“ The spirit of Mary is something most delicate and profound, obtained only through sustained meditation and prayer. ” - Jean Claude Colin, Founder Marist Order
Society today is variously described as exciting, permissive, individualistic, anti-clerical, secular, post-christian, a time of great opportunities, freedom and choice, among others. The mission of the Church and of Religious Congregations in the culture of today is hugely different in some respects to the mission at the time of the origins of the Church and of Religious congregations themselves. This observation is as relevant to Ireland as it is to most ‘modern westernised’ cultures. And yet in some ways the mission is similar or at least the fundamental mission remains the same.
Below are a number of reflections pertinent to this debate. We would be very interested to here your views.
Barometer of vitality
The new emphasis on all sides is on a renewed sense of mission. The Church has awakened to a growing awareness that its fundamental task is to evangelise and that this requires a constant effort to relate the Gospel to the real condition of the people. In fact a sense of mission is being seen as a barometer of the vitality of the Church and of each individual Christian and religious community. Our communities are meant to be not inward looking, closed in upon themselves, but communities of hope lived and communicated.
Frank McKay sm.
Marists who understand their life as mission realise that it is not an easy life, and that it demands as much courage and adaptability as it ever did. Even if they never leave their own country, they realise that the world they are living in is rapidly changing. They realise that they will need to adapt themselves to this new world, this new world of the young, for example, with its new language, its new way of looking at things, its new way of doing things. This is all a consequence of the decision made by their Marist predecessors – to set out and even set out again for the sake of the new Church which is emerging and coming to birth in our times.
Craig Larkin sm.
In the shoes of others
Marist historian Jean Coste, commenting on the courage of the pioneer Marists, said: “There have been great Marists? Yes! They accomplished something really extraordinary in learning two foreign languages a the same time, Maori and English; in adapting to habits, ways of life so different from theirs and in bringing the Word of God to these new people. Let us be great Marists today. Let us ourselves learn the new language of our time, understand the reactions, the feelings, the way of life of those who are different from us; of this young generation who sometimes seem so far from us in their rejection of our artificial modern world, our affluent society.”
Jean Coste sm.
The World as mission
The striking thing is that today …. A whole world of people who may have been baptised and may have lived for a time as Christians, but whose faith has been fragmented or stifled by the secularised world we live in – a world with a completely different set of values and standards, a world which excludes the Gospel or the presence of God, yet which at the same time desperately seeks the power and mercy of God. The missionary who comes to this modern global mission territory will need to come with the attitudes of a mother handling the sensitivities of her adolescent child, accepting this world on its own terms without condemning it, speaking to this world in terms it can understand, trying to give flesh to the Word of God. From the beginning, some Marists had answered the call to step out of their own culture and go to foreign lands. But even those who remained in their own countries had to step out into another culture, and to recognise the seeds of the Gospel in the secularised world they had found at home.
Craig Larkin sm.
The Christian who steps out of the familiar world of traditional faith into the modern secularised world is not unlike a missionary stepping into a culture totally strange to him. Especially if this strange culture has not yet been deeply influenced by the Gospel he will be tempted to get a very negative impression, one in which behaviour and values that are simply strange to him arouse the same indignation as things that are perhaps indeed sinful. Without becoming blind to what is really sinful, he must gradually learn to appreciate the positive values that hide behind patterns of behaviour that are foreign to him, and that can be true “seeds of the Word” and stepping stones to faith. We have learned to see the way of life of peoples far away as simply “other cultures”. We should also have learned that “other cultures” are constantly being born, to the extent that culture change today has accelerated. The heart of Marist identity is indeed not a “way of life”….It is a mission, not to a faraway exotic cultures, but to a new culture, and that is the secularised culture of today.
Jan Snijders. Sm.
Not dead but absent
The many millions of people who have drifted away from the Churches, in anger, or in indifference, or simply in perplexity, are by definition out of reach to clerical ministry, nor do they usually want to have anything to do with priests. Most unbelievers of today are not convinced and militant atheists. They are the nice people next door who just don’t know. They are baffled if the subject is brought up at all and quite happy to stick to the available evidence as far as they see it. And that means they get along quite nicely without religion….Our modern world is honestly and sincerely profane…God is not so much dead as absent: and not absent as one who should be there. He is absent as a sort of misunderstanding that has fortunately been cleared up.
Jan Snijders, sm.
The modern world a new culture
In an article he wrote for lay Marists in France, Marist Father Jan Snijders points out that the Marist project came to birth during the momentous upheaval of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment is the natural “parent” of the secularised age we now experience at least in most parts of the western world. Jan Snijders indicates that the Marist approach which was so successful in the beginning, is just as relevant if not more relevant than before. He puts before his readers seven propositions:
The whole of the modern world is a new “culture”.
The apostle of today in the modern world needs the same attitude of openness as any missionary in any new culture. The new culture has not yet been effectively evangelised: it too needs the Gospel.
Though this new culture needs the Gospel, it does shelter the “seeds of the Gospel”, which need to be recognised and cultivated. One of the best helps for this delicate activity is to follow the example of Jesus who became human and hid himself in the human condition. (Phil.2:6-7) In Marist terms this is the attitude of being “hidden and unknown”.
Our Marist tradition helps us with its stress on Marists as “instruments of Mercy”, who do a great deal of good in a hidden way. This is the “new church” which Marists are called on to build.
Jan Snijders. Sm.
And can we do it? Can a religious life shaken to its foundation by change come to life again? Oh, no doubt about it. The era speaks for itself. The fact is that we have been doing it for 30 long years, with little approval, limited understanding, small appreciation and little certainty beyond the gospel, but the results are clear; when our own hearts are aflame, no effort is too much, no effort fails.”
Joan Chittister, O.S.B. The Fire in these Ashes.