cut off from the mission for which exists a proper charism, unless we reduce spirituality to certain devotions and pious exercises.
Another different and perfectly admissible thing is the existence groups that are more contemplative than active (that can be the case with persons who are aged or sick, or vocations specially called to contemplation), but in all these cases, the central motivation of the contemplation is “always” the mission and, as a consequence, the interest in its current situation, its needs, its difficulties, its joys, etc.
Another thing that we need to take into account is the enormous diversity of tasks in which the sole mission of any charism is limited. For example, we cannot confuse the Marist mission that God proposed to Champagnat and to the first brothers, which is unique and clear, with the great range of apostolic tasks that enter into this and that the same Holy Spirit constantly recreates in each time and each place, adapting it to the needs of the world and to personal gifts received.

What does it mean to be a lay Marist?

I am always surprised that this question often comes up in numerous Marist meetings throughout the five continents. Problems exist in identifying those who can be considered as “true” lay Marists in the way of Champagnat. And the problem does not arise only with the brothers, numerous laypeople ask themselves the same question.
The question is so important that the last General Chapter (2001) mentioned four times the need to deepen our specific identity as brothers and laypeople (Choose life, n° 24, 29, 44.6, 47.2). In following these directives, the current General Council decided to appoint a Commission composed of laypeople and brothers (January 2006), in view of writing a document on the vocation of the lay Marist, including a description of the traits of the identity of a lay Marist, possible ways of association of the laity and their union with the Institute.
Thus, what are the distinctive traits which allow us to define and to detect who is a true lay Marist?
At the risk of being considered as simplistic and too quick in my appreciations, I would like to share a few pathways in this subject which, personally, appear to me to be very clear. Given the limitations of space here, I will not linger with theological distinctions between the lay lifestyle and religious life, as interesting and necessary as they are. I am also not going to address a list of different degrees of commitment that can be found in any lay Marist, for they depend, probably, on numerous circumstances in the life of each person.
For me, the priority element of any definition of the Marist life, whether it be lay or religious, resides in the awareness of the baptismal vocation (following Christ), concretised in the passionate embracing of the charism that God has granted the Church through Marcellin Champagnat and the first brothers. All the rest could be perceived as prior stages of awareness, interest, admiration, gratefulness, collaboration, affection, nostalgia for good times, etc. or as subsequent concretisations such as association, the possible juridical union, concrete ways of living the mission…
When men and women feel strongly attracted and fascinated by the style of life (spirituality) that Marcellin and the first brothers inaugurated, when they feel identified with his mission (a passion for the Christian education of children and young people, especially the most abandoned), it is God proposing to them to follow those who have opened this Marist pathway. He calls them “to be Marists”, independently of their call to the lay life or to the religious life. The process is the following: baptismal vocation – including the human vocation – Marist vocation and lay, religious or priestly vocation. Obviously the becoming aware of this vocation is not done in a series of disconnected times and in the order that is proposed.
For nearly two centuries, God has not stopped calling brothers; today, with the same strength and the same radicalism he is also calling laypeople to fully live the vocation of “being Marists”. And when these laypeople, men and women, become aware of this special and marvellous call, gift of love and of the predilection of the Lord in their regard, then they feel the strength (charism) to respond by a “total and definitive yes”; thus, the lay Marist is born.
It is not a matter of a vocation of a second order, less radical, subordinate to the direction of brothers, of temporal character (when they have the time and the desire). No! This vocation has as much force as that of a brother, it involves the entire life and gives it its raison d’être. The treasure of one’s life has been found!
Of course, this Marist vocation must be lived in the state of the lay life, laypeople being involved in the secular tasks of the construction of a better world, here and now. On our side as religious brothers, we try to collaborate in this same task by living the vows which make us signs of a Kingdom that is also the Parousia and which, as a consequence, is always beyond human efforts; it is a gift from God that surpasses all that one can imagine. The lay Marists give greater importance to the immanence of God in this world, while the brothers must show the transcendence of a God that is always greater. Laypeople and brothers, conscious of our specificity, but united in one and marvellous mission: to lead children and young people, by the hand of Mary, towards He who is the only Way, the Truth and the Life, Jesus Christ Our Lord.

The managerial relationship between Brothers and lay Marists?

