Spirit of Penance

Principles of the Spiritual Life
According to venerable Marist Father John Claude Colin


VENERABLE Father Colin often re-emphasized the necessity of penance -and love of the Cross. But, scattered among other teachings, the texts dealing with that subject are difficult to isolate. Suffice it to say that the spirit of penance is a typically Marist virtue. For to continue the mission of Mary crucified with her Son one must be crucified with her.

Here again, Venerable Father Colin's own special and beloved characteristic-effacement and hidden life-is very noticeable. Certain Religious Orders give themselves to corporal austerities definitely detailed in their Rule. There is no such thing in the Society of Mary. Given to active apostolate, it cannot permit its members to perform severe pen­ances likely to ruin physical strength destined for apostolic work.

Penance, according to the Marist spirit, consists in full and loving submission to the Divine Will, sought in the smallest events of everyday life. That spirit is an extension, an application to all circumstances of the '' Fiat '' of Mary, a state of soul ever ready to repeat with the Virgin: 'Behold the Handmaid of the Lord,' whatever be the service demanded by God. It is good that suffering should find the soul sub­missive and resigned. But for certain souls called to deeper love, resignation is not sufficient. From them, the Master expects better. For he who speaks of resignation implies, together with acceptation, a certain self-pity. Thus resignation becomes a sort of compromise, a lessening of the gift which should be complete.

Our Lady rejoiced with supernatural joy in the midst of sorrows which tore her heart. Joy in the midst of suffering must be a characteristic of Mary'sfollowers. Hence Venerable Father Colin, ever anxious to lead his children to perfect forgetfulness of self, desires that they go beyond mere resignation to actual love of the Cross.

But that does not necessarily imply an unfeeling and invulnerable soul. That would be no longer human. Like Christ, it is permitted humbly to beg: 'Father, if it pleases thee, take away this chalice from before me,' provided one adds immediately: 'Only as thy will is, not as mine is. '

'' The more there is to suffer, the more merit there is,' says Venerable Father Colin. But he is careful to add:

'Marists must stand out rather by their interior spirit than by external practices of penance.''

Interiorly-in secret between God and the soul­in the struggle against nature, the simple and joyous ring, of the inconveniences of the acceptance of suffering,common life, of missionary life, in all troubles of body and of soul, may one not say that there is an indefinite variety of forms of penance from which to choose? There again, faithful to his spirit of effacement, the Marist flees ostentation. He seeks the shade in accordance with the words of Christ: '' So that thy fast may not be known to men, but to thy Father who dwells in secret and then thy Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward thee. '

But that love of remaining in the background and of being forgotten, even in the practice of penance, does not cover an apathetic and comfortable indiffer­ence. In the depths of its hidden life, the soul re­mains perfectly alert and vigilant, eyes on

the divine band, ready to move at the faintest sign, completely abandoned and subservient to the divine good pleasure. And that total abandonment pre- supposes total renunciation.

Is there not powerful will-power in that quiet effacement which prompts the soul to say once and for all to Christ: '' I do not choose the cross on which, beside You, it pleases You to nail me. Even in that respect, I put aside my own will and desires, and accept what You will and desire for roe. You know far better than I the cross of which I am cap­able, that on which I shall give You most glory and most love. Choose that cross for me. For You know well that I shall receive it unhesitatingly and humbly from Your hands.''

Thus understood and received from the hands of God, the cross purifies and strengthens: 'The works of God are not those of men. They must pass through the crucible to be purified and consolidated .... God has His own time. He

knows better than we do what is best for each one of us. Let us, therefore, be filled with courage and resignation, endeavouring to see and to judge things by Faith alone with the eyes of God. . . . '

'God has counted all your steps, all your moments of anguish, all your sacrifices .... Donot let your courage falter. Show, by your submis­sion, patience and good spirit that you work for God and not for men; that you are true children of her whom the Church calls the Queen of martyrs. Leave earth and all human reasoning alone. See only heaven your sole and true home where you will soon be.'

