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Marist Bulletin - Number 278


Marist Blog – Br. Pau Fornells

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Today we gather here three 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.

Happy Marist Christmas!

We are getting ready to experience Christmas more and more. All the feasts have some introductions. Of all the Christian feasts, Christmas is the one we prepare for the most in advance; at least in our cities. In some countries, the means of communication and the large shopping centres remind us of Christmas from the end of October onwards. The liturgy of the Catholic Church consecrates the four weeks of Advent.
But, in reality, what are we waiting for? Why do we wait? What do we want to experience? How do we get ready? There is an unending list of different responses to these questions, according to what each person understands by Christmas.
In the Christian perspective, what does the mystery of Christmas consist of?
• At the origin you find the believing experience of a Creator God who loves affectionately (from the depths of a mother and a father) his creation. This is not a God who is disinterested in what he has created and who lives peacefully in his heaven.
• We have the experience of a God who is incarnate (made flesh) in what he has created and continues to create. He makes himself One with all that is created in order to bring it to Unity (universe), which is fullness.
• A God who, being all powerful and eternal, becomes weak and finite. He became a child, adolescent, adult… taking on all that is human, except sin. He made himself one of us in order to teach us the Way, the Truth and the Life.
• And he remains with us always: I will be with you always, until the end of the world (Mt 28, 20b).
• A God of Consolation, Joy, Peace…
Shout for joy, daughter of Zion, Israel, shout aloud! Rejoice, exult with all your heart, daughter of Jerusalem! Yahweh has repealed your sentence; he has turned your enemy away. Yahweh is king among you, Israel, you have nothing more to fear. When that Day comes, the message for Jerusalem will be: Zion have no fear, do not let your hands fall limp. Yahweh your God is there with you, the warrior Saviour. He will rejoice over you with happy song, he will renew by his love, he will dance with shouts of joy for you, as on a day of festival. (Zephaniah 3, 14-18a)
• A Christmas that one waits for, gets ready for, celebrates and lives. If we look attentively at the texts of Luke who recounts Christmas, we see how all the characters who are preparing for it are on a journey: Mary, Joseph, Elisabeth, Zachariah, John the Baptist, the shepherds, the kings, the star…
All of creation is waiting, but on a journey. Saint John Chrysostom said: “The Magi do not set out on a journey because they have seen a star, but that they have seen a star because they had set out on a journey.”
This is what Saint Francis expressed well by inventing the tradition of the crib! Complete creation was waiting for this moment and was in ecstasy before the mystery of God made an infant!

The Marist Christmas also has a date and a place: 2nd January 1817 (Christmas 1816), in the small village of la Valla-en-Gier (France).
It also had its preparation (its gestation), and as with the great mysteries of any Christmas, it was born in silence, poverty and ignorance of the mighty of the time:
• It was born also during a change of an era: social revolution in France (XVIII century). The political power of the monarchy gave precedence to the bourgeoisie and prepared the great revolutions of the proletariat of the XIX and XX centuries. All of that between ambivalences and contradictions. The slogan “Equality, Fraternity and Liberty” seemed to channel the sentiment of a new anthropological conception.
• A new conscience on the situation of poverty and inequality started to be developed. Marcellin was “touched” by the reality of so many poor children and young people without access to education, because there were not any good teachers in the large cities and still fewer of them in the rural zones.
• All of this was lived out in a climate of conflict between faith and social revolution.
• But a marriage in a small village called Marlhes (a new Nazareth), united social change and faith. This was Jean-Baptiste Champagnat and Marie Chirat, the parents of Marcellin.
• If we carefully read the life of Marcellin we see that all those who helped him to discern the will of God in their life, were on a journey: his father, his mother, his aunt Louise, the priests who affected Marcellin’s life, his friends and companions in the Seminary, and finally, himself. The Resolutions, that we have written in his hand, were a superb Advent of what was going to be rapidly born.
• He was sent to la Valla where he met children and young people, Jean-Baptiste Montagne and those who would be his first brothers: Jean-Marie Granjon, Jean-Baptiste Audras, Antoine Couturier, Jean-Claude Audras, Barthélemy Badard and Gabriel Rivat. The Little Brothers of Mary were born in only four months. They felt the urgency of the mission!

