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A message from the canonization - Seán D. Sammon, FMS

20/04/2009: General House

Who among us, fortunate enough to be in Rome on April 18th, 1999, can ever forget the cage of scaffolding that obscured the façade of Saint Peter’s basilica? It made more prominent the center banner attached to a bar; a banner graced by the image of Marcellin Champagnat, priest of the Society of Mary, founder of the Little Brothers of Mary, and soon to be declared a saint of the Roman Catholic Church.

Spirits were high among the crowd that morning as the sky periodically spit and spewed, threatening to put a damper on the events unfolding. And to this day, there are those who remain convinced that it was the good Lord who held off the rains until the service came to a close.

And, then, as quickly as it began, the canonization was history and gatherings celebrating its significance got underway in Rome and abroad. Throughout that day and during the years since, I have often wondered about the Founder’s view of it all. His was a formidable presence that morning, but what went through his mind and what did his heart tell him? More importantly, here ten years later to the day, does he have a message for us, or better yet a challenge?

First of all, no doubt that Marcellin would have found himself surprised to be hanging out at Saint Peter’s. After all, he was a man given to simplicity and might even have been bit embarrassed by all the attention.

Second, being a peerson with a practical bent, my hunch is that he would have quickly gotten over any discomfort at being singled out and used the occasion to remind us about a few important points. To begin with, our continuing need to re-imagine and renew consecrated life for our day and age. Those of us who are Marcellin’s Little Brothers stand in a doorway today. Whether we go forward or backward is up to us, but of this much we can be sure: we cannot stand in that doorway forever.

The work of renewal that lies ahead will call for sacrifice on the part of all, as well as a change of heart. Make Christ your passion, he would tell us, the gospel the rule of your life, the work of bringing God’s Word to poor children and young people your obsession. Put aside excuses, rationalizations, and fear and embrace the task at hand. Yes, we have come a long way on the journey of renewal, he would say, an equally difficult road lies ahead.

Next, Marcellin would share the late John Paul II’s enthusiasm when he declared this millennium as a time for promoting the vocation of the laity. And he would encourage all of us to do everything possible to achieve this end. He would also place before our Marist lay partners the same demands put to his Little Brothers: Christ at the center; proclaim the Word of the Lord; have a heart for the poor.

Finally, Marcellin would invite us to take Mary as a model of what it means to be a disciple of the Lord. Paul VI reminds us that she had the good sense to question God’s messenger; with that task complete her yes to God’s request was unequivocal. Can we do otherwise?

Yes, ten years after his canonization Marcellin would have a message for us. And for our part? Let’s take heed! Marcellin Champagnat, priest of the Society of Mary, Founder, saint of the Roman Catholic Church, our brother: pray for us.

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