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Marist Bulletin - Number 67


Javier Espinosa and Santiago Cisneros

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Javier Espinosa:
“I descended to the depths to find God…with a patient dying of AIDS.”
Santiago Cisneros:
“Events have brought me closer to the God of History”


Brother Lluís Serra

Brother Javier Espinosa, 58, was born in Tafalla, Spain. Before turning 20 he set out for Central America, a Marist Province that today takes in El Salvador, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua. He studied Theology in Rome, has served as Provincial two different times, and has recently been appointed Director of the Spirituality Center for Spanish and Portuguese-speaking Brothers at El Escorial in Spain. In that position, he succeeds 60-year-old Brother Santiago Cisneros. Santiago was born in Quintana de Raneros, Spain, and also went to work with the brothers in Central America. He’s studied Theology at universities in Madrid and Guatemala. His brother, Moisés, also a Marist brother and deeply committed to social justice, was murdered in Guatemala in 1991. Santiago has served as Provincial and is now the Director of the Spirituality Center in El Escorial.
I directed my questions to both these men.

Today much is being said about Marist Apostolic Spirituality… Briefly, how would you define this for our readers?
Javier: It’s the spirituality of an apostle, one who knows how to encounter God in his mission, in our case, contemplating Him in children and young people, in our brothers and those in need, being especially close to them.
Santiago: It’s a lifestyle centered in God, whom we encounter in the world, history, the poor, and our very selves. This gives us a particular way to follow Christ here and now, as Mary did, under the activity of the Holy Spirit, who directs our efforts for the Kingdom.

Is this spirituality of interest to the brothers alone, or is it one that is increasingly being looked into by the laity?
Javier: This spiritual highway is wide open for all who share the Marist charism, all who are inspired by St. Marcellin. The passion for spreading the Kingdom, expressed by the laity as much as by the brothers, becomes our way to communion with God.
Santiago: Lay people are joyfully embracing this spirituality today as a genuine path to an encounter with God in their daily lives. It’s in response to Karl Rahner’s concern when he states, “In the future Christians will either be mystics, i.e., people who have experienced something, or they won’t be Christians.”

How is it possible for a layperson, wrapped up in world affairs, to draw inspiration from this spirituality, which seems to be so distinctly Marist?
Javier: I think lay people make more intelligible and even enrich the way Champagnat left us for loving God in the world and loving the world in God. Their being more deeply embedded in reality and history enables them to be in communion with God in touch with the dramas and hopes of the men and women of our world.
Santiago: There are two key ingredients that need to be emphasized: spirituality and apostolic. The two are ever present in the life of a Christian, one consecrated through Baptism and committed to building the Kingdom in his or her daily life. Happily, it’s also necessary to keep in mind that what’s Marist no longer means “only for the brothers” brothers” – more and more lay people are bringing the charism to life.

The word Marist can be a bit ambiguous. Are we talking about some spirituality unique to the Marist brothers, or rather a Marian spirituality, i.e., one that draws its inspiration from Mary of Nazareth?
Javier: As I see it, the most outstanding feature of this spiritual way for us to encounter God in life, people, and events arising from the missionary passion practiced by Jesus is something we share with many believers. What’s Marist about it is the coloring that this spiritual way acquires in our charism, and at the same time is made richer with Marian features. That’s why our Constitutions say our spirituality is Marian and apostolic (cf. C7).

What are the most important features of this spirituality?
Santiago: It’s a spirituality geared to encountering God in our everyday lives: in people, events, the apostolate... they become “sacraments,” i.e., places where we find God. This, in so far as we know how to “read” reality in a transcendent way, and try to decipher the message God is sending us through the world around us. In this way we enter into a loving relationship with God in the world and with the world in God.
Javier: Another feature of this spirituality is the fact that it helps to unify our lives – no longer are there “times for praying” and “times for getting things done” or “enjoying life.” The action of the Holy Spirit permeates everything. Prayer is the “spice of life” since life revs up in prayer. At the same time, prayer drives us to respond to needs, commits us to work for the Kingdom. This was the dynamic Jesus used, the one with whom we journey in Mary’s company.

For people interested in learning more about Marist spirituality, where can they go to find guidelines and resources to mature in it?
Santiago: We think the Message of the XIX General Chapter is a very good guide. (Cf. http://www.intratext.com/fms) There’s a Circular by Brother Charles Howard on Apostolic Spirituality. The Spirituality NETWORK, in various languages, is an equally helpful source of information. Periodically Encounters for reflection and personal involvement are held at the provincial and inter-provincial levels. Various retreats and meetings about this spirituality have been developed for lay people and brothers. We think the best way to learn more about this field is to participate in the various gatherings that are organized.

Tell us about your personal involvement in this subject…
Javier: In my journey of faith I should emphasize that I was helped by an experience in solidarity prior to the XIX General Chapter. I “descended to the depths” to find God during long hours of prayer and contemplation with a patient dying of AIDS. Being on the Chapter Commission that studied this subject (our apostolic spirituality), I became more attuned to this journey of faith. Though I may be quite far from making Jesus the center of my existence, I’m striving to look for Him and find Him in my life. I find this an exciting quest.
Santiago: During the most difficult days of the social and political situation in El Salvador I came to realize more and more the dichotomy between faith and life, prayer and the apostolate, being a religious and someone committed to justice and solidarity. The process of unifying my life, in which I continue to move forward, has been reinforced by situations like taking part in two general Chapters, being in contact with the raw realities of life in Central America, and the death of my brother in 1991. Little by little I have come near to the God of history, the God immersed in the lives of men and women as well as in my own. In recent years, I have been helped in a special way by participating in the encounters of the NETWORK in Spain; also by being at this Center of Spirituality, where we reflect and pray using Apostolic Spirituality, and we ask for this Gift that unifies our lives in God.

It seems that Marist Apostolic Spirituality tries to bring unity to the spirituality and mission of those who follow St. Marcellin. Do you believe it’s possible?
Javier: Marcellin’s example shows us that it is possible to integrate activity and contemplation, love for God and love for our brothers and sisters, spirituality and dedication to others. It’s love that turns life into matter for contemplation in order to discover God passionately present within it. The synthesis of love is what leads to that continual experience of God. This fusion of love permitted Henri Vergès and the martyrs in Bugobe to deliver up their lives. Although this unity is possible, certainly we continue to experience dichotomies in our life, activism and dissipation that make it difficult to integrate our lives.

What aspects of this spirituality appeal in a special way to young people?
Santiago: We feel that young people easily identify with that search for God starting from history, events, life, and nature. It’s a spirituality that’s in tune with the meaning and practice of solidarity, the struggle for justice, fraternal sharing, discernment, and the inquisitiveness of youth. For some young people it gives meaning to their commitment to work for a better world, for others it provides ways to deepen their interior and mystical life. The image of God apparent in this spirituality is that of a close-by God, present in the deepest part of a person, the Lord of history who is really and truly in everything, transparent in beauty and goodness. Young people are responsive to this image of God that embraces our entire being and involves all of life.

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