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The importance of the laity in the Marist Congregation

 

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Br. Teofilo Minga on Marist Laity - 2/4

02/04/2010: General House

Brother Teófilo, Coordinator in Rome of the Mission AD GENTES Project gave in October 2009 an extensive interview to the Portuguese weekly newspaper: “Notícias de Chaves”on Marist laity and the recently published book: “Gathered around the same table - the vocation of Champagnat’s Marist laity”. From the interview we select 4 points for our WEB page (Read point 1).

Point 2 – The Marist Lay Vocation and the symbol of the Table

Notícias de Chaves
: Let us go into the “heart” of the new document “Gathered around the Same Table” previously mentioned. As we did two years ago with the document “Water from the Rock”, tell us what is new in this document?

Br. Teófilo: Let us start from the title and subtitle. On the whole it says: Gathered Around the Same Table – The vocation of the Champagnat’s Marist laity, Rome, 2009.

As the subtitle is already showing us, we have with us a document whose theme is the vocation of the Marist Laity. Therefore, it is an issue that refers to people in the most different states of life: married, single, priests who chose to live their life according to the Marist spirituality and within their own possibilities, they chose to participate in the mission of Marist Institute. Continuing with the subtitle, we should take into account two precisions.

1. First of all we are dealing with a vocation, that is, a special call coming from God to live his or her human and Christian life in a certain way. The lay person lives his or her life in this way because he or she feels called by God. I would like, from now onwards, to underline the theme of the call, and of a specific call, to live his or her own life following the original charisma of a Congregation and putting into practice its spirituality.

Right from the beginning, in his introduction (6th June, 2009), Brother Seán Sammon, the General Superior, speaks of a “specific call” (page 8) of the lay people in their own lives, stating immediately afterwards: “As they sought to clarify their identity during the years subsequent to the Council, some lay persons identified themselves with the charisma of one of other religious congregation, assuming it as a safe port” (page 9). The book mentions, very often, this theme and in nº 11 states a kind of definition of the Lay Marist: “The Lay Marist is a person who, after a personal journey of discernment, decided to live, just like Mary did, his Christian spirituality following the insight of Marcellin Champagnat”.

2. This last quotation of Brother Seán introduces the second precision that I would like to mention. The subtitle doesn’t speak solely about “Lay Marists”, but of “Champagnat’s Marist Laity”. It is very easy to understand the reference to the name of the founder of the Marist Brothers. There are other Marist Congregations, as the Marist Fathers, the Marist Sisters, the Marist Missionary Sisters. And all these Congregations have their own lay people. Our document just refers to the Lay people of the Institute of the Marist Brothers, and therefore, to the charisma of their founder, MARCELLIN CHAMPAGNAT. This precision makes sense and it avoids confusions.

The title itself deserves also a comment. Quite on the contrary of what says the document Water from the Rock that two years ago I spoke you about, the document Gathered Around the Same Table doesn’t introduce the chapters with a symbol. However, we know the importance of the table whose picture appears in front cover of the document. It is the table of La Valla (the first house of the Institute) which was built by the Founder himself. This table became a symbol to the whole Institute.

In the document Water from the Rock, the table was the symbol for the third Chapter with the title “As Brothers and Sisters”. It is easy to understand that this symbol carries us, without a great effort, to the reality of communion, of unity, of fraternity, of sharing, of friendship and finally, of love that should exist in all families and religious communities, as well. Around the same table, a great unity and communion is born and is built among those sitting around. The table of La Valla printed in front cover of the document, illustrates in a lively way the title and carries us back to the times of Father Champagnat.

It is an invitation to build and to consolidate fraternity between Brothers and the “Lay Marists of Champagnat”. In the Marist world it becomes an invitation to live the family spirit that, along with simplicity, turned to be a characteristic of the Marist family par excellence. The document Gathered Around the Same Table will make reference to this spirit, quite frequently, mainly in chapter 3 with the title “The shared life”. And within this chapter there is a subsection precisely with the title “The Table of La Valla” (cf. 78-83)

The authors of the book admit presently that the table of La Valla is a special symbol for the Marist world: “The strength of this family spirit gathers all those who live the Marist charisma into a new family of followers of Christ, through the example of Mary. The table of La Valla is a symbol of the relationship that unites us” (nº 78). Nº 80 refers to what I would call the “anthropological level” of the communion: around the same table, universal symbol of communion, we built human fraternity.

However, it is interesting to underline that the document doesn’t forget the other two levels to which the symbol of the table takes us. And it mentions them right in the introduction. I would call these levels the “Eucharistic level” and the “Marist level”: “The image and the experience of the Shared table is the great symbol that Jesus used in order to explain the Kingdom of God. The table of the Eucharist gathers us around Him still present after two thousand years. In a similar way, the simple table of la Valla means to us Marists the beginning of our vocation… Just as at the table of our families, we meet together to celebrate our life in common” (pp. 17/18). The title of the book and the related symbol are therefore very significant for the Marist world. The symbol of the table crosses the whole Marist history. The one of the Brothers from the beginning and the one of the Marist Laity of all times.

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Point 1 – The importance of the laity in the Marist Congregation
Point 2 – The Marist Lay Vocation and the symbol of the Table
Point 3 – The Structure of the document “Gathered around the same table”
Point 4 – The themes of the document

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