Introductory Talk for a First Meeting of Marist Laity

I was standing once in a big building when suddenly a sparrow flew in at one high window and almost immediately flew out again at another across the hall. It happened so quickly it might not have happened at all. And there was no sign the sparrow had passed. Someone who had noticed this common occurrence wrote that it was a symbol of the brevity and inconsequence of human life. We can accept the brevity, but not the inconsequence. We know lives matter. Certainly, whatever one's attitude to the meaning of human existence, everyone wants to live a life that counts. Everyone wants to live a truly significant life.It seemed to Paul VI when he was writing Evangelli Nuntiandi that what the modern world needed most were 'people who can provide and radiate an inspiring vision.' An inspiring vision, a truly significant life! No matter where you live, no matter what you do, the Society of Mary can offer you both. I want to show you how you can achieve it.

In the Gospel two great calls are made to all of you.
  1. First of all the call to holiness: 'Before the world was made, He chose us in Christ to be holy and spotless and to live through love in His presence.' Ephesians 1. 4.

  2. Secondly the call to mission. You have the vocation to carry to others the divine message of salvation. Through your Baptism and Confirmation you were commissioned by Christ. You too have a part in the mission He entrusted to His Apostles when He said: 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given me. Go therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.' Matthew 28. 19-20.
All through history God has raised up men and women to show their contemporaries what the appropriate answer to these two calls might be. St. Benedict and St. Francis of Assisi were two such men in the past as Chiara Lubich, the Founder of the Focolare movement, is an example to-day. Such people have profoundly affected their times. And in the case of Benedict and Francis all subsequent times. The Society of Mary believes that it too has one of these leaders raised up by God in especially desperate times. He was Jean-Claude Colin, Founder of the Society of Mary. Today we are realising more and more how admirably his vision and his spirituality are suited to the difficult age in which we live. To speak of him is to evoke, however briefly, the Marist story.

Through a series of events which began in the Cathedral of Le Puy in post-revolutionary France in 1812, a group of young men became convinced that Mary was intervening in human history in a new way. In an 'age of indifference, of unbelief, an age of crime, of false learning, of this earth', as Colin described it, they believed Mary had taken a special initiative to bring the loving and healing mercy of God to all people, especially to those who needed it most. They believed she had chosen them and given them her name as a sign of a special relationship with her. Mary became a living presence in their lives. But the reason for the choice and the relationship was that Mary wanted something. The way they expressed it was to interpret what she was saying in the words: I supported the Church at its birth; I shall do so again at the end of time.' She would be that support through them. A modern way of expressing this might be:
    The times are evil
    And I have charged you with their remedy.
These men were called to be for the world what Mary was for the world. They were tobe a living Marist presence.

The first Marists, both men, and the women who soon pined them, had a strong sense of personal destiny. They knew they were called to be something and to do something; to a special way of living and to a special purpose for living. In other words they received a spirituality and a mission. What Christ said of His mission they were able to say of theirs: 'For this was I born, and for this have I come into the world.' What I find exciting at this moment, when there is so much interest in the place of the laity in the Church, is theway Colin saw his new congregation. There are congregations in the Church, even eminent ones, who choose freely to associate lay people in their works. and to share their spirit with them. Colin saw his congregation quite differently. From the very beginning he saw laity as a constitutive part of his congregation. He described the new Society as. being like a tree with three branches, the fathers, the sisters and lay people. All were equally part of the same tree, nourished by the same spirituality and bringing forth fruit in the same mission. For him there was one Marist spirituality and one Marist mission, and it is shared equally by all members of the Society, priests, sisters and laity. I would go even further and adapting George Orwell's Animal Farm say that if one branch of the Society is more equal thanothers, it is the lay 'branch. Colin thought that through it the spirit of Mary would bespread throughout the world. And he said there would be more saints among the Marist laity than in either of the other two branches.

Finally I would add that the Marist lay movement is not to be seen as a multiplicity of groups. though the group is its basic strategy. It is to be seen as a movement that includes a wide variety of groups through which it works to enable a new presence of Mary to be born into the Church and the world. The Marist lay movement is not something on the fringes of the Society's activity. It is at the very heart of its mission.

How can the vision I have been presenting be translated into action to-day? How can itbe realised in your home, in your work-place, in the society in which you move? I will share with you a way that some have found helpful. It must be said that in such undiscovered country as the Marist laity in to-day's world there are other perhaps even better ways. And I welcome them. But the approach I am giving you is the fruit of a good deal of experience and those of you who are· familiar with prayer groups, scripture groups and· movements such as Renew and the Focolare will notice how much has been learnt from them. I would ask you to try out the approach for a few months and then when you are thoroughly familiar with it feel free to offer any suggestions for improvements.

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01 December 2022

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Father Frank McKay sm

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