' A certain amount of rust always remains on the soul. To get rid of it, the latter must pass through the crucible of suffering, after which it will be com­pletely renovated. God acts thus when He wants to fit a soul for His work. When a missioner has been purified, he forgets what be has left behind, and thinks only of the souls before him .... Yes, the

Cross is the only means of salvation. Our Lord has said : ' If any man has a mind to come my way, let him renounce self, and take up his cross daily and follow me. '

'' ... Do not be down-hearted. Be courageous and very confident in the midst of dangers. Con­sider the Saviour of the world, the Head and Model of Apostles. Like you, and even more than you, He suffered persecution, outrage and privation. He, too, was put to death by the very people whom He wished to save. To participate one day in the glory of His triumph, we must first share His suffering.'

'Let us, therefore, suffer in union with Christ. Let us carry our cross with patience, humility and love. Let us not forget that we are the privileged sons of a Mother who became Queen of Heaven only after she had been .Mother of Sorrows. Were our spirit of Faith really deep, we should be happy to find in ourselves-in our poverty, in our struggles, ha our very desolation-a glorious trait of resemblance with Jesus and Mary. Could we have or desire a surer guarantee of future happiness in heaven?'

Since the world has been saved by the Cross, Venerable Father Colin tells us that suffering is God's seal upon works undertaken for His glory. To be collaborators with Christ in the glorious work of redemption, we must carry our share of the Cross beside Him: '' It is by the Cross, it is by humiliations, that everything is accomplished.'

'' Storms do not frighten me in the least. They arc useful, even necessary for the works of God. They sometimes submerge a badly built ship. But if it is solid, they lead it to port.'' 'The works of God always pass through many trials. . . . '

'Establishments founded in stormy times are, as a rule, more lasting because they are based on greater confidence in God.'

'' It is in times of storm that the works of God are consolidated. It is then that courage which has its source in God alone becomes greater, more intrepid.'

' . . . The Blessed Virgin's work advances onlyIn the midst of crosses and suffering .... Therefore, rejoice .... We must be despised, sometimeseven calumniated, before being solidly constructed.'

' All that is best for us is done amidst crosses .... '

' The more there is to suffer, the more merit there is, From the very beginning, God has led souls dear to Him to heaven by means of suffering. The mis­sions of Oceania and the suffering which they entailare the Society's blessings, its glory” ....

TheSociety owes its development to the missions of Oceania. We are destined to have still more martyrs there. A missioner is not called to tread a path of roses. . . . It is worthy of Mary that we should help the most abandoned people of the earth. She has said to her little Society: ' I must show it what great things it must do for my name's sake.' '

' If the Society is experiencing trials, all the better. I would not look with a favourable eye upon a Society which has nothing to suffer. It would not be God's work. To want only consolations would not be the spirit of God. Were all the world to applaud us, we might well conclude that our work was not pleasing to God .... The Society hasnever accomplished anything save in the midst ofcrosses .... '

Hence penance and suffering, inseparable from the following of Christ, must have their place for those who dedicate themselves to Our Lady. For to offer oneself to her in order to continue her mission im­plies a readiness to accept whatever form of suffering that mission demands.

Yet what worldly joy is greater than that offered to the soul which treads in the footsteps of Jesus and Mary on the royal road of the Cross?Before that unfolding prospect, the soul of whomJesus and Mary have asked: 'Are you willing? ' has; but one reply which is an outburst of its generous and deep love: 'Behold, I come, Lord, to do Thy will. ''

Venerable Father Founder did not speak of the 1wccssity of suffering without its personal experience. He had hoped to play but a secondary part in the founding of the Society of Mary:

'But when he saw that hope vanish, when he understood that God called him to begin and to found the Society, then the ineffable consolation, which bad filled his soul during seven years, appeared to give place to the most bitter anguish.

'That state of desolation and interior interior was part of God's plan. He was told to have made for himself a cross without the figure of Christ, to signify that henceforth his life would be a series crucifixions and deaths without the least sensible Compensation.

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06 June 2022

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Source Name
Marist Father John Claude Colin

Source URL
Principles of the Spiritual Life......


Reflect on the theme of penance and the love of the cross. These thoughts were published in 1950. Realise its context, but realise the wisdom which speaks to us today.

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