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Interviewe with Brother Javier Gragera

27/04/2015: France
Mission Assembly- Nairobi 2014

Br. Teófilo Minga interviewed Brother Javier Gragera, a member of the Preparatory Committee of the Second  European Assembly of the Marist Mission (read more about it).

Assembly - Javier, you were responsible for the preparation and presentation of the day devoted to prophecy. What did you bring to this preparation?

Javier - A great desire to discover what may be the prophetic action in Marist Europe in the third century of the Congregation. Let us recall that the prophet is a man of God who is "forced" to proclaim his message, even in the most difficult moments. And to proclaim it sometimes with the price of one's life. Being a prophet in today’s Europe is just that: to be a man or a woman living immersed in God’s world, and afterwards to bring God to mankind. The prophet is a bridge between God and man. This is how it was in the Bible; and it should be the same for Marists today. Both God and the whole of humanity should be our world.

Assembly - Today, the full day was devoted to mysticism. The Morning Prayer, prayer at noon, the whole afternoon in La Valla, were the highlights of this day. What remains with you from this day?

Javier – To dedicate a full day to mysticism, following the recent Marist tradition, is to go to the centre of our lives, in our relationship with God. It is to go forward with what gives meaning, a deep meaning to what we do. Here we find a profound link between mysticism and prophecy. Prophecy has a meaning only when it comes from God. And to come out of God, to live in Him and from Him is to be a mystic, to say it in a very simply way. It is through mysticism, this relationship that immerses me in God, that I make God visible in the world. God is manifested in the world through me, through you. We are sacraments of God, sacraments of his love. I know a couple of years ago, in the time of Brother Charles Howard a seminar was held in Nairobi with the title : THE SACRAMENT OF BEING A BROTHER. In other words, THE BROTHER AS SACRAMENT. Sacramentality is nothing else than the mystical visibility, both at individual and community levels. That is to say, our Marist mission in Europe only makes sense if it has God as its point of reference. God has to be the strength and the engineer of our Marist mission in Europe today. Otherwise, our lives are meaningless; they have no reason for being.

Assembly - To climb up to La Valla, the long time spent on each of the levels of La Valla house, and then to come down through the paths that Father Champagnat walked very often. What difference did this bring to our day?

Javier – We wanted to plan a day devoted to mysticism, an experiential day where we could be very close to God’s presence, so that we could become God’s presence for the world. This requires both a certainty and a conviction: it is because we ourselves move in God and out of God that we have the power to transform the world we live in. Mother Teresa said it very well: in her life it was the love of God that gave her strength to do what she did. And what did she do? She brought a little more of God to a broken and suffering world, often forgotten by the politicians and by those who bear the responsibility for this world. These people usually are working for money, fame, glory, and career or for other reasons. The mystic works for God and out of God.

Assembly - And it is out of God that we can succeed?

Javier - Success is not perhaps the most important thing when we think of our apostolic action or of our mystic relationship with God. It is clear, that we must dream, from our mystic relationship, a missionary action that is efficient and effective, as much as possible. I think brother Seán used to say that what matters is faithfulness to God, to our institutional and community project and finally faithfulness to myself in my relationship with God. Seán, in other words, is referring to a mystic relationship in which the priority is not success, but the presence of God in our lives, moving from there to the presence of God in the world. We cannot conquer the whole world for God, but we can imprint the footprints of God, wherever we go. Someone said that this Assembly is like olive oil on the water. Europe is inmense; the mission as a whole exceeds our forces. Let us be small drops of oil in this vast sea of ​​our mission. Ultimately this is what we are asked to live and to be. Referring once again to Mother Teresa, she used to say that what she did was just a drop of water in the sea. Nevertheless, although we do not notice it, the sea would be smaller without that drop of water. This realism can also give strength to the Marists of Europe, when we start thinking about our apostolic action beyond borders.

Assembly - A Marist Europe beyond borders – this was echoed in the Assembly, as well.

Javier - Yes. Big meetings like this one help us to create a more global mindset. I can feel that in the human and spiritual quality of the participants. Many speak of a mentality that goes beyond the borders of their province. The spirit of brotherhood that we have been living  these days is gaining consistency in the five European provinces. I noticed an extraordinary enthusiasm in participants, as well. This awareness led me to say to myself: if it is possible to live here this level of participation and enthusiasm, then this is a sign that Marist Europe has a future. The word "encounter" or "culture of encounter", to use an expression dear to Pope Francis, will be a key word to continue to realize the dream of Nairobi for Marist Europe. However, to say encounter is to say communion, as well. Communion was a key word of our Assembly; it was present from the beginning to the end, in all of our activities. Communion is something you live. It is communion that makes us move and dream of the future of Marist Europe. I deeply believe in this. The Assembly was an encounter that strengthens the hope that already exists in Marist Europe. It is an invitation now, to take still further steps, because today's Europe presents many problems that we could not imagine a few years ago.