Some of the last comments in the Blog have dealt with the topic of the relationship between Brothers and lay Marists when they maintain a type of professional contract in a work that is characteristic of the Institute of the Brothers. Certain facts in ordinary life seem to attest that this relationship is not so easy either for some or for others. Ambiguities then appear: mistrust, misunderstandings, fears, discrepancies and antagonisms that sometimes end up in painful break-ups.
The question is, then: Is it possible to fully live the vocation of lay people and Marist Brothers, associated with the charism, the spirituality and the mission, and at the same time live a working relationship that should be framed in professional ethics, based on the norms of the working code and in the recommendations of the Social Doctrine of the Church?
If we consider certain comments on the Blog, we find two extremes: one can see in the majority of laypeople who work beside the brothers materialist profiteers, or under another angle, one can consider the institution as omnipotent and the laypeople vulnerable to the decisions made by some brothers.
With this in mind, in this reflection I would like to share some of the questions courageously thrown at us by one of our commentators, after making it very clear that he undoubtedly feels bound to the Marist Family:
• If the number of Brothers in the Institute had not diminished so much, would this reflection have been given on the process of participation of the laity in the work of the Marists?
• Day by day, to what extent is the voice of a layperson really listened to and valued, even when it disagrees with the direction of a Marist work or in the politics of a Province?
• Why is it practically impossible to remove a Brother from the Institute, even when it is clear to everyone that he is working against Marist interests, and at most he is given a change of community or is given a study trip, and on the other hand he so easily dismisses the layperson when he is not happy with the direction the work is taking, for the simple reason that his Marist commitment has been the same one for many years?
These are strong questions that maybe some of us do not wish to discuss. They can sound like revenge, like uncured wounds; it could be that we minimise them, saying that they are isolated cases; but there is no doubt that they are pointing to a vital topic in the relationship between Brothers and laypeople, on whom depend the success or not of the Marist mission. According to the data that I possess, beside the 4.200 Brothers at the present time, there are around 40.000 laypeople working with us, and that is a point that we cannot ignore.
Although I will leave the topic open to your comments to further my contribution later on, I would like to specify two points that can help us to frame our discussion correctly:
1. We are speaking of a relationship among Marists (laypeople and Brothers); there is no question of employers and employees. The second relationship, although it was very interesting to deal with - and I refer to the Social Doctrine of the Church -, it would take us away from what we truly want to deal with in this Blog. Therefore, we use the term to feel Marist, which presupposes a call (vocation) and an answer (commitment). In respect of this I would like to refer to some ideas that I have already developed in my first Blog.
2. 2. We should take part in a true dialogue and not start from personal or trade union susceptibilities, trying to put ourselves in the others’ shoes: the Brothers in those of the laypeople and vice versa.
Regarding this, I would like to mention some of the expressions so wisely employed by another of our commentators:
The key is in the form of relationship with the laity (and with the Brother). It implies building a culture of sharing, of making the Marist spirit very firm, but this in all the areas, therefore without restrictions, but maintaining independence and autonomy. The daily contact, in very diverse areas that allows mutual recognition, the exchange things in common and the things that are different, sharing life and mission, the dialogue, the power to participate in prayer, of the day-to-day matters, of the work, living close to each other, these will help us to clarify, to specify and mainly to live, and to end up sharing the most important thing: the Marist sense of the life, of the mission and, in and of itself, the loving and following Jesus Christ, everything in the eyes of our Good Mother”.
Let us all help to look for ways of encounter and not of failure to meet. God wants it and many children and young people are waiting for the fruits of our work.

On knowing how to reach young Marist Adults

I am agreeably surprised by the abundant and profound comments submitted to the Blog. Little by little, laypeople and Brothers, dare to share with others these topics that touch something vital in all of us. It is God who is becomes present in the midst of this communication. That is what I want and it is what I feel. I have been greatly encouraged by the contributions already received and they provide me with abundant material to continue meditating with you.
One of the topics that has caused great interest has been the commitment of the young Marist Adults. I would like to continue with this topic today, because I consider that some of the contributions received have been very clear-sighted; prophetic, in my view.
I believe that in all stages of life it is necessary to make proposals to men and women, children, young, adults and old people. As Jesus always did and as John Paul II told us so beautifully: “There is no greater sign of affection, friendship and trust than to follow the pursuit of Jesus”. It is necessary to make, therefore, audacious and fearless proposals, but freely, at the proper time, through presence and friendship, in an appropriate way… it is necessary to know how to arrive!
This has been emphasized, in one way or another, in several of your contributions, some of which I am going to reprint here, without mentioning names:
• Above all we must help to have a deep experience of Jesus Christ. Christ must pass from the head to the heart. Without that, a true mission cannot exist.
• To give drink to the thirsty … but also to guarantee that there is always water in the well, so that that he who is not thirsty now, can be satiated when he needs it. There are moments when life itself - which is very wise - makes us feel thirsty and we know where to go for water. The question is what to do so that there is always water in the Marist well.
• To help discover that there is something more, which is personal, which cannot be described, which passes through the deepest part of the heart of each Brother, of each lay man and woman and which makes their specific vocation have a colouring that helps to make life more beautiful, more gentle, more dynamic, more audacious …
• To offer space to share experiences from the life of the laity
• To know how to reconcile demands readily, always offering them support and accompaniment.
• To go out, to visit, to share, to evolve Marist nets … Always giving encouragement, even when their possibilities of commitment and participation are limited.
• To provide opportunities for formation in adult faith, helping to develop an identity of Christian Marist Laity and to live that identity in the mission: a task that takes a lifetime and that has diverse stages, main characters and contexts.
• The lay Marists between the ages of 30 and 45 should be supported in their life, helping them to realise that they are caught in the Marist net in a flexible and wide way. Wide nets that help them to live in the world like true Marists.
• We should be more prepared to offer them the warmth of the Marist family home rather than want to commit them to this or that mission.
• We should be more concerned with systematizing a welcoming and supportive process (a mother’s hand that welcomes and teaches the first steps) than in offering a multitude of challenges that scare them and make them sink into guilt.
Simple, profound and prophetic, don’t you agree? I would like to summarize it in a plan of action, which I believe each Administrative Unit of the Institute should adopt:
To establish a specific programme, drawn up by Brothers and lay people, with an appropriate methodology, following the guidelines enunciated earlier, to weave those nets of presence, welcome, formation and accompaniment of the potential young adult lay Marists, which exist in our provinces
And let us not forget that, at the heart of the proposal, there should be a special emphasis on going out to meet, instead of the habitual one of inviting in.. A beautiful and urgent challenge! So let’s put it into practice.

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