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Take Five

A Certain Way

The first Marists were men and women of rock,
and the origins of Marist spirituality were hewn,
almost literally, out of rock.

But what those pioneers found
was fresh for their times.

And for ours.

There is a certain way of living the Gospel, the way Mary lived it, as understood by a group of people called Marists. This is the story of those men and women who in the 1800's committed themselves to what they called "The Work of Mary" and began a movement which is still developing today. It is also the story of what makes today's Marists think, judge and act.

Over the years, many people have provided scholarly research into the origins and spirituality of the Marist project. Many have added to it. Resources such as "A Certain Way" come alive only when they are sought, searched and used. By reading this, you have already brought further life to the Marist project, but how will you let it speak?

Our Take Five will introduce you to this "Certain Way" with excerpts from the book by that title. We hope you enjoy "taking five" minutes to read and contemplate each month as we follow this wonderful path.

Making it happen
The original idea of the Marist project was never to see the light of day. The plan of a vast group of people all working together under one superior general was too complicated for the authorities in Rome to understand. But despite that, the dream has become a reality in another way. The Marist way is not just a certain way of living the Gospel, one way among many others. It's also a way that will certainly lead to a fulfilled life.

To read "A Certain Way" from the beginning, see Table of Contents links to the right.


Any attempt to tie a "spirit" down to particular qualities is doomed to failure, just as any attempt to describe a person in a few words is doomed.

Jean-Claude Colin spent his whole life trying to capture something of the spirit of Mary in writing for his followers, and even when to the end of his life he managed to put something on paper he felt dissatisfied with what he was able to express.

Denis Maitrepierre, one of the first novice-masters and one who in the words of Julian Eymard "founded the Society spiritually", heavily criticised what Colin had written.

Maitrepierre was a theologian and a precise man who wanted to see things clearly. He was frustrated by what he saw in writing, and with a certain amount of acidity he wrote: "The spirit of the Society consists principally in those things enumerated in this article. But how many are there?"

He went on to enumerate 32 virtues which Colin cited as constituting the spirit of the Society! Maitrepierre claimed that any person who could live by all these virtues would have to be a superlative being. But Maitrepierre had missed the point.

Colin was not trying to tie down the spirit of the Society to any specific virtues or any collection of virtues, nor was he trying to describe the concrete behaviour of Marists he was rather trying to call up and catch the basic dispositions of Mary's spirit, which like the spirit of anyone else, will show different facets at different times.

Nevertheless, in writing the Constitutions for the Society of Mary, Colin did pinpoint four cornerstone virtues of Marist life: Marists have seen their relationship with Mary as a sort of covenant with rights and responsibilities on each side.

Those who bear her name can presume on her protection, but they are also called to be worthy of the name they bear. He saw these virtues as basic to the survival and growth of the Society of Mary.

Marcellin Champagnat cited the three virtues of humility, modesty and simplicity as the virtues which he wished his spiritual sons to regard as the cornerstones of their congregation.

Jeanne-Marie Chavoin understood the Marian spirit as linked with village life. For her, the cornerstones of Marist life were poverty, simplicity and love of work.

Making the Marist project work means making a serious and sometimes painful re-direction of our values towards the values of Mary. This means going against the current of modern life, biased as it is towards competition, ambition, advancement and achievement.

Words and values like humility, simplicity, poverty and intimate union with God don't fall easily on modern ears. These values will be "something new for our times" just as they were for those of the pioneer Marists.

The Mayet Memoirs
Father Colin said: "Nothing of goodwill be done except insofar as it is done in the spirit of the Society."

"I have noticed that those who have the Marist spirit succeed even with little talent, while those who do not have it, even when they have talents, accomplish nothing."

"A society should have its spirit. The spirit of a society is like the soul which animates the body; if the spirit is good, everything goes well. The spirit of the Society of Mary is essentially a spirit of modesty. Our very name alone indicates it. It should be a spirit of humility, of modesty."

Three themes
These themes lie at the heart of Marist action: to be humble of heart, to act prudently, and to act modestly.