Nicodemus, Doctor of the Law, asked Jesus: How can a man be born when he is old? (Jn 3, 4). And Jesus gave him the key: You must be born of water and of the Spirit . Human effort (preparation) and Grace.
Our Church and our Marist mission must “be reborn”, “be refounded”, “be a new Christmas for the world”. But it is not a matter of a biological, sociological birth, or one by “in vitro” fertilisation. It is a birth aware of faith, experienced in attentiveness to the signs of the times.
There is no Christmas without Advent
I was not born a “Christian”, even though I was baptised the day following my birth. Baptism only becomes active when a response is given that is aware of the adherence to faith and to the commitments that it includes; and always by adding “by the grace of God”, so that we do not glorify our own strengths.
It is difficult to fix the dates when each one of us is born a Christian, because all of life is part of a process, of a movement. Imperceptibly, progressively and sometimes spectacularly, we are born to the “great values”. But there is a constant in all of the Gospel in relating the calls and the responses: the necessity to stand on your feet, to search, to journey… There is no Christmas without an Advent. There is no Easter without Lent, without the will to arrive at the end, without putting one’s life at risk.
Attentive to the signs of life
I was not born “Marist”. By chance I was a student in a Marist school. When I was a student, I never thought about being a brother. By chance I went to a Youth Festival at the age of twenty… and God was waiting for me there. Now, in looking back, I see that God had already announced himself before, but perhaps I was not prepared or did not want to see him.
And it’s that, with God, chance does not exist. All is direction, all is journey towards the true Bethlehem of our story. Happy is the one who finds his or her “Bethlehem”: the meaning of his or her story! Jesus is the Light, the Door, the Pathway, the Master… the Friend in this adventure.
Finding the vocation of life
One day I was passionately interested in the vocation and the mission to which Marcellin had called the first brothers. Jesus, Mary, Marcellin, my parents, my school teacher, some brothers that I knew… they helped me to be aware of this vocation: I cannot see a child or a young person without wanting to teach him the catechism and to tell him how much Jesus Christ loves him” (M Champagnat).
Translated into a language that is more profane, this would be: “I feel an enormous desire that every child and young person of this world find the Truth in their life, that they be happy, that they develop their capacities, that they can live a worthy life and participate in the construction of a better world.”
Feeling that I must consecrate all of my life to that, with an enormous passion, effort and joy, this is my vocation, the raison d’être of my life, my Truth.
Now I express it as a feeling for making it more palpable, and it is; but every vocation is a mystery which goes beyond feelings and reasons. If you have really felt this, you know what I am speaking about. Because God, who is Love, is always bigger and I can not confine him to what I feel or think. It is the God who is always Bigger! The God of Surprises! The God of Mercy, of Consolation, of Peace; as also the God of Truth and of Justice!

And you are going to ask yourself, what is this public declaration of my vocation for? To try to share with you, with the respect necessary, something that is repeated with a lot of other persons, brothers and lay Marists.
It is Christmas! And Christmas is impossible to experience truly without finding an echo in us: Our own Christmas! Our own vocation!
The majority of you are teachers, parents of families, former students or friends of Marcellin. I am sure that you feel keenly the desire to help children and young people. It is certain that they are important for you and not only a remunerated work or a biological, familial or social obligation.
You are all in relationship with the Marists. It is certain that you see in us brothers things that are good and things that are not so good. Sometimes, it proves to be difficult to combine the educational mission and the relationship with the employer. I have been able to live the two sides, because before I was a brother I was a teacher in a Marist school.
I would like to invite you today, to the doors of Christmas, to refind the new Champagnat, and God in Champagnat: this passion for the children and young people, this passion for a better, more just and more humane society. And that you ask yourselves if God is not calling you through the intuitions of this man.
God, the Church, our society need men and women passionate about children and young people, not only from your family, not only from your school. There are so many lonely, sad, disoriented young people who need a friendly hand!
Some of you will feel that as a vocation and you will love to live it in the sense that God gave Marcellin Champagnat to understand. We say today: from his charism, from his spirituality, from his mission, from a simple life consisting of closeness, presence, family.
Others of you perhaps have not questioned yourselves a great deal, perhaps you have already thought about such propositions, perhaps that seems like “incense and things of the past”, perhaps you do not have much time and too many concerns… It may seem hard to embark on such an adventure. We already have enough hardship that life brings us!
But I must tell you that throughout the extent of this world that is so globalised and different, both unjust and with so many concerns for solidarity, so unbelieving and yet so worried about confiding oneself in something and in someone… we continue to truly celebrate Christmas! And there are many admirable Marist Christmases!
I have known many brothers who are a permanent Christmas for the small and the big, in the Amazonian forests or in the great agglomerations, in the small schools, with street children, young people on drugs or in the chairs of great universities…
And I have known, by the thousands, astonishing lay Marists, who feel themselves to be completely Marist, who live Marcellin’s same passion for children and young people. Many of them come together to help each other to live as well as possible in more than three hundred lay fraternities of Marist life, in local voluntary work and in mission projects in other countries. Yes, they continue to realise that admirable Christmas of 1816.
We others are also invited to do the same. My wishes for courage and happiness be with you all! Happy Christmas! Happy Marist Christmas! And a 2007 full of passion for the Lord!

