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26 November

Saint Conrad
1947: Birth of Brother Seán Sammon, 12th Superior General

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The Mother of the Lord

 

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The Marial face of the Church

17/03/2011: General House

The Document of the XXI General Chapter is characterised by an extremely strong presence of the Mother of the Lord. We encounter Mary on almost every page. She is so close that the Capitulants feel as if deep in a dream, reliving the experience of the disciples of Emmaus: « Did we not feel our hearts burning in us! » (Doc. of Chap. p. 24). These burning hearts felt being born in them the energy for a new style of mission, more generous, more enthusiastic, at the same time as the desire to be totally for the Lord. The dream of the Capitulants translated into the fundamental call: « With Mary, go in haste to a new land! » A dream full of energy, pure gift of the same Spirit who overshadowed Mary.

Thus the Institute and the Brothers were directed: become new, young, generous for going with Mary to a new land: a new way of being the people of God, a new way of giving witness to the Lord and of being available for new missions.

Brother Emilie Turu, presenting the Document of the XXI General Chapter, invited Brothers and Lay Marists not to interrupt the dialogue once the Chapter was finished… but rather to all « feel called to follow the way of listening and dialogue, in studying the call of the Lord to the Marist Institute today » (Doc. XXI Chap. p. 5). These lines take up the challenge to continue this dialogue.

But meanwhile, a new centre of attention surfaced, also indicated by our Superior General: « to bring into the light the Marial face of the Church. We, ‘Little Brothers of Mary’, were to incarnate this face so that it appeared clearly in the Church. Brother Emili recalled the image used by Pope John XXIII to describe the Church: « A fountain in the public square », a place for quenching the thirst for truth and communion, « an image which well expresses the Marial face of the Church ».

Although the expression «Marial face of the Church » never appeared in the Chapter Document (and in which the Church itself features little), this reality often surfaces because it is joined with the fundamental call: « With Mary, go in haste to a new land ». Thus, on page 20, when it is question of recognising the vocation of the « lay Marist », it is said that we form « all together a prophetic and Marial Church ». Already page 15 invited us to something more profound: « As brothers and sisters, to make present this love and this maternal face of God. » In Mary is reflected the very love of God, a maternal love stronger than a mother’s love: « Does a woman forget her baby, does she forget to show kindness to the child of her flesh? Even if they forget, I shall never forget you! ». This face of God looks out at us in the eyes of children, in their smiles and their tears: « In their faces, we will find the face of God » (p.22). Elsewhere in the Document, we are called to become signs: « Brothers among brothers, signs of the Kingdom… with a passion to be signs of God’s love… to become for the world living reminders of the Gospel ». The prayer the Capitulants address to Mary asks that our international family « be a sign of communion to our Church and world » (p.29). The Brother who walks with Mary will have a missionary heart and be « witness of an incarnate and joyful faith experience… ». So there I am, Brother or lay Marist called to be sign of the Kingdom, sign of God’s love, sign of communion, living reminder of the Gospel in the world, witness of an incarnate and joyful faith experience. The Capitulants remind us of our vocation, difficult but exhilarating. To succeed in it, we must go the school of Mary whose « spiritual maternity » (Const. 84) we share.

The Marial face is the face of Mary reflected in the face of the Church, but the latter is composed of the great mosaic of our faces. Does the Church still have a face without us?

The face of Mary, however, is not a primal reality, for it is itself the reflection of the love of God; Mary is the dwelling place of God’s love and the love of the Trinity lives in her. So to speak of Mary, in the strictest terms, is to say God, source of all love, source of all the spiritual richness of the face of Mary and the face of the Church. The point of departure is neither in Mary nor in the Church, but in God and in the Son « born of a woman ».  All that can be said positively « of the Marial face » of the Church should be considered a reflection of the face of God.

