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


IN the Constitutions of the Society of Mary, Vener­able Father Colin returns three times to the spirit of poverty. His third reference to this subject is the very last Article of those Constitutions, as though, his work completed, his fatherly soul felt the need to insist once more, in a sort of spiritual testament, on a point intimately dear to him:

“emptying the heart of all thirst for earthly things, in avoiding all superfluity even in what is necessary, poverty keeps the soul in humility, mortification, disdain of the perishable goods of this world and, in simple submission to God, filial submission to Provi­dence, poverty stimulates interior recollection.'

'Marists will often meditate upon the excellence of this virtue, especially as seen in the Heart of Jesus who chose it as His inseparable companion even to the extent of rejoicing at being born, at living and dying poor. They will also contemplate it in the Heart of Mary, their Mother and Model, who, though the daughter of kings and the Mother of God, re­mained, nevertheless, always poor, and preferred poverty to all worldly goods.''

'All Marists are, therefore, earnestly entreated, in the name of Our Lord and of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to preserve carefully poverty in its integrity as set down in the Constitutions. The Society will not be for­bidden to tighten its limits-as defined in the Consti­tutions-but all imprudent relaxation of this point of discipline will be strongly avoided.'

Father Founder goes on to say:

'Poverty is not a well-known virtue. It is a divine virtue which man does not like. It must be a very beautiful one since the Son of God practised it so strictly as to have no place of His own, or even belong­ing to His parents, in which to be born. And, during His life, Tradition has it that He had only one tunic which grew with Him. He deigned to perform thatmiracle in the interests of poverty. When dead, what had Christ on the Cross? He was stripped of everything. Even the very Cross did not belong to Him. He had but one possession: His Mother. She was there. Her very nature revolted at the thought of Calvary. It js unnatural for a mother to assist at the crucifixion of her son. But love drew Mary to the very spot whence nature repelled her. . . . She was, therefore, present at the dreadful scene. She was all Jesus possessed. He stripped Himself even of her : ' Son, behold thy Mother.' '

'Let us remember that our Rule says that we must be happy when we lack something. Does one pro­fess a vow of poverty so as to enjoy comforts and to want for nothing? If such were the case, who would not vow poverty ? '

Poverty, as understood by Venerable Father Colin, such as he desires for his children, is not the dire poverty of a St. Francis of Assisi 'It is the sim­plicity of the common life led by people of modest means who are neither rich nor poor: simplicity of dwelling, of food and of clothing.' '1 It is the poverty of the Holy Family in the little house of Nazareth, where Venerable Father Colin found the ideal of the Marist life. Finally, it is that poverty which does not attract attention nor induce pity, but is rather an effacement in that hidden life so ardently desired and so passionately loved by the humble Founder.

This idea of poverty is found again in Venerable Father Colin's biography, where it is written: 'As regards poverty, what he wanted for his children was a simple and modest type of poverty unlikely to draw attention. So that, for instance, were a Marist sud­denly to leave a gathering, and were someone to ask how he had been dressed, all present might reply: 'We did not pay attention to his clothes. They were in no way striking.' '

Speaking of new foundations, Venerable Fath.er Colin said:

' How I love houses which begin poor, houses in which one has to suffer, where everything is not according to one's wishes .... Is he who wants every comfort, every convenience a priest . . . a missioner? '

'I fear that establishment will not prosper, be­cause it is not starting like the others. It is too well off to begin with. . . . A beautiful house with an income. . . . The other houses began in a small way like Nazareth, and God blessed them. When houses are poor, the religious in them are obliged to trust Divine Providence all the more. When nothing is , wanting, Providence is forgotten.'

'' This is how I should like to start a Marist Foundation : to bring with me my stick, my breviary and forty francs for household utensils. . . . When we began at Lyons, we had almost nothing. Those were the best days. We were happiest then. Those who, trusting to Providence, start with nothing, soon have all they need. Those who want to be well provided for from the outset are often in constant diffi­culty. God comes to the help of His servants. Poverty, when one knows how to use it, is a most beautiful piece of furniture. . . . ''

