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18 June

St. Elizabeth of Schoenau
1900: the first Brothers leave for Bom Principio, Brazil

Marist Calendar - June

Marist Bulletin - Number 254


Widen the space of the tent! (Is 54,2)

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The section “Marist blogs” of our site www.champagnat.org, set up last May, presents some subjects of reflection that merit the interest of the readers. We thought that they would also merit the attention of the readers of the Bulletin.
Today we gather here three reflections from Brother Pau Fornells, Director of the Bureau for the Laity. In sending these texts we are trying to animate you to join the reflexion by sending your comments through our web page.

Towards a new ecclesial ecosystem
People speak a lot today of the role of the laity in the Church and, in the particular case that interests us, their relationship with the religious congregations with whom they share the mission, spirituality and charism. Lay Marists are also present in a new way in the life of the brothers. It is a presence that has produced a certain number of feelings and attitudes, not always convergent. Some speak of confusion of identities and roles.
Until recent years, the laity, who forms more than 99% of the Church, seemed to be a docile flock guided by its shepherds (bishops, priests, religious). In the best case, they were appreciated as collaborators. They were not used to thinking for themselves in religious matters; they needed to be directed to what they should believe, how they should celebrate their faith, how to act in life, etc. Nearly everything was planned and sanctioned. And let’s not speak about their participation in the decision making in the Church!
But a Pope (John XXIII) and a Council (Vatican II) allowed the Holy Spirit to enter the heart of the Church with new energy. At the start, there were only a few external changes: Mass in the vernacular languages, the altar facing the people, the disappearance of the soutane, etc. Then many documents started to be published, but the Christian people were not aware of the dimensions of the changes which seemed to be addressed only to specialists in religion.
Little by little – throughout the last four decades, - people have become aware of the authentic revolution which has sometimes alarmed and destabilised more than one. In the Church, the mission is unique, even if there are different ministries. Dignity and the call to holiness are equal for all. Specific states of perfection do not exist and from that a new relationship between all the members of the Church has been discerned. This relationship engenders a new ecclesial ecosystem which is starting to be perceived and developed.
Laypeople are not minor Christians, less perfect and not very reliable. They now enjoy an equality of condition, such that the Church recognises that it cannot advance without their contribution: their lifestyle, their involvement in the mission and their capacity to participate and to make decisions in the Church. That is equally true for the laypeople who find themselves at the sides of Marist Brothers.
Spirituality, mission, participation and the capacity to decide have caused a real upheaval for our old conceptions of identity and charism. John Paul II, in Christi fideles Laici, stated: “In Church Communion the states of life by being ordered one to the other are thus bound together among themselves. They all share in a deeply basic meaning: that of being the manner of living out the commonly shared Christian dignity and the universal call to holiness in the perfection of love. They are different yet complementary, in the sense that each of them has a basic and unmistakable character which sets each apart, while at the same time each of them is seen in relation to the other and placed at each others service. (ChF 55.3)
That is to say that the states of life which feel called to follow one same charism, in our case it is the Marist charism that comes from Champagnat, are influenced by each other: the brothers cannot be understood without the laypeople and vice-versa. A chain reaction has started where no one is set aside and where nothing is any longer as it was before.
The Holy Spirit tells us that there is no future for Marcellin’s charism if we do not widen the space of our tent, if we do not walk together, brothers and laypeople, in sharing life: spirituality, mission, formation, etc. (Choose life, 26). As the 20th General Chapter reminds us: “We are convinced that the life-giving Spirit is leading us along a common path.” (Id., 29)
Let us thus open our heart to the Spirit and let ourselves be transformed by Him!
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Can we be brothers and, in a certain sense, ‘clerical’?
Many brothers complain of the strong clericalism that continues to prevail today in the Church. The majority of us feel hurt or, at least, saddened when during the World Vocation Days or other events, one speaks only of the priestly vocation or that of a religious sister. We, brothers, seem not to exist, we are not taken into consideration; we are made to feel like rare beasts. It is worse when they establish rungs on the ladder: first is the rung of the priestly vocation, then that of religious sisters and at the end the one for the laity. Is it any wonder that we have identity problems?
But, it often happens that several among us (the brothers) glance back over our shoulders at the laypeople with whom we share the charism, spirituality and mission. We sometimes mistrust them because we believe that they have interests foreign to the common cause: to be witnesses of the Good News for children and young people, especially the most neglected. It is obvious also that a lot of people look at us with mistrust, wondering if we are truly witnesses to that which we announce. We need to remember that consistency is always a difficult subject for any human being.
