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Marist Bulletin - Number 327


A common letter from the Superiors of the four Marist branches

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The Superior Generals of the four Marist branches are Judith Moore, SMSM; Monica O’Brien, SM; Jan Hulshof, SM; and Seán Sammon, FMS. They have addressed a single letter to the “priests, Sisters, Brothers and lay persons who are called to live the Marist charism.” Dated January 1, 2008, feast of Mary, Mother of God, the letter is entitled, «Marist life and Mission: Gifts of the Spirit for our Times.»
The idea of the letter arose because the four branches of the Marist Family will soon be holding their General Chapters. The Marist Sisters’ Chapter will begin in June of this year. Three months later, it will be turn of the Marist Missionary Sisters, gathering at their Rome headquarters along the Via Cassia. The Marist Fathers and the SM Brothers will hold their Chapter one year later, as will the Little Brothers of Mary: these Chapters are planned for the later half of 2009.

Marist life and mission: Gifts of the Spirit for our time

Rome, Italy
1 January 2008
Feast of Mary, Mother of God

Dear Marists—priests, sisters and brothers, and those laywomen and men called to live the Marist charism,

As June 2008 gets under way, Marist Sisters from around the world will gather in Rome for their General Chapter. Three months later our Marist Missionary Sisters will do the same, coming together at their house on Rome’s Via Cassia. Priests and brothers of the Society of Mary as well as Marcellin’s Little Brothers of Mary will follow suit within a year, with Chapters set for the second half of 2009.

Marist laymen and women throughout our world have also shown keen interest in the Chapter sessions that will take place over the next two years. Their movement is worldwide in nature, but because of the diversity found in its structures and lack of a single leadership for its many faces, direct communication with all those involved can be difficult. We do, however, mention this important part of our Marist life and mission on several occasions throughout this message and hope that its contents will be shared not only with our brothers and sisters in consecrated life but with our lay partners as well.

A General Chapter is a blessing for any religious congregation, providing it with another moment of hope. Those who come together in a Chapter are charged not only with the task of evaluating the group’s recent past but also of visioning and setting goals for its immediate future.

As leaders of four of the branches known as Marist, we take advantage of this time of preparation for our next chapters to say a word about the process of renewal underway within our religious families. We wish to suggest to you, something of what will be required of us all if we are ever to realize fully the spirit of hope that was in the hearts of a group of young priests and seminarians who gathered at Fourvière and pledged to found our Society. We do hope that what is written here will honor their courage and enrich the reflection and prayer of us all.

A word about our beginnings

The men and women who founded each branch of the Society of Mary were dreamers and do-ers, dreamers able to envision a future and do-ers, able to bring it to life. The hand of God and not fate caused the lives of Marcellin Champagnat, Jeanne-Marie Chavoin, Jean-Claude Colin, and eleven Pioneer women missionaries in some way to intertwine in history. Eager to renew the Church of their day and filled with evangelical zeal, they set out on a common adventure that continues until this day.

They lived in a world not unlike our own; one marked by rapid social change, recent revolutionary movements, a Church seeking its place once again, a world in desperate need of hearing God’s Good News. To this challenging reality our founders and foundresses brought their faith, their missionary spirit, their desire to serve the Church at the margins of society, their spirit of simplicity and generosity.

The original vision of these early Marists included religious priests, sisters, and brothers, as well as laymen and women. Yes, those who were there at the beginning were quite eager to make the whole world Marist! Jesus and Mary were found at the heart of their undertaking. Jesus was the center and passion of their lives, and they wanted to follow him in the way of Mary, his mother and first and foremost disciple. She too held a special place in their pilgrimage of faith and in that of the members of the groups they founded.

Each branch cherishes favorite images to express our bonds with Mary, such as “called by Mary’s gracious choice” and “Mary as our Good Mother.” The mother of Jesus reveals a unique face in and through each branch of the Society. For all of us, this strong woman of faith became in time a model of what our Church can and must be. When Father Colin traveled to Rome in 1833 seeking approbation for the Society, he carried in his heart the image of a Marian Church.

Gifts of the spirit in our day

The gifts of the Spirit given to our Church through each of our founders and foundresses are ours today. The circumstances of our time challenge us to rediscover the charisms that lie at the heart of the Marist movement and to enliven them once again in light of the signs of the times. We will fail at this task, however, unless we first allow God to penetrate our hearts, so that he can enter in to our plans, our hopes and dreams, our lives.

We are called to live out charisms that are called Marist. Each one is a gift of God to our Church and each has an important role to play in the renewal of our Church for the sake of the men, women and children of our time. But to fulfill this mission our respective congregations and Institute must first allow themselves to be set alight and transformed by the fire of the Spirit. In recent years we have come to better understand the nature of charism and its important role in the life of a religious congregation. Pope Paul VI perhaps put it best when he reminded us that charism was nothing more and nothing less than the presence of the Holy Spirit. Today we must ask ourselves: are we willing to let the Spirit of God who was so active and alive in our foundresses and founders live and breathe in you and me today?

Upcoming General Chapters and the challenges facing us today

Our founders and foundresses were ordinary men and women who responded in an extraordinary way to the grace of God in their lives. Each one of them had outstanding gifts; all of them struggled also with their limitations, their sinfulness, and their need for redemption. In spite of that fact, they were bold and daring in their response to the crisis of innovation that the Church faced in post-revolutionary France.

Unlike many of their contemporaries, they looked to the future for answers and did not rely on the solutions of the past. In this way each was a pioneer.

Like them, we also face important issues as congregations today. We live in a world and Church that find themselves in the midst of rapid change. No area of life—the environment, information technology and communication, human relationships, the life of the spirit, and so many others—remains untouched. Our congregations too, have undergone their own changes with the aging of our membership, with more of our new members coming from the southern hemisphere, with the restructuring of many provinces and with new understandings about mission.

Our history over many years has led each of our branches in many different directions. We have a great deal to learn from one another and an equal amount to share. As we, members of the four Marist religious branches, continue to prepare for our Chapters, let us foster a true spirit of collaboration among us that will nurture the ongoing life and mission of the whole Marist Family. We encourage the members of each of our congregations to enter into serious discussion with other members of our Marist Family and read together the signs of our times. Can we, with open minds and generosity of spirit listen to the cries of our world and respond together?

As we work together to build another century of Marist life and mission, let us create strong bonds with those laywomen and men who, inspired by the Marist charism long to share our common spirituality and mission. With them, let us strive to bring to birth the Marian Church. Let us pray too that God will give us the same generosity of heart that he gave to Jean-Claude Colin, Jeanne-Marie Chavoin, Marcellin Champagnat and Francoise Perotton and the other pioneers.

And so, as we move toward our General Chapters let us, like our founders and foundresses, be up and doing! Let us pray, too, that God will give us all the heart of Mary so that we may be open to hearing his Word, bearing his Son to our world, and thus witness like her to the Good News of Jesus Christ.

With sincere good wishes,

* Jan Hulshof, SM
* Judith Moore, SMSM
* Monica O’Brien, SM
* Seán Sammon, FMS

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