Principles of the Spiritual Life According to venerable Marist Father John Claude Colin
VENERABLE Father Colin's soul was greatly attracted to the hidden life. And be found it nowhere in such perfection as in the little house of Nazareth, in the humble life of the Holy Family which he proposed to his children as a constant subject of meditation. It is, in truth, an infinitely rich theme.
' You must have but one spirit: that of the house of Nazareth.'
'When troubled, I go to the house of Nazareth, and there I see what I have to do. When God speaks, He says a lot in a few words. Thus, for instance: 'Hidden and Unknown in the world.' The entire Society and its Constitutions were revealed to me in those words.''
'When a work begins, we examine, we calculate, we consider the person in charge, we judge things and men. But we do so with the judgement of a man. That is not the way to act. We must see things in God, and men in the hands of God who makes them act. Let men do and say what they like. God will do things in His own good time. Our Lord remained thirty years in the obscurity of Nazareth. When choosing apostles to convert the world, He didnot seek out learned men. He selected humble and unknown men. . . . The Society of Mary must also remain humble and unknown.''
'Seek your spirit in the house of Nazareth. Heaven, the Blessed Virgin, the Infant Jesus and Saint Joseph were there.'
'' Do you know where you will find our spirit? Personally, I find it in its perfection in the house of Nazareth. Did Jesus try to anticipate His Father's wishes as to His public appearance?'
'When I see an inclination to show off, when I bear suggestions about taking more spectacular colleges, when I see that talents alone are appreciated, that talents are compared, nothing hurts me more. Are those the sentiments which children of Mary should have·? Did Our Lord not choose His apostles from among the poor? '
'Allow me to say that I shall always be adamant against such a spirit. And should there exist amongst us one of that mind, one who is ashamed of our hidden and unknown life, l ask permission to punish him severely. What good is it to consecrate ourselves to Mary, if we want to cause a stir, to show off? It is the spirit of the Society which induces us to choose the poorest foundations, because in them good can be accomplished all the more secretly. In such establishments, there is more good to be done; and one works more securely.'
'I would rather twenty times over that the Society should crumble than that it should lose its distinctive spirit.'
'Let us, therefore, be small, humble. Let us beg Jesus to give us the Blessed Virgin's spirit, the spirit of Christianity, which is one of humility. The smaller and the more humble we are, the greater marvels we shall accomplish.'
'Let us rely upon Mary's protection. Let us go to her always. Let us be quite simple with her. For we belong to her. Mary is with us at all our tasks. We are assured of her protection. With her we are really strong.'
Let us, therefore, seek the true Marist spirit in the house of Nazareth. What was Nazareth? It was a period in the life of Jesus, a period of complete abjection.
Here and there amidst the incredible humiliations of Jesus during His public life, the Gospel reveals scenes of unprecedented glory. God chose to lift, from time to time, the thick veil of humility with which Christ covered Himself, so as to show men the infinite omnipotence of the Almighty. Even the hatred of the enemies of Jesus was a source of glory. For is not hatred here below a form of respect, the involuntary tribute of homage rendered to a power that is feared?
There was nothing like that at Nazareth. Jesus lived there for thirty years in oblivion, in profound silence. His was a poor and humble family, so much like other working families round about as to attract no special attention, to be even a subject of indifference.
But that life of Nazareth was a life of prayer, of work, of silence, of solitude and of recollection. It was a life of union with God such as is seen nowhere else. And it was from Nazareth that Venerable Father Colin drew the spirit of the Society of Mary as detailed in the chapter of the Constitutions : ' Spirit of the Society”
'Finally, let them join Jove of solitude and silence and the practice of the hidden virtues to works of zeal in such a way that even should they have to undertake divers works having in view the salvation of souls, they may, nevertheless, appear unknown and hidden in the world.'
Every filing on this point was a source of deep suffering to Venerable Father Colin: 'Alas, alas, they do not want to enter Nazareth. That kills me. . . .'
When necessary, he utters a terrible threat: 'If, after my death, I hear that the Society isno longer faithful to its primitive spirit, I will rise from my grave and curse it.''
'With my 'Unknown' I shall prevent you raising your head in pride.''