Other times, we under estimate laypeople: they seem to us to be incapable of being able to do what we do in an excellent way. We also need to clarify here the word ‘excellent’. There are cases when we treat them with a certain indulgent paternalism: we need to accompany them and direct them because they have not studied ‘religion’ as much as we have or because we love them so that we are frightened that they will make mistakes. And, frankly, the brother can consider himself to be indispensable in the lay Marist groups, such that these disappear when the brother receives a new posting. Unconsciously, sometimes, we do not allow the leaders to emerge or we do not let them make decisions.
It can happen that some brothers are afraid of being replaced by laypeople. It is a legitimate fear, in the psychological sense of feeling as ‘children in a family’ but not being able to understand today the meaning of the signs of the times. It can also be the fear of change and what that will imply in our lives during the coming years. Can we be educated in change in a society that is changing as much as ours is? How can we do better faced with this ongoing subject? Don’t we run the risk of becoming, in a certain sense, a little clerical, by not allowing lay Marists to have the space that God wants for them?
In finishing, I would like to quote Brother Benito Arbués who told me recently: “We can fall into a certain Marist clericalism. That is to say thinking about what laypeople must do… giving them documents, giving them directions. I do not know what we need to do to ensure that life surges from the base. And if we need to be present to sow, we need tact to allow laypeople to cultivate their fields as normal Christians who have chosen a Christianity with a Marist colour.”
We all thus need to return unceasingly to the ‘ultimate places’ of the Gospel and to the ‘first places’ of Father Champagnat, so that lessons can be learnt, not only in our heads but especially in our hearts. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to help us to understand that with the ‘annihilation’ of Jesus, ‘the humility of the humble servant’, the ‘silence’ of Joseph the Just, and of the ‘three first places’ of Marcellin. The God of surprises continues to want to burst into our lives.
Let’s continue to allow God to be God !
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What is happening with young lay Marists?
My reflexion is addressed not only to young people, but also to all those who feel called to be Marists according to Champagnat. I also want to specify that the expression ‘young lay Marists’ refers to young people between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-five, those that the Anglophone countries call ‘young adults’.
Thanks to God, in the majority of the Provinces of the Institute pastoral work with the young is still a privileged task. Here I am speaking of the ‘young young’ (15 – 25 years). Tens of thousands of them, and I am not exaggerating, are in our youth groups in more than seventy countries. I am convinced that the majority are groups engaged in an experience of faith in a concrete action of solidarity. We find more and more young animators of children and young people amongst us. Some give generously of their time each week to voluntary tasks and have more or less long experiences in destitute places. Yes, God has given us some superb young people, attracted by Champagnat and proud of being Marist. And I am sure that this is an indissoluble part of their being citizen and Christian, as Saint Marcellin wanted them to be.
However, there has been a question that has concerned me for a long time. I am going to try today to define it, by asking for the help of all to respond with Christian audacity and hope. The question is the following: I have the impression that there is currently a void in the commitment of the lay Marist who is a young adult (25 – 40 years old). Why?
I am not speaking of a greater commitment, but of a commitment that is truly a choice of life. There is a multitude of laypeople who give the best of themselves in our apostolic works and others; some do so in an exemplary way. The hearts of many of our former students continue also to beat with affection and interest for all that is Marist. But I see there something lacking that requires a greater qualitative effort: in feeling that the Marist life according to Champagnat can be an irreplaceable option in life, feeling called by God to help children and young people, especially those abandoned, according to the charism and the spirituality of Saint Marcellin, in a fraternity of efforts, life and prayer (which does not necessarily imply living under the same roof).
This greater qualitative effort must depend on the perception of a call that commits all of life and not only a temporary choice. And this call implies a response that overcomes the difficulties of life. That is to say that if the Holy Spirit has aroused (and he is arousing still) in the hearts of many young people a radical call to follow Jesus, according to the charism, the mission and the spirituality of Marcellin as Marist Brothers, why would he not do the same for lay Marists? I do not believe that the radical calls are reserved only to special states of life. Can vocations exist that are not radical? Isn’t being Christian already in itself something radical?
It is not a matter of only seeking the causes of the problem, but of offering at the same time some eventual pathways that make it possible for this age group (25-35 years old) to respond to the invitation that the Holy Spirit makes, according to me, at the moment of existence when the great choices of life are defined. Otherwise, we run the risk of producing a nearly irreversible rupture between the generations when it is a matter of transmitting the charism, the spirituality and the mission of Marcellin Champagnat. We know that the Holy Spirit can do all, but we must also be conscious that he acts through our poor mediations.
I invite you thus to participate in this blog to give your opinion on this subject. I commit myself to also give my opinion in a future contribution.
United in prayer, mother of all creativity and of all audacity, with Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Marcellin and all our Marist saints, brothers and laypeople.
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