Principles of the Spiritual Life According to venerable Marist Father John Claude Colin
FRATERNAL CHARITY AND APOSTOLIC ZEAL
ALL real charity, all apostolic work, is and cannot be other than the blossom and the fruit of renunciation and the interior life. That is why, when founding a Society given to active apostolate, Venerable Father Colin taught his sons first and foremost detachment from everything, together with the necessity of a life of prayer:
'To forget the spirit of prayer, is to forget the very foundation of all success.'
'After our personal sanctification, the main object of our work is the salvation of our neighbour. But oar ministry will be sterile unless we are full of God and of His spirit. An ounce of the spirit of God is of greater value than all human learning and the most beautiful worldly speeches. It is, therefore, that spirit of God which we must earnestly beg.' God wan-ts our love to be used for the extension of His reign here below. He deigns to need us, but our apostolate will be practical in meaning and in result only if He alone is its mainspring. 'They give themselves ' is a very beautiful expression used nowadays to describe those whose whole life is inexhaustible charity. Yet it is not 'themselves' whom they really gjve, but rather God who dwells within them. There is a difference. God alone is the source. Man is but the channel which He deigns to use to contact souls. Separated from the source, the channel becomes useless.
' Let us be deeply convinced that we shall work efficaciously for the glory of God only in proportion to our life of faith, and the readiness with which we rely on God rather than on men.'
'Let us multiply our prayers, so that God may fill us superabundantly with the spirit of faith. The young Society will strike root, will grow and spread only thanks to that spirit of faith. It is more necessary these days than ever.'
'Can we count on human mean_? Be quite sure that we shall procure God's glory·, that we shall be useful to the Church only if we act with supernatural motives. Human industry is a paltry thing. It is nothing. It is even an obstacle.'
'We shall save men only by the Cross and by suffering . . . By experiencing every possiblemisery .... '
'Such principles seem foolish. That is because nowadays it is customary to turn everything into philosophy. There is no proportion between the means which we employ to save souls and the salvation of those souls. It is God alone who changes them by His grace. By putting something of ourselves into that work, we are merely being obstacles to His action.'
'Let us bestir ourselves. Let faith alone animate us. The Society of Mary is a pre-eminently active body. It will accomplish nothing if we do not combine prayer and activity. We must be men of prayer filled with the desire of the glory of God and the salvation of souls. And we must be men of action who endeavour to attain that noble end. Do we want to seek something else ? Does earthly glory attract us ? It is quite empty.' 'Unless the Lord build the house, they labour in vain who build it. Our work is the work of God. Man counts for nothing in it.'
'Listen well to what I am going to say: I am convinced that God will not bless the Society if we rely on human means. Let us be kind, honest towards all. But let us not count on men. Let us put all our trust in God and in the Blessed Virgin. Is it our own work that we are doing? '
'If you are in charge of a house and rely on yourself, I guarantee that things will not work smoothly. Is it your efforts that will ensure success? You should say : ' Here is a house which God has given me to manage. It is not men, but God, who has chosen me as its head.''
'Pray, and ask only for God's Wi]J to be done. If we worry, it is because we do not seek strength where it is to be found. . . . ''
We badly need to throw ourselves into the arms of our heavenly Mother. If possible, let us choose her more intimately as our Superior. But then we must not act as though she were not our Mother and Superior-Superior of the whole Society. Do nothing without her. Give no advice without -first consulting Mary. Say to her in doubts and difficulties: 'Holy Virgin, help me. You are my Mother and Superior.' Go to your Superior as to Our Lady's representative.'
'' Be well convinced of your nothingness. As long as you think yourself fit for something you will be unsuitable for the things of God. Without deep humility the grace of the apostolate is very dangerous indeed. Think yourself nothing, that you can do nothing. And that is no fiction. Be very simple. Be happy to be despised : ' Love to be unknown and looked upon as nothing. ''
Fully conscious of human weakness, and well aware that community-life is one of the best instruments of penance, Venerable Father Colin insists that charity should begin at home:
' I have- always said: men are men.'
'Lavish care, attention, charity on one another. For it is that charity, that beautiful union, which will be your happiness and consolation. Avoid quarrels, little outbursts of self-love, susceptibilities, aversions. You are apostles of Christ, dead to yourselves and to the world. It is the spirit of Christ which should animate you and be the principle and motive-power of your whole lives. Love one another and you will save your soul.'
' In times of disagreement, remember that as a rule there is fault on both sides. Yet this is often I difficult to admit. With the spirt of God, tact, prudence, charity and understanding of minds and characters, one can live in peace with everyone: I have become all things to all men.'
' Let us love one another as members of one body of which Christ is the Head. Let neither contention nor those annoyances which, though they do not kill, weaken charity and rob it of its sweetness, exist amongst us.'
' Let us love one another. O, let us love one another. We should be as jealously eager for the perfection of our brethren as we are for our own perfection. ''
'May you always Jove one another as children of the most tender and most loving of mothers. That union will be your strength and consolation. It will assure the success of your works for the greater glory of God and in honour of the Blessed Virgin.'
'As to those little mutual repugnances, you must sometimes deftly brush them aside. Little ups and downs among people of goodwill are unavoidable in life. They are even necessary in order to perfect souls, to detach them from all creatures, and to accustom them to keep God alone in view. Yes, the way of the Cross is the path of the elect, the path to heaven. You may sometimes long to live with a certain person. You think that your way of looking at things and your manner of acting would harmonize perfectly with the person of your choice. But things actually turn out quite differently when you do get together. And God allows this.'