A new Marist Vocations Ministry (I)

For numerous centuries, and still today for many Christians, the term “vocation” has been applied only to “special” people. Even in current theology, we continue to speak of vocations “of special consecration” to designate those who are called to the religious life or to the priesthood. For many years, this has led to the laity not being able to present their life as a vocation as important and radical as that of a religious or a priest.
I still remember, with a certain sadness, the words of a bishop who once said to me: “What a pity you are only a brother! You could do a lot more for the Church and for young people if you were ordained a priest.” No, there is no classification of vocations which would suppose that some are more valuable, more productive or holier than others. Thanks to God, something has changed in the Church during these last few years, even though some of these changes are in their infancy and there remains resistance in many places!
There is no longer a different classification (more importance, effectiveness or holiness) by the fact of being a brother or a lay Marist. We have repeated it often throughout these blogs, but I think we must still repeat it often, because changes of mentality (metanoia) do not take place overnight. It is not a case of bad will; I do not intend to underestimate the brothers in this way, or overestimate the laity.
We speak today of the human-Christian vocation, lay, priestly or religious life vocation, Marist, Franciscan, Jesuit vocation… or of other lay movements in the Church. Evidently, from a theological point of view, only one vocation exists: that of being the child of God in the image of Jesus Christ. But God does not call from uniformity but from unity in the diversity of the gifts granted to all men and to all women.
Thus, some are called to lay life and others to religious or priestly life. And some are granted the grace of being touched by a specific charism (in our case, Marist) or by others (Franciscan, Dominican, Lassallian, Focolarini, Neocatechumenate, etc)
Vocations Ministry helps to arouse, accompany and discern these personal calls from God through “ancient” charisms that continue to be charged anew in the world of today, and of “new” charisms that appear in order to give some responses to challenges that have lasted without being resolved.
Marist Vocations Ministry traditionally takes care of arousing, accompanying and discerning vocations of Marist Brothers. It has not been used, until the present, to help in developing vocational pathways of the lay Marist. When we propose things to young people, we speak to them of the Marist religious life and not of the Marist lay life. In my opinion, this is neither correct, nor moral nor desirable.
To every young person in relationship with us, we should firstly speak of the human-Christian vocation, after that Marist and after the lay vocation – the religious – the priestly. Even though, obviously, “the order of factors does not alter the value of the product”, human beings are rational and as a consequence nit picking: we need to understand intellectually and have experiences through significant processes that allow for the adequate construction of the personality.
I agree, thus, that we must propose again a Marist Vocations Ministry that is “new in that we all will be involved”, brothers and lay Marists. Every vocation must enrich other vocations, and if that is not the case, it will go against its own reason for being. Every lack of enrichment represents a lack of identity or bad will. Deliver us Lord from that! But, let us put all that we can on our side.

A breath of fresh air!

I have just received the talk given by Brother Réal Cloutier, Provincial of Canada, at the closure of the annual Marist Forum which gathers together the brothers and the laypeople of the said Province, held from the 10th to the 12th November of this year. It seemed so good and stimulating that I could not resist the temptation of publishing it in its entirety in the Blog. What a breath of fresh air! Take advantage of it and pass it on!

