Principles of the Spiritual Life According to venerable Marist Father John Claude Colin
DETACHMENT It is said of the Apostles, that when Jesus called them, ' they left all and followed him '. Jesus, Himself, pronounced these words: 'None of you can be my disciple if he does not take leave of all that he possesses. ' And again, addressing all, He said : '' If any man has a mind to come my way, let him renounce self, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. He who tries to save his life will lose it; it is the man who loses his life for my sake, that will save it. How is a man the better for gaining the whole world, if he loses himself, if he pays the forfeit of himself ? ''
Detachment is, therefore, cited by Jesus as the first indispensable act for those who wish to follow him. But detachment is not reserved for a picked group of souls. Every Christian worthy of the name, and truly decided to fulfil his vocation, must renounce himself to follow Christ. For the Gospel tells us that Christ pronounced these words: ' to all alike'. But, evidently, that call to renunciation destined for all souls is aimed, with special keenness and depth, at those who profess to belong to God alone.
Why detachment, and from what must we be detached? God gave us creatures to help us to serve and honour Him. He wanted us to use them as stepping-stones to Him. But we cling so much to them that they become a hindrance in our progress towards God. The spirit of detachment, alone, will put an end to this disorder by directing our souls towards their unique end: GOD. This spirit of detachment was, as it were, the very breath of Venerable Father Colin's soul:
'Let us renounce everything. Let us leave all to find all. If we remain attached to anything we shall be mere shadow religious. We shall be just very ordinary priests. . . . '' 'Let us renounce everything, strip ourselves of everything in order to do good. . . . '
'' The Apostles had left everything, and relied upon nothing human. They leaned only on the grace and strength of their good Master. With that one prop they changed the world. . . . ' 'Only saints will be able to do good, that is to say, missionaries leading a life of sacrifice, a life of death to 'self'. But it is necessary to die completely. Only partial death will accomplish little.'
A remarkable trait of Venerable Father Colin's is that, while specifying the necessity of renunciation of the senses so as to submit the flesh to the spirit, be touches this point very delicately so as to bring into stronger relief what is far more important renunciation of self.
Many think only of controlling their exterior conduct without carrying the remedy to the root of the evil. They give themselves much suffering and agitation, yet advance but little. In following an opposite method, in endeavouring, above all, to regulate the thoughts and affections of the soul, one makes great progress in a short time.'
Mortification is a very necessary virtue. I do not refer to exterior penances and austerities. Health is a gift from God, and must not be destroyed. But what a number of mortifications can be performed without detriment to one's health I For instance, mortification of the thoughts: when going from one place to another, instead of day-dreamingJ think of the sermon you are preparing. Cut short a thought so, as to unite yourself with God within you. . . . '
Austerities are not prescribed in the Society, because we are an active body. But death to self must be entire and perfect. . . . If we love ourselves, we do not do so according to the Gospel where it is said: 'He who loves his soul will lose it.' ' Attachment to our judgement, to self-will, to the affections of the heart and to the esteem of men are very tenacious roots which must be extirpated in this struggle against self. When one ponders on Venerable Father Colin's teaching, one :finds that such was the depth of the renunciation which he wished to see in the souls of his children:
Let us strip ourselves of our own spirit, of our own natural manner of looking at things, of our own thoughts. For our work is not a human one. Who shall succeed in the measure in which we unite ourselves to God in order to do His Divine Will.'
'' I fear nothing so much as putting ' self ' into things. Man spoils the things of God when he meddles with them.''
When anyone consulted Father Colin with a view to a proposed new work, he was would to say:
'' Put the whole thing completely aside for six weeks or a month. Do not think of it at all.''
He gave as reason:
'Because I do not want your imagination to work. I want God's will to manifest itself. Otherwise it will be impossible for me to know what He really wants.'
'Life passes all too quickly. As it passes, let us try to accomplish perfectly the Divine Will. Nothing else matters. '
'' What was our object on entering the Society ? That is the important question. It was to leave our possessions, our parents, our independence. Our vocation is a signal grace bestowed upon us by God. But correspondence on our part is necessary. Religious life does not destroy the love of one's parents. On the contrary, it aims at super naturalizing it. One should not ask to go home without sufficient reason. . . . ''
' I also recommend great detachment from all material possessions. Although the Rule allows the radical dominion of one's goods, our spirit of poverty must be none the less perfect. We should not meddle with the temporal affairs of our family. Leave nephews and nieces alone. Our hearts are so easily attached to creatures. . . . '
'Parents ... would that in this respect we were without father, without mother. . . . '
'' Our Lord said that one should not look behind. That he who does not abandon all is not worthy of Him. That he who leaves father, mother, brother, sister will have a big reward. He made this detachment one of the conditions of the apostolic life.'
