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Marist Calendar - December

Feast of St. Marcellin Champagnat

 

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Br. Seán D. Sammon, Superior General

06/06/2009: General House - Photo gallery

Did you ever think about looking at Marcellin Champagnat through the eyes of Brother François? And why François? Because this first Superior General of ours never ceased to pray that he become a living portrait of our Founder. And I am pleased to report that in his lifetime his prayers were answered.

Should we look at Marcellin through the eyes of François, what might we see? First of all, a man who took risks. Marcellin was not afraid to take a chance, to set aside his well made plans and try something new—even when the outcome was not assured. After all, he built the Hermitage following immediately upon the Institute’s first vocation crisis. At a time when most people would have been down-sizing, the Founder was expanding. But then again, he believed without question that Mary would send him his needed recruits, and that she did.

Second, each and every time that François looked at Marcellin he could not help but see Mary. For the Founder was in love with the mother of Jesus. No doubt about it. And over time their relationship grew so close that Mary became his confidant; he eventually entrusted his Institute as well as its members and works to her.

Finally, should we look at the Founder through the eyes of our first Superior General we would see immediately a man who knew himself only too well. Impatient with pretense and self-promotion, Marcellin put great weight on the virtue of humility and struggled to give it a central place in his life.

His relationship with Mary had also taught him that this virtue was not to be associated with excessive self-abasement. For in being nobody other than herself, Mary came to discover the glory of God. Genuine humility is realized when we, like her, welcome God into our lives. For in so doing, we come to see ourselves as we truly are: creatures in the presence of the Creator.

Now, after looking at the Founder though the eyes of François, suppose that we turns his sights on us. What might he see? Unfortunately—and all too often—a Founder who takes risks and followers who prefer to play it safe; all in the name of prudence, and practicality, and what’s proper. At times, we must wonder: would some of us have tried to talk the Founder out of building the Hermitage?

Now, are there some among us who are risk takers like Marcellin? Of course. We have 50 of them in Asia at the moment, part of our mission ad gentes efforts. But when I think of them I often find myself asking: do I have their courage, their generosity of heart, their willingness to set out on the adventure that God has in mind for each of us?

And what about Mary? What would François see were he to look at her in Marcellin’s life and then in ours? Again, unfortunately, he might see a Founder in love with the mother of Jesus while we his followers work overtime to domesticate this remarkable woman of faith. Many of us no longer let her disturb us, shake up our world, touch our hearts.

But Mary, the mother of Jesus, is worthy of honor not only because she is his mother but more importantly because she was his disciple. Were Marcellin here today, he would challenge you and me to restore her to her rightful place within our Institute and to entrust to her the work of its renewal. By engaging Mary in that effort as a fellow pilgrim and guide, we would not only be enlisting her aid, but also hopefully taking on her spirit of faith and openness to God’s will.

Let us not take this step, however, unless you and I are willing to deal with its consequences. For if we express to the mother of Jesus our keen desire to work for the full renewal of our Institute, chances are that she will accept our offer.

Finally, should François look at the Founder and see the virtue of humility, what might he find in us? A Founder who knew himself with all his strengths and weaknesses and many of us continuing to judge ourselves and our efforts by human standards rather than by those of God. For if you and I were honest, this would be our first admission: rather than live the gospel’s prophetic message fully, we still long for human approval, desire to be well thought of, pray that our work will be judged as ranking among the best in its class. In more ways than we may care to admit, we resemble the Pharisees of old: looking for a Messiah king to restore our fortunes and missing the Suffering Servant who has come in his place.

So, what can we do to change; to learn to take greater risks, to restore Mary to her proper place within our Institute, to become a living portrait of the man and saint whose feast we mark today? The answer to that question has been with us since the beginning of the Society of Mary: take on the spirit of the mother of Jesus and make our own the message of her Magnificat. In Luke’s account of the Visitation we meet a young woman who though unschooled, and poor and powerless, remains nonetheless bold and enthusiastic. Having encountered God’s messenger, she sings out her revolutionary song telling all who will listen that God her Savior is coming to overturn oppression in favor of the poor of this earth. During so many ages since, herein lay the great scandal of Christianity: when the time was right, the Word of God was made manifest not at the centers of power and wealth but rather at the margins, among the poor. Amen.

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