He one day referred, in whimsical vein, to the hidden life which he loved so dearly : 'At least may that spirit not disappear from the Society. If we make ourselves very small, God will bless us .... My little Marists, be, therefore, small, small, small .. .. Were it possible, I would put all my Marists in a sack so that the world might ignore them..
All very well, one may say. But how is one to reconcile the duties of the Society of Mary which is devoted to active apostolate with the exigencies of the hidden life? It is not by living carefully concealed at the bottom of the sack in which their Founder thought to place them that Marists will fulfil their role and continue here below the Blessed Virgin's mission. The answer is quite simple. It is merely a matter of understanding Venerable Father Colin's words, and of distinguishing between their letter and their spirit. It is precisely in the spirit that the perfection of the ideal of the hidden life is realized.
The hidden life, the life of Nazareth, consists in forgetfulness of creatures, solitude, silence, work and the recollection of intimate union with God. All of which are quite possible even in active apostolate.
Like Christ, a Marist must be in the world, but not of it: 'I am not asking that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them clear of what is evil. They do not belong to the world, as I, too, do not belong to the world.'
It is possible to go through the world without drawing undue attention. Venerable Father Colin's ideal was that one might be able to say of a Marist: 'I did not notice his clothes. They were in no way striking. '
These remarks of his concerning dress were extended to everything else:
'Let us avoid all singularity. True virtue hides itself. Besides, singularity in a Society provokes criticism of those who are singular.' The Holy Family of Nazareth was in no way singular. Had it been, all eyes would have been rooted on that little home. Everything was certainly poor in that little house. Bnt it was everyday poverty, that of the workman who must count his pennies in order to live by the work of his hands. It was not the poverty of the sordid wretch who begs from door to door. In Venerable Father Colin's passion for poverty, nothing ever Jacked the dignity and prudence which are so very characteristic of his spirit. Nothing ever betrayed effort or ostentation. His was a perfectly natural soul.
One who is really dead to the world is able, even in the midst of the most distracting apostolate, to live hidden in God without ever losing the spirit of deep recollection. For it is God whom one finds in creatures. It is for Him that the soul contacts them. And, seeing through and beyond creatures, it is to God alone that it becomes attached. Listen to the words of Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus: 'Without leaving Your arms, without even turning my head, I shall distribute Your treasures to the soul which asks me for food. . . . I tried to unite myself interiorly more and more to God knowing that all things else would be added unto me. 'As experience proves, interior silence, uninterrupted union with God, is not found exclusively in the depths of cloisters, just as cloisters do not suffice in themselves to promote it.
To avoid the profanation of the soul's intimate uion with God, though all forms of apostolate are open to them, Vene1-able Father Colin recommends to his children those works which, because of their lowliness and abjection, do not attract attention. And he insists that they be carried out without ostentation.
Effacement, humility must be a Marist's pass-word: 'Let us always be hidden and unknown in the world. By hiding ourselves in the midst of men, we draw them to us.· If, on the contrary, we push ourselves forward, men will resist us.'
'The Society can do much good and exercise a salutary influence around it. Does that imply that it will cause a great stir in the world? No. Look at the Blessed Virgin. Who had greater influence on her century, on the birth of the early Church? Yet she was not spoken of while on earth. It is true that now her name is known everywhere. But her glory is all in God. If, likewise, the world should speak of the Society, let it do so only of our modesty and humility. Let us never seek glory in the eyes of men.'
'' Let us make ourselves known by our good spirit, by our modesty and our simplicity .... It is God who must draw subjects to us.'
'' I do not want learned men who are not humble. I must have learned men, but men who, as it were, ignore their learning. Men who, instead of showing off, love to be looked upon as of no account. The hidden life is not merely a guarantee of divine blessings. It is also a pledge of security in this world. A person who causes a sensation easily makes enemies. Consider Our Lord. He was persecuted during His public life, because His great reputation put His enemies in the shade. The Blessed Virgin was not persecuted, because she was unknown. Such is our lot. We shall be despised, forgotten, but people will leave us alone. Obscurity will be our defence.'
One must not misunderstand those words of Venerable Father Colin. They betray neither fear of public opinion nor cowardice or apathy in God's service. To think so, would be to misinterpret completely .his great soul, and to dishonour him. Those words are merely the expression of his ardent desire of a hidden life, as he says himself:
My natural inclination was to hide myself .... '
'I sometimes think that I would do good by mixing more. But what would I accomplish in the limelight ? It is up to the Blessed Virgin to act. . . .