But also to say Mary is to say « woman, love, spouse, mother, life, teacher, responsible, disciple, companion, sister, lay person, faithful, capacity for communion and suffering ». The Church herself is all that because Mary is Church and mirror of the Church. And when we are called to make the Marial face of the Church live again in us, the richness of these traits of Mary and the Church must appear in our faces and in our conduct.

Of thisMarial face of the Church, of an extraordinary human richness, we will treat several aspects.

 

1-Mary and the Church as « woman »

in the theological and most noble sense. The woman is the one created second becomes she comes entirely from the Son who exists from all eternity, but also because it is from the Lord that Mary and the Church receive the fullness of their being, their grace, and their capacity for loving and sanctifying. As Eve was formed from Adam, so were Mary and the Church from Jesus. Without the Lord they are nothing, with him everything.

Womanalso from her profound nature of being « the helpmate » of man and of Christ, so that both can say of her: « Here at last is bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh… ! » (Gn. 2 : 23).

Woman, present at the decisive moments of the human adventure:

1-At the dawn of time: « I will make you enemies of each other, you and the woman, your offspring and her offspring… » Gn. 3 : 15.

2-In the fullness of time: « When the fullness of time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman! » (Gal. 4 : 4)

3-At the Son’s hour: « Woman, behold your son! » (Jn 19 : 26)

4-At the end of time: « a woman adorned with the sun » (Ap. 12: 1).

This first trait of the Marial face of the Church is reflected in us when we accept being second, conscious that everything comes to us from Christ, that only his presence gives us credibility, when others see in us the Son, the Lord. Mary and the Church allow the Lord to fill their existence; it is the Lord they put forward, the Lord who is encountered in them. The first trait of the Marial face of the Church is the one which shows it at the service of the Lord.  

 

2-Love,

another trait of the face of Mary and of the Church. Adam’s joyful cry when God presents the woman to him: « Here at last is bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh… ! » (Gn 2 : 23), can be taken as the first cry of human love. This cry is a sentiment of joy, of recognition of the other’s equality, of her grandeur, and the awareness of completion. To speak of completion through the woman means that without her man is empty. But is this cry Adam’s or is it also Christ’s?

Is it an exaggeration to apply this to Christ? In his human adventure, certainly. What would Jesus be without Mary and the Church? But this is a gratuitous supposition, for God is constantly arousing love between Jesus, Mary and the Church. The Spirit is always at work pouring love into hearts. Mary and the Church never refuse their service to the Lord.

If in our faces others read the Church, they discover there the Marial face if love, benevolence, goodness, sympathy are shining in us… If God looks at us through the eyes of others, others would also see him looking through our eyes, encouraging them with our words, that our hands are his hands caressing, that he embraces them with our arms, that he walks in their steps when ours are en route with our brother and sisters.

 

3- Maternity

In Mary and in the Church maternity forms the most famous face. Mary asserts herself above all as Mother of Jesus, an extraordinary reality between God and a creature; a reality that we love the more because Mary is also our mother. If the theologians affirm that Mary is first of all disciple, the faith of the people calls her Mother of Jesus, and so does the liturgy of the Church in the different Marial feasts and especially at Christmas, the feast of the heart. The Church is also mother and lives this reality in the sacraments and when she accompanies her children, in her capacity of forming, informing, enlightening, sustaining, encouraging, pardoning, and getting them going again.

When we say ‘mother’, the echo says ‘life’ or ‘child’. These are words that go together. When we say  ‘brother’ the echo should say ‘children’ or ‘life’.  In maternity appears love for the child expressed in a thousand ways, but also a sense of responsibility, of education, as a distancing of the heart so that the child can appropriate all its dimensions and develop its unique personality. The child should not be a simple copy of the mother nor of the teacher. The mother and the teacher must help it find space for freedom and for making its way to its own personality.