'' Seek only the essential, otherwise you will not be like the apostles, and Christ will not be able to say to you as He d.id to His own: 'As my Father hath sent Me, so also I send you.' For that it is necessary to be really poor. God will know how to impoverish those who do not set out like the apostles. He will deprive them of the superfluous by some accident or other.' 'Were the Society to lose its primitive spirit, I would prefer it to disappear. For without that dis­tinctive spirit, there is no reason why it should exist. The first object of the Society was to imitate the life of Nazareth, the life of the apostles .... '

' When one has no regular income one proceeds slowly and cautiously. And if the undertaking is necessary, one prays. But when one is rich, one is independent, one acts in a human manner, which brings about relaxation. Beware of excess wealth. It is riches which ruin religious orders. Experience and history prove this. . . . '

'The Society may be one day rich, which would be a grave misfortune. Let us pray constantly that a spirit of disinterestedness may reign in the Society. Let us ask that grace of God. Once the spirit of poverty is lost, the spirit of God soon vanishes. . . . ''

And so, in the Constitutions of the Society of Mary, the Venerable Founder tells his sons that:

'Everything at their disposal-as regards dwell­ing, food and the necessaries of life-must bear the seal of poverty and religious simplicity. '

But if external poverty is to be a Marist's characteristic, he must cherish and practise still more poverty of spirit, for it is in the very depths of our souls and not around us that real poverty reigns. All attach­ments to creatures, all irregular desires make us rich. We are truly poor only in so far as we are ready for every sacrifice which God requires of us. Real poverty of spirit is very difficult -to acquire, because it supposes detachment from everything. It is this poverty which Venerable Father Colin desired for his children:

' Those who, having chosen poverty as their portion, constantly seek their comfort and wish to lack for nothing would be wrongly called friends of poverty, and would deserve to be ridiculed by God and man.'

'Let them avoid taking back by willing attach­ment or desire what they have once left so as to advance unshackled on the path of perfection ....Let them not hold to the things given them to use. For such attachment would greatly impede their pro­gress in perfection.'

Venerable Father Colin here emphasizes a typical obstacle. At a moment of exceptional fervour and grace, we surrendered all we had to God. We no longer look upon it as ours, but simply as a deposit confided to our care with a view to its being used solely for the service of God. Perhaps even as religious, we may have taken a vow of poverty bind­ing ourselves formally to its strict observance. But, despite our good intentions, the virtue of poverty is not acquired in a flash of religious enthusiasm. Like all the virtues, it demands long and persevering patience. For it attacks one of the most tenacious of human instincts: the spirit of ownership which is by no means easy to destroy. A short introspection may, perhaps, reveal that after having bound our­selves to the serious practice of poverty, we almost instinctively perform acts of proprietorship the whole day long, and that for quite ridiculous objects. Do we not, for instance, grumble at being changed from a particular room ? Do we not hold to a certain book either for its unique binding or because it is a personal souvenir? Or do we object to giving up a favourite picture, or even so small a thing as a pen?

... Though insignificant in themselves, these pre­ferences are weaknesses which gradually and almost imperceptibly weave a fine yet strong web of attach­ment; between creatures and ourselves, and hence obstruct our perfect union with God.

'Do not lay up treasure for yourselves on earth, where there is moth and rust to consume it, where there are thieves to break through and steal it; lay up treasure for yourselves in heaven, where there is no moth or rust to consume it, no thieves to break through and steal. '

The real significance, then, of the spirit of poverty is very deep. This was well understood by Vener­able Father Colin, who looked upon poverty as total abandonment, absolute renunciation. He admir­ably illustrates this fact when he says:

'' My God, I renounce all these thoughts. I want to have no other point of view but yours ....

O how happy I should be to possess nothing . . . not even an idea ! '' To possess God's life whole-heartedly, to see the realization of Christ's promise, it is necessary to be truly poor. The reward promised by Jesus to the truly poor is in proportion to the generosity of the sacrifice:

'' What of us, who have forsaken all, and followed thee? Jesus answered, I promise you, everyone who has forsaken home, or brothers, or sisters, or mother, or children, or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel, will receive now, in this world, a hundred times their worth, houses, sisters, brothers, mothers, children, lands, but with persecution; and in the world to come he will receive everlasting life.''

'' Blessed are the poor in spirit, the kingdom of heaven is theirs. '

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18 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 'Poverty'. These thoughts were published in 1950. Realise its context, but realise the wisdom which speaks to us today.

How is poverty and simplicity apart of each day?

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