'As regards visits, I am glad that I have held aloof. People call me a savage. I prefer to hear them say that rather than that they see me too often.
We have not left the world in order to be constantly in its midst. Besides, a certain reserve is expected of religious.'
' Mary, being the patron of the Society, we must endeavour to acquire her spirit. . We are called upon to imitate her life. That does not prevent us taking on all sorts of work. But we must do our work in such a way as not to attract attention. One can do great things, and do them well without coming to the fore .... At the end of time Mary's protection will be still more visible. The apostles bad their reasons for leaving her in the shade. Her hand will be felt still more at the end of the world than it was at the beginning of the Church.'' '' . . . Let us not like to be spoken of. Let us imitate our Mother, Mary. Let us have her spirit. May the world know nothing of our achievements. God will see them from heaven, and He will reward them.
A great truth which is often forgotten is that all ostentation in the donation of the heart is an indelicacy and a profanation which diminish the grandeur of the gift. What does worldly opinion matter? It may flatter our vanity. But it adds nothing to the strength, to the purity of our love. It merely drags us down to the level of the human approbation which we seek: ''
Be sure you do not perform your acts of piety before men, for them to watch; if you do that, you have no title to a reward from your Father who is in heaven. '
'' Let us not allow ourselves to be influenced by the spirit of the world, nor by the progress of other Congregations. To make ourselves known, to popularize ourselves, is not our spirit. Let us always remember that the good we do must remain hidden.' '' The time for the Society of Mary to show itself may come. In God's own good time it will come. But let us do nothing to gain human glory. What can man give us? Are we working for men? What good is human glory?
'How we need the Blessed Virgin's help I Let us imitate her. According to the spirit of our vocation, let us do good secretly. The Rule says that although we must take on all kinds of duties, we must, nevertheless, act as though hidden and unknown.'
Some may think that Venerable Father Colin's pronounced love of effacement and oblivion sprang from a timid soul. What timid soul would dare to say to God as he did:
'My God, you can do great things through me, because I am nothing. . . . '
Can one not, on the contrary, discern in that love of oblivion a victorious struggle against the natural impatience of nature? What a wealth of patience in those thirty years of hidden life at Nazareth, to which Venerable Father Colin constantly refers his children I Was love of oblivion not also a victorious struggle against human self-love which seeks, with so much tenacity, with such powerful vitality the most subtle forms of ostentation, even in the guise of apostolate?
In Venerable Father Colin's case, that love of oblivion had so exhausted all self-love as to urge him to withdraw from places where others might appear with legitimate pride. He willingly consented that other Societies should take over work which might have been given to the Society of Mary:
'' Were our Society asked for in a place and I knew that another Society would do as much good there, I would not want to send our men. I would rather leave the place to the other Society. Then, at least, we Marists would have the merit of humility.'
'' All the better if others do good. In virtue of the communion of saints they give me a share in their merits without any effort on my part.' 'Not only must we never think or speak against other communities, we must do everything to favour them and to show them sympathy. 'I like abandoned works, works that are hidden. My preference is for work among the poor. . . . '
' Our task is to do what others cannot or will not undertake.'
'Be saints,' Venerable Father Colin constantly repeated to his children. Yet he refuses them the halo”
''Yes, the Society of Mary will produce saints. . . . But they will be unknown. . . . '' Real saints for God alone was what he wanted.
At certain moments Venerable Father Collin’s soul seemed unable to breathe in the atmosphere of this world of ours. It aspired with inexpressible weariness towards God alone in the hidden life.
'I am weary of vanity .... This world tires May we not discern in that cry of holy suffering an echo of Job: '' My soul is tired of living.'' Since God alone is Being and Life, since He alone is the Infinite needed by the soul, of what con sequence are the attention and honours of the world? This the Venerable Father Colin clearly understood. May it be so, too, with his children:
'Who will give me, 0 Lord, to find Thee alone, to open my whole heart to Thee, and to enjoy Thee as my soul desireth, and that no one may henceforth despise me, not anything created move or regard me.
... Ah, Lord, when shall I be wholly united to, and absorbed in Thee, and altogether unmindful of myself? '