A shared responsibility, brothers and laypeople,
at the heart of the Marist Movement Quebec (MMQ)

• To you who show a lot of interest in the Marist mission and the spirituality of Champagnat,
• To you who are committed to a special title such as lay Marist for whom we highlighted our gratitude this morning,
• To all of you who know the Marists and who desire to perpetuate their educational work and to live the charism of Marcellin in your respective milieux and in your families,
• To you who have been profoundly touched by the theme of ONE HEART, ONE MISSION throughout 2006,
• To you who accept to give your time and competence at the heart of the executive of the MMQ in order to better realise the coming closer of BROTHERS and LAYPEOPLE in our Province,
It gives me pleasure to share this short message which has profoundly touched me and which was composed by Dom Bernardo Olivera, Abbot General of the Cistercians in his homily on the occasion of the 11th international meeting of lay Cistercians on the 25th April 2002 (… and slightly adapted for us).

“… we ask you to not be ‘photocopies’ of Marists in their community and apostolic version but a reincarnated version of the charism of Champagnat; may you speak of it in another language, may you discover new meditations; may it be re-incultured for you.
And you do not have to ask us permission for that, the charism is a gift that we have received and incarnated in history, but we are not its owners. I invite you to take risks and to go beyond our own borders. In reality, it is not I who is inviting you, it is the Spirit who has spoken to your heart and has invited you to recreate our Marist charism giving it a new form…!
Text adapted from the Abbot General of the Cistercians, Dom Bernardo Olivera.
This text is stimulating and very engaging. It clearly indicates that laypeople, in the whole process are not simple observers, imitators, consumers, BUT people who bring something unique, to the point of saying that if you were not there, an essential dimension of the charism would be lacking!
Réal Cloutier, fms, Provincial

Marists, prophets of fraternity

The opportunity I have had of visiting a good number of Marist situations in the world has allowed me to note with joy that one special characteristic unifies us: the particular way in which we relate to people. Many people who know us have observed the same thing. They usually say: “You have something special that makes you feel good with people, a mix of closeness, being natural, of simplicity in relationships… We feel close to you.”
On reflecting on this, I arrived at the conclusion that we cannot be any other way. We have inherited it. It is a gift of the Lord through Marcellin and the first brothers. It forms the essential part of the charism and as a consequence of the mission and of Marist spirituality. We usually call it “family spirit”.
It is enough to only read the letters of Father Champagnat or the portrait that Brother Laurent made of him for us (“he loved us with more love than a mother”), to know that it is the origin of this gift of God.
The name that Marcellin chose for us is indeed eloquent: “Little Brothers of Mary”. Brothers! Little Brothers! How lovely is the name of “Brother”, especially when you hear it pronounced by a child or by a young person! To be Universal Brothers, what a beautiful vocation! As John Paul II said: “To be prophets of communion in a world fractured by hatred and inequality!”
As well, we bear the name “Marists”, “of Mary”. And our Good Mother can only remind us of this family life (Nazareth) and this spirit of communion (Cenacle). She is the Mother of the Church; she gathered together the first Community of believers and continues today in her service of ecclesial and universal communion through all those who are called “her sons”. And the Marists, brothers and laypeople, we must feel especially called to continue the development of this dimension of communion.
And to crown everything, our mission among children and young people, especially the most abandoned, is nothing else but that: to lead them to communion with God, with all human beings and with all creation. We Marists have a particular style of being “prophets of communion”.
That is why, it is very difficult for me to think of brothers or lay Marists who do not make their life into a song of fraternity. It should be impossible for a group of Marist Brothers to not be signs of Community. Equally, I find it hard to understand a lay Marist detached from a project of fraternity, beyond his or her family.
It is obvious that there can be many forms or styles of fraternity (Community) and each person must discern what God is asking of him or her here and now (signs of the times), but we must also be consistent with the gift received from the Lord (Marist charism) and remember the parable of the Gospel which reminds us of our task to make our gifts received (talents) bear fruit. Thus, it is certain that neither true Communities, nor fraternities will exist without “us complicating life”. To build implies an effort and a price, but “the grace of God softens everything”.
The call of God, thanks to the laity, as the XIXth General Chapter said: “I have found admirable brothers, but I have not seen Communities”, must continue to resonate in our ears of brothers and of lay Marists. I honestly believe that we can apply this today to both brothers and laypeople. Young people especially need community witnesses today and not only individuals.
Be courageous and audacious, with the help of the Lord, in building fraternity!

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