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Marist Bulletin - Number 181

 

Meeting of the General Council with young people from Europe
10.02.2005

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Sigüenza, Spain, January 2005

As part of the activities during the Marist Vocation Year, the General Council has programmed a meeting with a group of young Europeans, which took place at Sigüenza (Province of Ibérica) from the 20th to the 23rd January 2005.
A Commission consisting of Brothers Ernesto Sánchez, José Larrea, Marco Cianca, Valeriá Simon and Théoneste Kalisa has been responsible for organising these days of listening and of dialogue, in which all the members of the General Council participated.
By speaking directly with the young people during this meeting, the Superior General and his Council wished to understand what it means for them to follow Jesus and to be Christians in todays society. They also hoped to hear from the young people themselves about the difficulties and challenges they have to face in life in Europe.
The forty-five young people who have been invited to this meeting know Marist life and participate directly or indirectly in various apostolic activities organised by the brothers. This element constituted also an excellent opportunity for listening to impressions, eliciting reactions and accepting suggestions concerning our way of living the consecrated life in Europe.


Remarks delivered at the end of the meeting by the Superior General

On January 21st, 1994, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I remember the day well. A light snow had been falling since morning in Pelham, New York, the town where our Province house was located. As I set out for my 4:00 PM doctors appointment, a friend who was visiting from California asked if I wanted company. Something told me, though, that this journey was one that I had to make alone.
Once at the office, it took but a moment to read the doctors face: the news was not good. Sit down, she said, I will explain what we have found, and then I will tell you what we recommend that you do.
You have a brain tumor of significant size, 5 centimeters in diameter. It is located in the middle of your head. Though we will start you on medication today to reduce the size of the mass, you cannot avoid neurosurgery. She then proceeded to give me the name of a neurosurgeon to call and to fill me in on a few additional details. Finally, she looked at me directly and said, I must tell you that another year of life for this tumor will cost you your own. I was 46 years of age.
Now, why do I tell this story as we come to the close of these few days together? I tell it because that tumor and its treatment changed the course of my life. The wife of a good friend has taken to distinguishing between pre and post tumor Seán to mark the difference. And, in retrospect, it was no surprise to me that the tumor that visited me in midlife made its home in my head, because that is where I had the better half of more than four decades. Since then, however, I have had a change of address: home has been my heart more than my head. I have found it a far messier place to spend my days, but infinitely more rewarding.
Id suggest that we have been about something very similar the past few days: a journey from head to heart. This weekend has been a rich time of exchange. Many of us came together as strangers on Thursday evening but have come to know one another better through the sharing that we have done during the time since. Sharing about our outlooks, attitudes, and views of Church and Marist life and mission.
And the stakes have been high, since we have been talking about those aspects of our lives that, at the end of day, are the most important: identity, intimacy, faith, and membership in the community of believers.
And, perhaps most important, has been this question always lurking in the background: What does God expect of me; what is God asking of me, today and during the days ahead?
Those of us who make up the Marist Brothers General Council came here to be with you and to listen, so as to try to understand better the view of world and Church that shapes the attitudes of young people on this continent toward religious life and toward our Institute in particular.
Your hopes for our Church are clear, and you have been equally honest in stating your disappointments about that institution as well. It is evident that all of you value the life of the Spirit but many among you have been clear about the difficulty you experience in trying to find a place for yourself within the traditional religious structures that exist today. Some of you are intimately involved in Church life, worship, and the activities of your local parish; so many others, however, are pilgrims, still searching for a place that feels like a spiritual home.
More than a few of you, however, have told us that the Marist community has given you a set of eyes with which to look out on our world, and that it has in the past given you a frame of reference in which to understand Church, faith, worship, the experience of God. And this point has been very clear in your reflections the past few days: it has been the influence of one or two brothers in particular that has had an impact, one or two who were what they said they were: brothers who have dedicated their lives to helping young people discover the God who is alive and active in their own lives.
As young men and women, you are also facing some challenges of your own these days. Question of identity: Who am I and what do I cherish or hold dear? As you work to answer that question, you are faced with the task of deciding on the values that will shape you and guide your life through this, its first chapter, and later ones.
Then there is the question of intimacy. Whom do I care about; who cares about me? The question of sexuality also comes up whenever intimacy is discussed. Unfortunately, in so many cultures today, sexuality has been reduced to genital sexual behavior. The term and the experience, however, are far richer. Sexuality has to do with how I see myself as a man or woman, my affective reactions to members of the opposite and the same sex, how I express care, tenderness, and my love for another person. We also need to find an ethical system to help us make decisions in this area.
Then again, many of you are struggling to find a lifes work, something that will challenge your creativity and, at the same time, help you to pay the bills! For some the journey here is close to smooth sailing; for others, however, the route is full of detours, wrong turns, and traffic tickets.