 

Assembly – An afternoon at La Valla to live mysticism in an experiential way. Was this a beautiful inspiration of the Preparatory Commission?

Javier - The Commission felt the need for this time. I can do a thousand speeches on mysticism, without "feeling" or living a mystical experience. For that it is enough to be a good intellectual. We did not want this. We wished the Assembly  to live a mystical experience in the short time we had. I do not know what experience each one of the participants actually had, given the personal nature of the experience. According to what I heard, I am certain that everyone was happy and enjoyed the moment. Some common statements were: "What a beautiful day!" "What a beautiful experience we had in La Valla." The Community of L'Hermitage also prepared this meeting in La Valla very well. However, the meeting, as a whole, did not include only mysticism; it also included communion and mission. From Brother Emili’s writings, we know very well the three moments we can experience in the renovated house of La Valla: mysticism, communion, and mission. Indeed, these three moments interpenetrate each other. Mysticism gives strength to mission (prophecy); mission, centered on the human person, comes from God; and we want to do everything in communion which includes all the richness of the Marist world: Marist brothers, lay Marist people and the different branches of the Marist family. Now we may even think of a wider communion with other religious families in the Church. Haven’t we spoken, here too, on the first day of the Assembly, of the wide tent? And to this wide tent are we not all invited? The wide tent is now a Patrimony of the Institute.

Assembly - Brother Benito, responsible for the "communion" floor in La Valla surprised many of us with his reflections on the table of La Valla. A certain demystification of this historic table?

Javier - Before I answer that question let me take the opportunity to thank the members of the Hermitage Community who joined us directly, guiding us in this "mystical tour" at La Valla. Martha was more focused on the mystic dimension of the program; Brother Diogène was more oriented to the mission dimension. With the different dynamics that they had prepared they led us to understand very well the profound and new dimensions that house of La Valla can have in the life of every Marist. Let us just recall the final prayer we experienced on the top floor, the floor of mission: the path prepared in the room, the stones brought from the  Hermitage, the water from the Gier river, the flowers where we wrote our feelings submerged in the water and which unfolded very quickly, as our mystical,  apostolic and shared (communion) feelings, wanted to reach Europe beyond the horizons that we can discover from the top floor of the house. It was a prayer that many will not forget easily, as they were invited to take this stone from L'Hermitage, where they had also written some feelings that had touched them during these days, with them as they left.

But let us come back to the words of Brother Benito. I do not think we can speak of demystifying the table of La Valla, because the table of La Valla is not a myth. It is a reality, a symbolic reality, of course, for the Marist world. However, it is a reality of great importance. If I have Brother Benito’s understood in the correctly, the table of La Valla is a rich institutional symbol of great value. Not economic value, of course. But possessing great historical and symbolic richness, which becomes an inspiration for our times. What Brother Benito meant simply, is that we should not cling in a sentimental way to this rich past, but feel the appropriate emotions when we enter the room and to remain very happy with this relic from the past. And nothing else. The table should be inspiring, precisely in the sense that Brother Benito explained. This table is a thing of the past. The table played a role, we can say. Today we are living in a very different time from Father Champagnat; today we are dreaming of a future where we can bring to young people the love of Fr. Champagnat. Therefore, it is important to discover new tables. Today, in the Institute, there are many writings and much talk underlining newness. Here we have one more novelty inspired precisely in La Valla: NEW TABLES today. What are the new tables we are dreaming of? What are the new tables that can trace the path of a Marist future? What new tables can meet the needs of today's youth? What new tables do we have in our schools, in our centres, today? It is not the table of La Valla, nearly 200 years old that can answer these questions. Only the new tables that we have to invent can answer them. The words of Brother Benito when he spoke of the table were an invitation, I would say almost a challenge, in that capacity for renewal and for the invention of new tables that may help us, however slightly, to respond to the needs of today's youth. The values that ​​Champagnat and his brothers lived around this table of La Valla can inspire the values for which we must struggle today. This Assembly has echoed some of these values, several times. Some of them, if not all, are very easy to find: communion, friendship, sharing, encounter, solidarity, well-being, unity, openness, poverty, humility, simplicity  . . . Yes, the table of La Valla can and should inspire our future, new tables for today. To contemplate the table of La Valla is no longer then an empty nostalgia from the past. It is a driving force full of new and renewed future horizons. In the new tables we must all sit, brothers and lay people. And sit down as equals in complementarity. All those living the charism of Champagnat. These new tables are TABLES OF CREATIVITY. They should be ours. The one we are contemplating in La Valla, is not ours; it is the one of Champagnat.