We Marists, as educators, are very conscious of these two elements of maternity: love and responsibility. « To educate a child properly it is necessary first to love him ». The children and youth who come to us should feel all the sympathy we can offer them. At the same time, they should be able to count on the teacher pushing them towards personal development, and then there are demands, refusals, when they forget their proper value. Between educator and educated there is closeness and distance, model and prohibition to become a simple copy. The educator has to recognize the riches present in the one being educated and provide the conditions for his growing towards his adult personality. Mary well knew she should not make Jesus a copy of herself, but that he was unique. So at Cana it is as if she forced him to become the public person that was his; The mother loses him as son and the others gain him as Messiah. After Cana, Mary follows behind Jesus, she becomes silence so that the Word can speak, work his signs, attract attention, and march towards Calvary.

We will be able to show young people the Marial face of the Church if they discover in us a great capacity for giving life, for giving it to them with a maternal generosity and tact. At the same time, they should be able to find that we are offering them space for freedom so that they can become the best adults possible. Love, then, patient and inventive, but also responsibility, distance, difference, prohibition of the student becoming a simple copy, which would be a true alienation.

 

4-Capacity for suffering

The old man Simeon, turning to Mary the mother, announces « a sword » would pierce her soul, her whole life. For a mother this is a reminder that her child is threatened. Mary is going to experience this very quickly, and also very quickly she is going to find herself at the foot of the Cross. Then she will experience in the infant Church the suffering of seeing that her Son « came to his own domain and his own people did not accept him» (Jn 1: 11). Of the church also is demanded a great capacity for suffering. Suffering for the loved one is still loving, it is loving with a purer love.

Of us Marists, also, lay people and Brothers, this capacity for suffering is demanded, since without it love risks being simply sentiment. Looking at the face of someone suffering is to discover its deep value, the richness of a higher humanity. Giovanni Bellini has painted a pieta of surprising human intensity: the head of the dead Christ falls to the right and the mother supporting him brings her mouth close to that of her Son as if to kiss the dead; at the same time, she takes the hand of her Son, a pierced hand in the hand of the mother, a hand brought to the level of the Son’s heart, to indicate the source of salvation, the source of love.. … When the Son dies, the mother comes even closer, she becomes one with her Son. A great lesson of humanity for all, especially for those like us who want to be educators.

 

5-The lay woman

Mary is a woman, a lay woman, mother of Jesus, the high priest of the Letter to the Hebrews and mother of every priest of all times. This vision of Mary as a simple lay woman gives much honour to the people of God. In the Church, greatness is measured by service and not by titles, yet how many times has attention to titles humiliated the people of God. The greatest of all saints is a woman and a lay person.

The Church lives this strange situation. It is made up mainly of lay people and it is in the family that  vocations germinate. Mary is on the side of the majority, the little ones of the Church. This people of God lives in the Church an often neglected maternity: in its womb are born Christians and all the  vocations of the disciples of the Lord germinate: those for the religious life, those for the ordained priesthood, those for the lay state. Maternity of Mary and maternity of the people of God.

Perhaps this is inviting us, Brothers and lay Marists, to stay close to people, to go out to them in the simplicity of spontaneous relationship, not to display university or spiritual decorations, to be people among people, all doors open, frequenting the squares and crossroads where people meet. This would fit in well with the virtue of simplicity that we call our own.

Young people and others can contemplate in our face the Marial face of the Church if they find there the finest qualities of the feminine souls, the thousand nuances and niceties of love, maternity concentrated on life, the child, love tempered by responsibility, the difficult art of educating, the awareness of the freedom and uniqueness of the child.Marial face of the Church where suffering and fidelity give a shine to the nobility of the soul. The whole dressed in simplicity: Mary is a lay person, she knows how to stand with the people. A simple Church suits the people of God.

« A fountain in the public square » is where one quenches one’s thirst for truth and communion. Brother Emili appreciates this « image which well expresses the Marial face of the Church ». Brothers and lay Marists, we are invited to become « fountains in the public square ». We will certainly give more flesh to « the Marial face of the Church ».

Br. Givanni Bigotto

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