Overriding all these tasks is a fourth and final one: your search for a life Dream. The Dream is something that develops for most of us during our adolescent years, often in response to the nagging question of others: What are you planning to do with your life? Our answer is usually vague because the Dream at first is not very clear. Over time, however, it begins to take shape.
Our vocations in life are intimately tied up with this Dream. Because at the heart of it is Gods dream for us and for our lives. Yes, the recurring question, On whom or what do I set my heart? lies at the core of your life Dream and mine.
Now, each of us has a vocation. Whether you or I are married, single, a brother, sister, or priest, we have a one. And that vocation is to announce the coming of Gods Kingdom and its imminence.
A brother, however, pledges himself also to live fully and radically the gospel plan as the objective and goal of his life. His response to the Word of God must be revolutionary. This is what makes him different, not better, but surely different. And these days you have been challenging us to be who we say that we are, in terms of our ministry, in terms of those whom we serve, in terms of the simplicity of our lives.
A final point: many of you may also feel some days that you are impersonating an adult. Its a common feeling for most of us in our twenties. We walk, talk, act and react like an adult, and others relate to us as though we are one, but somehow we think that someone is going to discover that we simply do not know what we are doing.
Many important questions have arisen during these days. And a number have been troubling. For example, If Jesus is so central in the history of our faith and world, why is it that he can be so quickly forgotten, put aside, the challenge of his teachings ignored to a large extent?
Knowledge about Jesus has always seemed to me to be a bit like knowing who your parents are. Thats right: both can be classified as being nothing more than pieces of information.
Think, though, for a moment about how very different your life or mine would be if we did not know who our parents were. Yes, it is just information, but what very important information indeed.
To my way of thinking the same is true about knowledge of Jesus Christ. His life, his teachings, his hopes and dreams for you and for me: information once again. But similar to the impact of knowing who your parents are, knowledge of Jesus has the potential to change your life and mine.
You also touched upon the social reality of Europe today. As a generation, you are working with others living in this part of our world on developing a new European consciousness. There is an obvious sense of pride here as you carry out these tasks.
You have given us many helpful insights into our life as brothers this weekend. For example, while you emphasize the gift that Marcellins charism and your life with the brothers have been to date, you also remind us that more than a few lay men and women see some striking generational differences among us, as well as the fear of change and lack of understanding about lay partnership that exists among some of our brothers. Several of you, at times, have had the sense that you are seen by some as a necessary but unwelcome substitute for a brother in one or another of our educational ventures.
You also realize that among some of your lay colleagues, work in a Marist school is but a job; they want no further involvement. It saddens you to think that the same might be true for some among our brothers also.
Within this context, and obviously without mention of all the insights that you have shared you encourage us to take several steps. First of all, to work against fear and misunderstanding by setting up a regular means of dialogue between brothers and lay men and women.
Second, to provide the possibility for greater sharing of responsibilities in ministry. Many brothers need to be in positions where they have more contact with young people; at the same time, there are many capable lay people who can take up administrative work. You encourage us to look at this situation and to act in keeping with the documents of our Chapters and other gatherings.
Third, that further opportunities be provided for mixed communities of brothers and lay people. Several models have been tried in the past, some exist today. We need to learn from our experience as we build these new opportunities for the future.
Finally, you encourage us to work at clarifying the identity of the Marist Brother and that of the lay man or woman who claims Marcellins charism as his own. We all know that that dream or charism of Father Champagnat was given to our Church and not to the Marist Brothers. We need to take time to appreciate further the journey that we are making as brothers and lay people, and to celebrate its similarities and its differences.
Time is short and the remarks here are, of course, not exhaustive. In closing, though, let me remind us all that Marcellin Champagnat was but 27 years of age when he founded the Marist Brothers. And he had next to nothing in terms of material goods: an old house in LaValla, two candidates for his Institute and both in need of education and formation, and many debts.
What Marcellin did have, however, was a dream, and passion. And that passion fueled his dream causing it to spread over the last 200 years to 77 countries throughout our world and become a movement in which we are all involved. Today, we need the vision, the courage, the daring of this simple country priest and Marist Father.
A vocation to religious life is always a bit like falling in love. Usually it is not love at first sight, but rather similar to that process wherein a person who was an acquaintance became a friend, and then someone very special indeed. But passion must always be at the heart of any vocation to religious life, a passion for Jesus Christ and his Good News.
Marcellin put it all very simply: To love God, he said, yes, to love God, and to make God know and loved, that is what a brothers life should be. Today that challenge is extended to all of us, brothers and lay men and women alike. We need to rise to that occasion for surely in our world today there are more than enough poor children and young people in desperate need of hearing Gods Good News.

Seán D. Sammon, FMS
Sigüenza, Spain, January 23rd 2005

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