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The Marian Church has the heart of a mother



Female Presence in Mission ad Gentes

15/07/2010: General House

I cannot envisage the future of Ad Gentes without the presence of lay people, especially the presence of Marist lay women who will soon be in a position to become FMS lay missionaries. Why do I see the female presence as a necessary component in Ad Gentes? Three reasons come to the surface.

1. The feminine aspects of Marist Spirituality

Taking the lead role on the Religious Life Commission and on the writing of Water from the Rock, I came to see a feminine dimension in Marist Spirituality. The dimension comes to us from Mary, and it becomes a reality because of the thousands of women who either work in our FMS apostolates or feel that they have a Marist heart. Such a disposition is not invariably the case with all the women who work with us; but I know a large number who live out the Marist mission with a sense of Marist Spirituality. To have women in Ad Gentes is really a must. In fact, the women now present in “Davao 2010” - Rosana, Neiva, Agnes, Alice and Christine - have already helped us take a big step in the right direction. We must absolutely not lose such a presence. In fact, we must help it grow.

You see then that we need the presence of women who possess an outstanding degree of maturity on the human level and the Christian level. To get a good start on formation with clear cut Asian features, they need to have as well a reasonably good knowledge of Marist tradition, knowledge that can go deeper once they are in Davao. The “reasonably good knowledge” must be offered to them first of all in the FMS Province with which they are connected.

2. The Marian countenance of the Church

Another reason arises regarding the need for a female presence in our Ad Gentes project: in women the Marian countenance of the Church shines out in a distinctive way. Yes, all of us are responsible for showing forth the Church’s Marial countenance of which one hears so much at present. Yet, who better than a woman can make real, make present, make visible this Marian countenance?

This point comes out quite clearly in our new spirituality document, Water from the Rock. “Mary inspired in the first Marists a new vision of being Church which was modeled on that of the first Christians. This Marian Church has the heart of a mother: no one is abandoned” (Article 114). As mentioned above, who better than a woman, from the maternal sentiments of her heart, makes real this Marian countenance? The five female candidates in Davao could address us at this point. They could draw upon quite concrete instances of tenderness and love experienced in a personal way, instances that enable them to help others, children especially, helping them to grow up well, to become responsible persons, to feel loved by and in a woman’s maternal heart.

3. Pure spiritual milk of the Word

The Bible itself casts light upon the “feminine countenance.” For my part, I have always thought that in matters of living out spirituality, women and men go together in a complementary way. My reference text is the first Epistle of Saint Peter where he speaks of milk, “the pure spiritual milk.” You are new born, and, like babies, you should be hungry for nothing but milk - the pure spiritual milk which will help you to grow up to salvation - now that you have tasted the goodness of the Lord. (1 Peter 2:2-3).

The text strikes me as of extraordinary beauty. Peter is discussing growth in the spiritual life, progress in the interior life which is not a task accomplished once and forever. A person grows into a fullness of spiritual life in everyday life, not unlike the nursing infant who gets its nourishment from its mother milk in order to grow up physically. Peter, however, changes the key: from the physical example, he strikes out upon the spiritual, yet without changing the symbolism. Just as the infant grows as it gets nourishment from its mother, so in their spiritual dimension, man and woman grow as they are “nourished” by the Word of God.

« They grow. » They are not yet complete, and the lack of completedness can be seen. Such lack of completedness - like physical growth - provides spiritual with the kind of beautiful experiences that come with change, forces that create a spiritual sensitivity as one draws near to God. I believe that in such matters women, who remain always closer to life, who feel life in all its dynamics of growth and maturing, can become in a singular way, the “conscience” of the fullness of life to which we are invited. In addition, women can tell us in a unique way of how life is communion, a communion to which we are invited through our baptism, and, in our case, from the fact of being Marist.

In the verses following his reference to milk, Peter speaks too of “living stones making a spiritual house,” of the “holy priesthood that offers the spiritual sacrifices which Jesus Christ has made acceptable to God.” There is nothing reserved solely for women. Yet, with a different depth of meaning, they can spell out the man’s capacity to offer himself through spiritual sacrifices. Right from the start, the woman is revealed as created for communion, for “being with,” for living out with man the pilgrimage towards God, a pilgrimage that finds expression in spiritual sacrifices.

I do not want to neglect the importance of the female presence in our lives and our spirituality. We need to interpret the presence in a faith perspective, in a “communion” perspective, so that we can manifest it in the Marist world. For our world of today, we can make our own something that might have been said by Adam: “Welcome, sister in the faith, companion on the journey. Together we will journey on our way towards God. As brothers and sisters we will live out the spirituality which Marcellin bequeathed to us and which unites us, keeps us together, nourishes us, invites us to go ever further on the paths of Ad Gentes.”

There you have it! There are the reasons for accepting women into the sphere of Marist spirituality, and more specifically into the Ad Gentes Project which has a great need of reinforcement. Women offer a sister’s strength, which is always the invitation to an ever greater fullness when we think about the presence of God in our lives. Women offer us to drink of that spiritual milk which we need, in a unique, irreplaceable manner.

Br. Teófilo Minga
Ad Gentes Coordinator
Rome June 20, 2010

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