Saint John Damascene, Doctor of the Church
My dear Brothers:
As we face our unique double Champagnat anniversary: the bicentenary of his birth and the ses¬quicentenary of his death, I think we can easily sense what an important moment this is for each of us, and for the Institute. It is a special moment of reflection and celebration, not in any trium¬phalistic sense, but in quiet thanksgiving for the past, coupled with rejoicing in the present and its challenges, and with hope filled looking to the future.
Preparations are under way in all the provinces to make the occasion memorable with special publications, projects, exhibitions, videos, and there will be liturgical and social functions around the globe. Some provinces are planning new apostolates to celebrate the Champagnat anniversary and others are engaged in the arduous but necessary task of examining their apostolic priorities.
All of this is very encouraging. However, we all know that there is a sense in which the most signifi¬cant celebration will take place within the heart of each one of us, his Brothers.
For that reason, personal and community reflection and prayer will be of utmost importance for us all. As a starting point for our reflection we could take this sentence from Article 164 of the Constitutions:
"Our Institute, a gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church, is a grace forever relevant to the world."
We know that, led by the Spirit, Marcellin was seized by the love that Jesus and Mary had for him and for others. This was the wellspring of his spirituality and his apostolic energy, and out of these has flowed the distinctive character of our Institute. What we have inherited from him is not something just,for ourselves. It is a gift of the Spirit to the Church, for the building up of the whole People of God. And this gift of the Spirit is a pre-sent day reality entrusted to us Marist Brothers of today. I am not referring here to a particular talent or expertise for running schools which is very obvious with us after the many years of ac-cumulated experience that we have. No, I am talking about something much deeper and richer than that. What I am discussing is a grace, a gift of the Spirit to Marcellin, and then to his Brothers right down to our own time, a gift which embraces a particular spirituality, a distinctive spirit and an apostolic orientation to the Christian education of the young, especially those most in need. This gift is just as real for each one of us as it was for Champagnat and our response is to live it, to develop it and to share it.
One of my favourite hymns is "La Familia Marista" composed by a group of Spanish Brothers and recently translated into French. There are people who know that I enjoy it and who sometimes sing it to give me pleasure. At the Centenary Celebrations in Madrid in 1986 there was a dinner for Brothers, parents, ex-students, friends and teachers and I think there were 1400 people pre-sent. Towards the end of the dinner I was asked to say a few words and at the end of my short speech I told the group that I had a special favour to ask of them. There was a hush, and then I told them that I would like to take away with me a special memory, the memory of the whole 1400 singing "La Familia Marista". And they did, and it remains a special memory for me:
"Tis not for us to turn away
from work entrusted for this day. Marcellin must live in other parts,
in our strong arms and loving hearts.
And on the course traced out by others we shall continue with our Brothers."
It is true. We are the Champagnats for today.
* We are the Champagnats for the young people in need, for those in search of values, for those in search of credible witnesses to Christianity.
* We are the Champagnats for young people in need of Brothers, someone to listen to them, to encourage them, to love them.
* We are the Champagnats for the poor, the dispossessed, the marginalised: we are Brothers for those most in need.
* We are the Champagnats for our own Brothers, with our concern, our encouragement, our support, our prayers, our love.
* We are the Champagnats for a Church which is struggling to serve mankind. We follow Champagnat with his great love of the Church - the pilgrim people, the body of Christ.
* We are the Champagnats for those who do not know Mary, who do not understand her love for them, her presence to them.
And we are the Champagnats to renew, to "refound" the Institute today. There is no genius who is going to come to tell us exactly what to do to renew the Institute. The most important instru-ment of the Holy Spirit in the renewal of the Institute is the conversion in the heart of each Marist Brother as we set out to give our measure of love to the world, as we set out to "refound" our community, our district, our province, our Institute in response to the call of the Holy Spirit. i believe that each of us is called during this time to see how we can be more faithful to the charism of Champagnat.
I recall reading an article a few years back where the writer said that there had been Generals who had written important articles, visited the monasteries and had been very active to bring about the renewal of the Carmelites. But it was only when there were saints —John of the Cross and Teresa— as Generals that there was real renewal. I do not subscribe to the theory and part of the reason, no doubt, is my awareness of my own weaknesses. lithe Marist Brothers need a saint then the last Chapter drew the wrong straw!
We must all try to be saints and it seems to me that, at this particular moment in our history, we are privileged to be called to make a special effort together - to be more faithful to the spirit of Blessed Marcellin.
To celebrate the double Champagnat anniversary and not to endeavour to be more faithful to "this grace forever relevant to the world" would seem to me to be a very superficial attitude.
I returned from China a couple of weeks ago. What a great privilege that was for me, to speak with men who had valiantly followed their vocation as Marist Brothers despite all manner of suf fering and danger. To sense something of their spirit, their thirst for everything relating to the Institute, was a great joy and also an important lesson. Sometimes we think that we suffer, that life is difficult, that we are not appreciated, etc. Well, Brothers, the experience of our men in China can help us put things' in perspective. These men have truly entered into the Paschal mystery of Jesus.
May the courage and the fidelity of these Brothers be for us all a call to greater fidelity to the Spirit so that we may be even more faithful to the charism of Champagnat with his love for young people, his love of the poor, his spirit of simplicity, humility and modesty, his family spirit, and his great love for Jesus and Mary.
We have been greatly helped in our understanding of the Founder by the various Brothers who have researched his life, and passed on to us the fruit of their reflection and their research. To all of these Brothers and, in a special way, to those who have contributed to this edition of FMS Message, I gladly express the thanks of the whole Institute. Those of us who know these Brothers are aware of the passion that they have for Marcellin Champagnat and for the Institute. On behalf of us all, I thank them with all my heart. It should give these Brothers great satisfaction to know that their efforts have been very fruitful and that, in the Institute as a whole, Marcellin Cham¬pagnat is better known and his charism more fully understood.
Yours fraternally in the hearts of Jesus, Mary, Joseph and Marcellin,
Br. Charles Howard - Superior General
FMS Message 1989/4