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The Champagnat Movement of the Marist Family

 

1991-10-15: Charles Howard


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Dear Friends,

You may be rather surprised co see this Circular addressed co “friends” rather than to “Brothers”. Like ail Circulars, it is indeed addressed to the members of the Institute, but the main subject of this one will be of interest to some lay people as well. I also ask the indulgence of these friends in view of the fact that I will be writing primarily to and about the Brothers and their particular experience. Nonetheless, I hope that what I have to say will also be of use co others who may read these pages.

Let me begin by saying how very pleased I am with the reaction to the Circular, Sowers of Hope - my thanks to the many Brothers that wrote on this subject. During a visit to our Marist Spirituality Centre at El Escorial, near Madrid, I was asked a question about signs of hope so let me just make two reflections on this.

One of the characteristics of men and women of hope is that they resonate co signs of hope ail around them. Some of these signs may be dramatic, but many are fairly commonplace. In recent times, we were ail amazed and filled with unexpected hope by the sudden changes in the countries of Eastern Europe and the US SR, with the triumph of the human spirit throwing up the chains of bondage.

But every day we see around us so much that is good, even heroic, in the lives of so many people; but perhaps the evil and the selfishness that we see and experience blind us to the goodness - to the sacrifice which parents make for their children, the devotedness of those who care for handicapped people, the love given by children co sick and aged parents. We can ail multiply these examples so easily. There are reasons for hope everywhere.

Closest to home, of course, are ail the signs of God's action in our own lives. If we are truly men of hope, we will perceive them, not only when they are very significant, «once in a lifetime» events, but also when- they are simply the fabric of our everyday existence. The more prayerful we become, the more sensitized we become to them. That is why, as I have stressed on a number of occasions, the Review of the Day can be such a helpful prayer for us. As I reflect on what has taken place within and around me each day, concentrating not just on my faults and failings, but on the myriad ways in which God has been present to me, no matter how subtly and delicately, I can find endless reasons for giving thanks for so much concern and love, and for being filled with the hope of even greater blessings on the morrow.
At this present moment, it seems to me that there are two special signs of hope, which I think are very significant for the Institute of the Marist Brothers at this moment in our history.
One of these signs is the coming together of a group of young women who feel called to be Religious according to the spirituality of Marcellin Champagnat. In the past, as you may know, we encouraged such women to follow their Marist call, and guided them to the Marist Sisters or the Marist Missionary Sisters or to some other congregations according to the possibilities.
However, what makes the call of these young women special is that they have indicated their specific attraction to the charism of Blessed Marcellin and their desire to live their lives according to that charism. Obviously, they are in the very early stages of discerning just where the Lord may be leading them.
Nevertheless, we must rejoice in the hope expressed in the conviction of these young women that they have been graced by the charism of Champagnat and their desire to live it within the context of the Religious Life. Their desire and their enthusiasm are a source of encouragement for us to live out this same charism ever more fully and generously.
The second special sign of hope has to do with another way of sharing our charism, through the launching of the Champagnat Movement of the Marist Family. This is another very important event and a cause for great joy. We have not moved in this direction lightly or precipitately, but rather as our response to a call which is being heard more and more clearly in and from many parts of the world.

I imagine that when some of you first heard talk of the Champagnat Movement, you wondered just what was happening, and still more, why. Were we trying to imitate Orders like the Franciscans and Dominicans, with their centuries-old Third Orders? Or trying to create a parallel to the Marist Fathers' Third Order of Mary? Were we perhaps seeking a new way to find co-workers for our schools or our missions? Even if the motivation and aim were purely spiritual, where was it going to lead? Were we going to involve lay people directly in our Institute? Were they eventually going to have some sort of say in how things were done? Some of those reactions may sound far-fetched, but it is not unreasonable to suppose that they crossed at least a few minds or lips.
That is why I believe it is most important, in speaking of this Movement, to emphasize that what it represents is not some organizational manoeuvre to counterbalance the decreasing number of Brothers, but rather the response to a call, and a very clear one - a call not just to lay people, but to us Marist Brothers.
We have been hearing this call for more than a few years now. We have heard it from the Church, which is gradually coming to a much clearer understanding of the role of lay people We have also heard it from man y of our friends, including family members, fellow workers, students, former students and their parents, who tell us that they are attracted to what they have learned about our spirituality - Marcellin's spirituality- and how helpful they believe that spirituality can be to them in living their lives as Christians in today's Church and society.
It also seems to me that there is another clear call coming from the Church, in the form of the movement toward small Christian groups or communities. They are often under lay leadership and they take many different forms, but they ail share the same aim of more responsible participation in the Church's mission of spreading the Good News, of renewing society.
Despite our /imitations, our attempts to live our Christian life according to Champagnat's spirituality are, for many people who know, respect, admire and love us, something powerfully attractive, and the answer to their searching for something to he/p them lead their own lives. It is good for us at times to be reminded of that.

In the pages that follow, I have tried to summarize briefly some recent developments in the Church, the experience of a few other Religious Institutes, and most particularly in our own Institute. I have explained what is involved in the Champagnat Movement of the Marist Family: what it will require of us, and from the 1ay people who choose to become associated with the Movement.

What has become clear over the past few years is that we ere being given a call, a call from the Holy Spirit and so one that requires a generous response. I know how many demands there 8/ready are on your time and your energy, and that ail of us are not gifted for every form of ministry. Still, I am sure that there will be a good number of Brothers in every Province who will feel themselves attracted to help with this special apostolate.
Yes, it will require quite an investment of time and energy, on top of your other commitments, but I am not afraid to ask that of you, because I am convinced that if you recognize the hand of God at work here, you will respond generously.

When Marcellin Champagnat began to respond to his own call, he was already totally involved in his parish ministry which, as we know from his biography, occupied his days and often his nights as well. Nonetheless, he left himself be led by the Spirit, convinced that God would show him what was to be done, and how, and when, and that he would provide ail the strength and insight required along the way. I have no doubt the same will prove true in the case of this new call to our generation of Marist Brothers.

Once again, my I express the hope that any of our lay friends who read this Circular will find at least some parts of it useful to them in their own searching for the will of God in their lives. If it proves so, I will be delighted. I will simply ask you to be indulgent as you read, remembering that these pages, being addressed primarily to the Brothers, may not spell everything out in as much detail as you might like. That in itself may offer you an excellent reason for speaking with a Brother about some of these ideas.

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