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Start your meeting with Prayer.
Someone read: Hebrews 12:1
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us...
Sr Marie Challacombe SM
A few weeks ago I was privileged to be present in a village church in the heart of France, celebrating the bicentenary of our founding as Marist Sisters. I was there among the local people who have kept their religious history very much alive, with Sisters from several different countries, and members of the Marist Family. Together we were commemorating, with pride and joy the fact that two hundred years ago two women from this village had set off on a journey to distant parts of the country on an adventure from which they would never look back. Jeanne-Marie Chavoin and her close friend Marie Jotillon were joyfully answering an invitation to begin the feminine branch of something new in the Church: the Society of Mary. As I stood there I recalled also that in a village several kilometres to the south of them, Marcellin Champagnat was bringing together at that time a group of young men who would become brothers of this same Society. These activities marked the very beginnings of Marist life.
Standing there in the Church of Coutouvre I asked myself: What are we really celebrating in this event? And why?
To answer my second question first, we need to celebrate an anniversary because it brings us together as community. It gives us an opportunity to remember, appreciate and reflect upon the heritage bequeathed to us by our predecessors. But it is also an opportunity to draw strength and encouragement for our own journey - which, while it might in many respects be different to theirs, must also surely require the same convictions and beliefs which inspired those founders, and all those who have followed them throughout the last 200 years.
So, as I recalled in particular the history of these two women I was also pondering just what we were really celebrating. Why were these two women drawn so far away from home, leaving behind everything and everyone so familiar to them? What convinced them that this was the right thing to do? And what kept them going when they got there, because our history tells us that the fulfilment of this new foundation would take many years.
Briefly, how did it come about?
In that village of Coutouvre 200 years ago the two women had long dreamt of a calling to religious life. Nevertheless they had turned down several apparently promising offers to either join or start a congregation. They were prayerful women, they meditated, they took spiritual direction and accepted wise advice. They shared their experiences of life and service. And they knew that these offers of religious life were just not God's will for them. So they were waiting until it became clear.
About the same time in a village some distance away a young man, Jean-Claude Colin, had grown up with a strong desire to consecrate himself to Mary by withdrawing from public life completely and living contemplatively – but over time he discovered that that was not God's will for him. In fact he came to understand that he was destined by God to become a founder of the Society of Mary – a very public life, far from his original aspirations. He was also the instrument which drew these two women to leave their home and travel far across the country without fear or worry or any hesitation.
Discovering God's will is not always what we think it might be nor is the pathway immediately clear. For these two women as for Marcellin and Jean-Claude and his brother Pierre, it must have come gradually in daily listening to the quiet breath of the Spirit in their hearts, and the discipline of following Christ faithfully over the years. And I reflected that we are all on this same path, whatever our Christian vocation.
Fulfilling God's will can also be quite daunting at times. They would all need courage to persevere in the face of difficulties, disappointments, death, and an uncertain future. It was only by remaining faithful, believing in the path that a loving God wanted them to follow that they would experience the joys and peace that discipleship has to offer.
In that village church I was aware that if we Marists were there at all that day it was because of a long obedience to discipleship, a long history of listening, discerning, following and serving Christ with joyful certainty, of lives lived in a particular way and with a particular spirit. All handed down to us through others over the course of these last two hundred years.
So this bicentenary is an opportunity for all of us to give thanks and be grateful for all those who have gone before us, for the example of their fidelity which still inspires us today, for their courage and their listening hearts, and the joyful acceptance of their calling. In renewing our own commitment today, without fear of the future, we Marists can be glad that we belong to the family of Mary.
We believe in her powerful protection and we honour her presence amongst us, as we quietly do her work with simplicity, in the Church and the world, and in the spirit of the Gospel.
One could say that the Marist does not so much ask Mary, "How would you act in this situation?"
"how do you want me to act in this or that situation today?"
C. Larkin, A Certain Way
Read the Reflection
Share from these reflection starters:
Silently re-read the Scripture: share what strikes you.
What special anniversaries does your family or community celebrate and why?
What are your strongest responses and feelings when you listen to stories of great women and men of faith?
"Discovering God's will is not always what we think …for the Marist founders it must have come gradually in daily listening to the quiet breath of the Spirit in their hearts, and the discipline of following Christ faithfully over the years." What are the ways you discover God's will and how does your Lay Marist call help?
Sr Marie talks about faith "handed down to us through others over the course of these last two hundred years ". Who in your life has helped you discover or persevere in faith?
Pope Francis' February 2018 Intention
Say "No" to Corruption
That those who have material, political or spiritual power, may resist any lure of corruption.
Pray for your needs and intentions
concluding with this prayer:
Mary my queen, I give to your keeping
and commend to your special care and protection,
my body and soul for this day and all the days of my life.
To you I commit my hopes and consolations.
That through your intercession,
all my actions may be directed according to your will
and the will of your Son.
Strengthen O Lord the work of your grace.
Mary, loving mother, I am all yours;
By your powerful intercession
Lead me safely into eternal salvation. Amen