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The third circular of Brother Seán Sammon, Superior General

07/11/2006: General House

The third circular of Brother Seán Sammon, Superior General, has just appeared with the title Making Jesus known and loved on Marist apostolic life today as the sub-title states. It is a document of 128 pages and is dated the 6th June 2006.

Brother Seán himself introduces this circular:
“This circular is the last of three that I planned to write about our identity as Marcellin’s brothers and that of our Marist lay partners today. The first, A Revolution of the Heart, looked at the topic from the perspective of the founder’s spirituality, while the second, Marvelous Companions, viewed it through the eyes of community life. This third circular letter examines identity within the context of the Church’s mission and our Institute’s apostolic works.

This circular consists of four parts. The first aims to provide an understanding of the historical and theological foundations of our apostolic works. Consequently, I begin by looking at the meaning of charism and the relationship between consecration and mission, and then move on to briefly examine what Marcellin and our Marist Constitutions and Statutes have to say about the topics of mission and the nature of our works.

In part two, I address the topic of identity and contemporary Marist apostolic life. In so doing, I touch upon a number of topics: the similarities and differences that exist between the vocation of one of Marcellin’s brothers and that of a Marist lay partner; the privileged place of the Catholic school and the need for new apostolic undertakings; the place of our Institute’s apostolic efforts among the Church’s other works; and the place and role of institutions in our efforts to spread the gospel.

Part three is devoted to the founder’s ardent desire that we make Jesus known and loved among poor children and young people. What does that directive mean today when we find ourselves in 76 countries and involved with an even greater number of cultures? Also, what pitfalls must we avoid as we work to put our concern for God’s poor at the heart of all our works? Perhaps most noticeable in this third section of the circular is my consistent use of the phrase “poor children and young people” rather than the more common description “children and young people, especially the most neglected.” I have chosen the first over the second for several reasons. To begin with, in his letters the founder often referred to poor children and young people when discussing the aim of our Institute.

Also, the use of phrases such as “the least favored,” and “a preferential but not exclusive option for the poor,” appears to do little more than tone down what has been a clear and consistent call on the part of our Church and of a number of general and province chapters since the close of Vatican II. We need instead to decide as a General Administration, Provinces, and Districts how to best respond to this challenge.

With that said, we must also remind ourselves that in working to answer the calls to be among the most marginalized we are talking fundamentally about a change of heart.

No matter where the brothers of my Province or District ask me to serve, I need to carry with me a heart for the poor.

I bring the circular to a close with a discussion of mission ad gentes. Today a number of scholars are suggesting that the period in which people have converted to Christianity in significant numbers is coming to an end.5 If their intuition proves true, then it’s all the more necessary for us to have a clear sense of meaning and pur pose as an Institute today. Without this, we will be unable to make courageous decisions about our apostolates and so many other areas of our life.

To fully understand the meaning and place of mission ad gentes in our Marist life today, we must also clarify what it means to be Church. Since Vatican II, in many parts of our world we have moved away from the model of a triumphant Church and begun to describe ourselves as a communion, the People of God, a prophetic servant.6 When thinking about mission, we have also come to understand that we can use images other than “sending out”7 — images such as gathering, and solidarity.

SeánThe notion of solidarity, for example, helps you and me to appreciate the fact that God entrusted Jesus with the mission not only to be with us and reveal our God, but also to live a fully human life. Jesus shared the life of the ordinary people of his time. Their struggles for survival were his; so also their disappointments and celebrations, their sense of history and their experience as a people loved and saved by God.

Jesus’ mission, then, was not something that he took on over and above becoming human; his mission was to share our life. His sense of direction came from his solidarity with the common people of his day.8 Being at the heart of Jesus’ mission, solidarity must also be central to the Church’s mission as well as to my work and yours. Like him we must be part of the life and circumstances of the people among whom we have been called to serve, all the while understanding that sharing in the life of a community is not a preliminary to mission but rather central to its meaning.9 But then again, doesn’t that notion stand to reason? Community and a spirit of service are essential elements of any life that merits the name Christian.

You and I would do well, then, to look at our lives and works through the eyes and with the heart of that simple country priest and Marist Father whom we call our founder. He brought his Little Brothers of Mary to life for the sake of a mission. He envisioned our apostolic life as being at the heart of our identity as brothers.

In making this point, I am not implying that Marcellin saw us as an ecclesiastical work force. Rather, that he would insist that all aspects of our lives — prayer, community, the structures in place for the governance and animation of the Institute, and so many others — are present in service to mission.”

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