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San Marcellin Champagnat



Br. Seán D. Sammon - Homily 6th June 2007

06/06/2007: General House - Photo gallery

Once upon a time there was a warlord who rampaged through the countryside, ravaging and killing as he went. As word of his approach spread from village to village, the inhabitants fled for their lives.
With a trail of carnage behind him, the warlord finally entered the last of the settlements and said with confidence, “The village is empty, I presume.”

His lieutenant was reluctant to answer at first, but finally responded, “Not exactly, my Lord. It’s empty except for one old monk who refuses to leave.” The warlord was furious and demanded that the man be brought before him.

So the monk, who as I mentioned a moment ago was well along in years, was dragged into the square of the village. On seeing him the warlord shouted, “Do you know who I am? I am a person who can run you through with a sword without even batting an eye.”

And in response the monk, looking the warlord straight in the eyes, said quietly and without hesitation, “And do you know who I am? I am he who can let you run me through with a sword without even batting an eye.”

Why tell this story on a day when we celebrate the feast of Marcellin Champagnat. For isn’t talk about rampaging warlords and the killing of villagers strangely out of place as we mark the life of this man who did all he could to build peace in his day.

I tell this story because at times more than a few of us appear to resemble the warlord more than the monk. For the story carries with it a lesson about character, backbone, those elements that are important in life. We can see full well that the old monk had nothing to speak of when it came to worldly power, material resources, or notoriety. But in fact standing there in the village square he ended up being the most formidable among the well armed men who had assembled. For he had in his possession three virtues that made all the difference: simplicity, courage, and spiritual indifference. Today we must ask ourselves if the very same virtues, especially the third because it is so central to the work of renewal, are in our possession or not.

We can answer that question more easily if we will imagine for a moment that Father Champagnat’s name was among those that made up the guest list for today’s celebration. And imagine further that upon receiving his invitation, the founder had checked his calendar, confirmed that he was free and sent back a positive response well in advance of the date due. How might he size us up almost two hundred years since his days as midwife to this enterprise? Were he to join us for this Eucharist, share and aperitif, and linger over the meal that will follow, what impression would he take with him as he made his way back home?

Would the founder be able to say that he found in each of us the very same virtues so evident in the old monk of our story? Or would he instead have to admit sadly that while the group he met was made up of some very fine people busy doing some important work, they somehow lacked the fire and passion for God’s Word that he had hoped to find.

Simply put, were Marcellin Champagnat to be a guest here today and later visit our many houses and works around the world, would he encounter the Institute that he founded in 1817 or would he be moved to found it once again?

For a number of years now, many of us have been involved in the work of renewal. We have approached that task diligently and with admirable discipline and dedication. But like the warlord in our story we have been so focused on promoting our own methods, plans and ideas for how this work is to be conducted that we have failed to consider fully what God might have in mind. Yes, some of us appear to believe that the tools of social science, corporate planning, the words of one or another expert, or the material found in a certain workshop or particular retreat will accomplish for us what is best described as a work of the heart.

Genuine renewal is possible only when spiritual indifference is present. And that virtue comes at a price, the price of genuine discernment. Let’s be very clear: discernment is not a task–something that can be accomplished in a morning, a day or over the weekend. Nor is it a process. Rather it is a way of life; a way of life that includes sacrifice, fasting, and fear of the Lord. But until the virtue of spiritual indifference is ours we will find ourselves lacking the confidence necessary to take the risks that we must to renew religious life in our day and age. The fact that we have to date been unable to realize that dream is but one indication that this virtue of spiritual indifference is still not sufficiently present in your life or in mine.

The old monk in our story understood what spiritual indifference was all about. He had that virtue in abundance. How else could he respond to the warlord in the manner in which he did? Marcellin Champagnat also understood its importance. After all, it was mission into which he poured his energies primarily rather into ensuring the success of his Institute. He understood full well that we are called not to be successful but rather faithful. That fact gave him the freedom to turn over to Mary the concerns he might have carried alone and to see our work of making God’s Word come alive among poor children and young people as truly her own. And so today we must ask ourselves: in evaluating all of our efforts on behalf of renewal in our Institutes today—with our programs, and books, and other resources—is God, in fact, seeking an entirely different response from us? Yes, is God asking us to act like the monk, to emulate Marcellin, to move forward holding fast solely to what is most precious in our way of life, the essentials only. How unrealistic, we might say. We would have so little in our possession; just how would we live, function, take care of our responsibilities?

And herein lies the challenge: armed with so little we would have no choice but to rely on the Lord, to listen to his Word, to make his ways our own. Were we to do so, we might just arrive at that state of spiritual indifference so central to the work of renewal. We might even begin to act like the old monk in our story. Were we to do so, Marcellin would take his leave at the end of this day reassured that his Little Brothers of Mary continued to do what as he had hoped: love God, yes love God and make God known and loved among poor children and young people. After all, isn’t that what a brother’s life is meant to be?

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