 

Assembly - Finally, can we know the word you wrote, or rather the feeling you left written on your flower, during this beautiful prayer, in the 3rd floor of the House of La Valla; a flower that was  put, then, symbolically, in the waters of the Gier?

Javier - I wrote the word LITTLENESS

Assembly - Littleness?

Javier - Yes, LITTLENESS. But not littleness in a negative sense, but rather as the sense of wonder that strikes me when I look at this greatness - humility of the Marist world. I’d almost say, littleness in the biblical sense. The littleness of the men and women of God is present from the beginning to the end of the Bible.

  • It was in the littleness of the prophets that God wrote wonderful pages of the Old Testament concerning prophecy and mysticism. All of them were afraid of the prophetic vocation. We find many of their excuses in the Bible. And yet, it is out of their hands that arise wonderful pages, strong calls for justice, truth, coherence, for the mission. They speak of the "Anawim", the faithful remnant of Israel. In the "smallness" of this group of people lies the birth of Judaism, a movement of renewal and hope among the Jewish people. Moreover, it is from this small remnant that the prophets dream of the NEW COVENANT, because the former one was unable to meet the needs of the people. A new covenant for a new people.

 

  • It was the littleness of Mary, the humble girl of Nazareth, whom God created to become the best of their dreams for us. Through Mary we receive the absolute newness of God in our history: the gift of his Son. The NEW COVENENT announced out of the "faithful remnant" is fulfilled in Jesus. From the littleness of Mary, the Lord's servant is born, both the hope and the certainty of a different world, a new world.
  •  It was in the littleness of the shepherds that God was preached to the world; they are the ones who, together with the angels, sang the praises of God and announced the beginning of a new era to the people, an era marked by joy and thanksgiving to God. The newness of hope is fully achieved.

 

  • It was in the littleness of John the Baptist, of whom it is said that the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he, that the power of the Word of God appeared in all its truth and its demands; but in his mercy and forgiveness, as well.
  • It was in the littleness of Peter who wanted to get away from the Lord, for he was a sinner, that the Church was born, the new people of God, a Church-communion, where everyone has their place, where everyone is welcome, where everyone is forgiven. It is the complete newness, the announcement of God’s mercy to all who seek him with a repentant heart, with a renewed heart. In this way they will have the heart of flesh that the prophets had announced.

 

  • It was in the littleness of Paul, the least of the Apostles, because he persecuted the Church of God and, as a result, the proclamation of the Word of God that brings life into the world came to birth. It will be contagious for the world in its newness, the absolute newness of the word God in our history. When we welcome this Word, it transforms us and transforms the world; it recreates and renews the world.
  • It is the littleness of the apostles in general, full of fear and locked in a room, out of which the Church open itself to the world. They have been able to open themselves to the Holy Spirit, who renews all things, both people and the world. In Him and with Him starts the new creation. The apostles are the messengers of this new creation that reaches the remotest corners of the world. From the littleness of the apostles springs the possibility of a new world marked by the renewing seal of the Spirit.

 

In the Bible, then, the littleness of the people is always associated with the newness of God among us, a newness that in its final appearance we’d not dare to imagine: God Himself, among us. Therefore, there is no reason to be afraid of littleness. God transforms it and He knows how to put it at the service of his kingdom.

If you look throughout history perhaps we could say the same. Let me take our case:

It was in the smallness of Marcellin, a humble curate in a forgotten village, that great work appeared: with two humble children he founded the Marist Brothers of the Schools; or in terms of today, the Marist world as a whole. I’m not afraid of saying that in the littleness of the Founder the humble greatness of his work today came to birth in the four corners of the world, to serve the Gospel; serving the small ones. A humble greatness that completes and perfects the newness of God among us. A humble greatness that is precisely that, precisely for this reason, a "new beginning" is proposed to us. Evangelical littleness calls us to and always entails a "new beginning".

So for me to feel little is to know that God speaks through my smallness, and in it HE can awaken His newness. I feel this smallness as a privilege, the privilege of being Marist.

 

Assembly - Thank you, Javier.

Javier – It is I who say thank you.

Mission Assembly- Nairobi 2014

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