'You sometimes disagree. You thus get a chance of suffering from the faults of others. But remember, they suffer from yours just as much, perhaps even more. All the better. That is the way to heaven. Thank God. Yes, I dare to affirm that we must thank God for having strewn contradictions along our way. We thus come to look upon creatures as nothing, to see only God and to act for Him alone. It is thus God fashions the elect. God loves us infinitely more than we love ourselves. Did He not create every type of character? Yes, it is He who made them all.''
' These thoughts will help us to love one another and to live in peace. . . . Be as little children.' -
' Union with God will enable you to be calm in the midst of anxieties. Be very self-possessed. Do not get unduly worried. St. Franois de Sales says that one must not be surprised at feeling less agreeable, less elated towards those for whom one feels an antipathy. He considers that quite natural. But he also insists that one should :fight against nature, so as to avoid positive results. Alas, we are men. We live with men. Nothing should surprise us.'
In the hurry and bustle of everyday life, it is easy to forget that fraternal charity is so delicate as to be wounded by a mere trifle. Are we not apt to judge man by his exterior, whereas his real worth depends upon his soul and the intention which prompts him. God entrusts His love to us, but He reserves His justice for Himself. Let ours ever be a work of love. It is so much easier and simpler, so much better to love than to hate. No matter how serious the wrong done to me, l. must forgive, and continue to love one another. Be as simple as doves and as wise as serpents. Have God alone in view, never creatures. Otherwise you will spoil everything you do. You will mix dross with gold. Why worry if you do not succeed? You have Mary. Take her advice. When a servant is in difficulty he consults his master or mistress. Go, therefore, to the Blessed Virgin. Place your hand in hers. She will lead you. She will calm the storm. She will put you on your feet again. '
A Marist's charity must extend beyond the family circle. All, and especially abandoned sinners, are to be the subject of his priestly zeal. For Venerable Father Colin tells us that:
'Zeal is so closely associated with charity as to be almost indistinguishable from it. He who loves God seeks to communicate that love, to make God known. A priest without zeal is salt without savour.'
'Marists should be like the apostles. They were only twelve, yet they converted the world.''
'Zeal is the essence of the priesthood. For a priest must be all afire. If you say you feel no attraction to be zealous, that you are attracted only towards prayer, I reply: 'Examine yourself. Perhaps you suffer from an illusion. We are priests for souls.''
' Ah, if we but knew the price of a single soul I Are we anxious to limit our ministry? No. The zeal of the Society must embrace the whole universe.'
' Think often of the kindness of Our Blessed Lord. Remember how He gave His time to the Samaritan woman. Let us be as indulgent towards sinners as He was.'
'' Love sinners. Our Lord was ever in their midst. He spoke only against rebels. What right have we to put limits to the mercy of God?'
'What a beautiful ministry ours is! What a marvellous vocation is that of a priest ! His is the kingdom of mercy-limitless mercy here below. For Justice will have its sway in the next life.'
'' The Society must undertake all works conducive to the glory of God and the salvation of souls. When about to exercise your sacred ministry, remember that you are working on ground that is not your own. Your role is less that of the reaper than that of Ruth, who gleaned the fields owned by Booz. Pick up the fallen grains that have been left behind. And, since nowadays souls which have escaped the reaper are more numerous than those that have not, do not fear that you will be without work. You will have more than you can do. ''
'' As for sinners, ah, spare nothing where they are concerned. Do not count the time which you devote to them. Were you to spend a whole month trying to convert a single sinner, I assure you, you will have done good work. Remember that you replace Our Lord. Christ understood full well the depth of misery in the human heart. He tenderly welcomed all sinners.'
'As long as one can work at the salvation of souls one should do so. It is the greatest, the best and the most divine of ministries. A priest who has not received the grace of zeal has, I dare to affirm, not received that of the priesthood. Is it possible to see a soul on the road to perdition and not try to save it? Is it possible to let timidity or hesitancy stand in the way?' These are indeed words of pressing exhortation. Yet, as was his custom, Venerable Father Colin added words of prudence :
'' Have a well-ordered zeal. Do not want to do everything, but only what is according to God's plan.'
'' The main point is to do what God wants. Zeal over and above God's Will is but eagerness and illusion.'
'Together with God's help we need perseverance and courage. And when we shall have accomplished our small part with purity of intention, God will see to the rest. '
'True zeal does not consist .in doing a lot at a time, but rather in doing well what one does.'
'' Before exercising your sacred ministry, before performing a task, you should make a big act of humility. What proportion is there between me and the duties I am about to fulfil? Were we to act otherwise, we should not be Marists. Meditate often on this sublime thought: to bring souls back to God, it is necessary to be a saint. Often few talents and much sanctity work wonders. Whereas many talents and little sanctity accomplish nothing. Let us be saints. Then let us trust in God, and go ahead courageously and confidently.'
Venerable Father Colin is careful to point out that apostolic zeal must not take one from one's duty, from one's daily task, which is the special 'service' asked by God. Nor must one court worldly success and esteem. We may very fittingly take these words of his to heart. For what century has witnessed more than ours the rise of a multitude of apostolic works? Yet many of these works, good in themselves, have become dangerous, because of the bad use to which they are put, and because they are too much imbued with the twentieth-century need of feverish agitation.
'The essential is forgotten. Put nothing before duty. The duties of state are too much neglected. Should we have to choose between obedience and charity, it is obedience which should carry off the victory.'
'Do not be afraid to say no, even at the cost of displeasing. By sticking to one's duty one is all the more esteemed. When a house is not working properly, it is quite easy to say: 'Look at the person in charge. He has time for everything but his house!''
'' While giving yourself to works of zeal do what Mary did during her earthly life, love to be forgotten.'