'I have never understood that one could be stopped by the thought of one's parents. When one has read the Gospel, when one is a priest, when one has said: 'The Lord is my inheritance ', is it permitted to hesitate, except if father or mother be in dire need ? ' Though Venerable Father Colin's great attraction was for the hidden life, he chose to send his sons on active apostolate. But, while doing so, he lays special stress upon detachment from honours, from worldly esteem, on calm indifference before praise and criticism-even before hatred and disdain. The approbation of God alone suffices, together with the certainty of doing His adorable Will.
'I have learnt well not to be worried about what is said of us. We live in a century of excess: excess in luxury, excess in politeness, excess in everything. . . . Each one judges his neighbour from his own particular point of view. That does not necessarily imply that he is right. For human wisdom has ever been at variance with the wisdom of God .... '
'We must not be surprised if the world speaks against us. The Apostles did not please the rich, the powerful. They spoke to people who were poor like themselves. Then God raised a St. Paul who, full of magnanimity, feared nothing and spoke to all. It was certainly said that Paul was uncultured, that he spoke without eloquence. But that did not matter. St. Paul did not worry in the least as to what was said of him. We have no other model but the infant Church. The Society of Mary started like the Church. We must, therefore, be like the Apostles and those who joined them: one heart and one mind. They loved one another as brothers.'
'Let us die to ourselves. We must be dead to self and to the judgements of men in order to do good. . . . God does not judge like men. . . . '
Renunciation, therefore, has an outstanding place in Venerable Father Colin's spirituality. Considering -the mission of the Society of Mary, it could not be otherwise. To continue the Blessed Virgin's work of co-redemptrix, Marists must efface themselves completely, so as to be at the free disposal of their Superior on whatever field of battle it may please him to use them.
In accepting the Divine Motherhood, Our Blessed Lady offered God a life of total renunciation. And the Trinity found in her a pliable instrument perfectly ready to bend to all the designs of the Divine Will. Of Mary, Venerable Father Colin has written : 'Abnegation is, as it were, the synopsis of the Blessed Virgin's life.'
'' By the vow of Poverty, the religious renounces the world. By the vow of Chastity, he renounces his body. By the vow of Obedience, he renounces his soul, his will. He has, therefore, nothing left on earth. The world is no longer his dwelling-place. He must be entirely in heaven, and fix there his eternal abode.'
'What have we to fear? We are in the arms of our Mother. Our interests are safer in her hands than in our own. Say to her, therefore: 'I offer myself to you to work for your glory and the glory of your Divine Son. Do what you like with me.' '
Renunciation must be vigilant and constant, since the Marist remains in continual contact with the world:
'If virtue is required in order to be either a Trappist or a Carthusian, it is also necessary in order to live in our houses. In Trappist and Carthusian monasteries the :first fifteen days are very difficult. But then one gets accustomed to the life and, until death, everything continues without change. With us, sacrifices are continual and always new.'
Among the detachments which God asks of His followers, one of the most intimately painful is detachment from sensible consolations. It is this perfection of detachment which Venerable Father Colin puts before his children. For he wishes them to rise to the conception of so pure a love of God as -to remain confident in the very darkest nights of the soul:
'' The soul must be reduced to agony and find no other issue but the will of God. One must hate one's soul in order to love it with a more supernatural love.'
'God permits that we see nothing, that we be, as it were, in the depths of night. . . . But we shall emerge from that darkness transformed, and with quite a different idea of the sanctity of God. . . . '
'Let us put up with aridity and desertion. Let us do so even with joy. Let us never weary or lose confidence if, despite our preparation, God seems to pay no attention to our meditation. Remain peacefully and silent at His Divine feet. Is it not happiness enough that He deigns to have us there?'
In expectation, therefore, of the most unforeseen occasions of renunciation, it is good for the soul to ponder on these words of Venerable Father Colin:
'I offered myself willingly to God, so that He might do whatever He liked with me-even should I die as a consequence .... '