To be humble of heart is to work without relying on ourselves, but depending on God alone.

"My God, I am nothing, but this I know:
you can do great things through me."

To act prudently is striving to find in every circumstance the right words or the practical decision that will assure the maximum spiritual benefit for these souls here and now.

"Gentlemen, how I love that maxim which Rome follows: ‘Everything for souls'."

To act modestly means avoiding as much as possible anything in our ministry that would throw us into the limelight and attract attention to ourselves.

"Let us act in a hidden and unknown way."

– Kevin Maher, sm

Humility, simplicity, modesty
The three virtues of humility, simplicity and modesty which Marcellin Champagnat put before the Marist Brothers as cornerstone virtues ring almost as a counter call to the French Revolution's catch-cry of "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity".

This formula of three virtues is typical of 19th century spirituality, and was placed in the Society of Mary Constitutions in the article on the Society's spirit. From Colin's article, the formula passed to the Rule of the Brothers, confirmed by their General Chapter of 1852 – 1853.

Champagnat was a living example of the three virtues he placed before his Brothers. His directness, authenticity, simplicity and sense of humour caused some surprise, not to say scandal, among some of his contemporaries. One contemporary priest wrote:

"His confreres criticised him a lot when he began his work. They would have liked to stop him doing it on the grounds that it was not in keeping with the priestly character, living as he did such a wretched life which was far too poor.  When he built the Hermitage he did all the masonry work himself."

Society of Mary Cornerstones

Spiritual tradition among the Marist Brothers likened the three virtues of humility, simplicity and modesty to three violets hidden in the garden, giving glory to God in their smallness and hiddenness.

A spirituality for our time
Marist writer Franco Gioannetti describes Colin's cornerstone virtues of Marist life in different terms in his book A Spirituality for our Time. He describes them as:

Interiorness: which he describes as that sense of constant union with God, "tasting God" in prayer and "finding God in all things" which Marists do by "seeking only the interests of Jesus and Mary".

Poverty: which consists in not being possessed by one's possessions, in choosing a life-style which is in fact poor, and in being free from the desire for fame and personal power.

Precariousness: a word which Gioannetti uses to describe the choice Marists make to live for God alone, depending on God alone, working on spiritual means, without entrusting themselves to human means and capacities.

It is that quality which lies at the heart of Marists' sense of being missionary, moving from place to place, being always ready to "set out and set out again" for the sake of the Gospel.

Communion: which means that union of mind and heart which was evident in the early Church among the believers, as well as a spirit of union with the Church and with the Bishops of the Dioceses where Marists find themselves. This union is to be such that Bishops can look on Marists "as their own".




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...in Mary the woman  we can see a reflection  in human terms of  the maternal qualities  of God, especially  the qualities of mercy and compassion.

In Mary, act and
spirituality are one.

A Certain Way
Table of Contents


Chapter One Introduction:
Consider the rock

Chapter One, Section 1: Silent voice

Chapter One, Section 2:
An echo of what I heard

Chapter One, Section 3:
Six thousand pages

Chapter One, Section 4:
Such is the first step

Chapter One, Section 5:
I heard interiorly

Chapter One, Section 6:
The Dispersal

Chapter One, Section 7:
Jeanne-Marie Chavoin

Chapter One, Section 8:
Marcellin Champagnat

Chapter One, Section 9:
Jean-Claude Colin

Chapter One, Section 10:
The Project came from God

Chapter One, Section 11:
Unheard of... a monster

Chapter One, Section 12:
The finger of God

Chapter One, Section 13:
Consider the rock

Life from within

Chapter Two, Introduction:
Something new for our times

Chapter Two, Section 1:
It makes a difference

Chapter Two, Section 2:
Something never
thought of

Chapter Two, Section 3:
The end times

Chapter Two, Section 4:
New world-new church

Chapter Two, Section 5:
The work of Mary

Chapter Two, Section 6:
In this World

Chapter Two, Section 7:
Instruments of divine mercy

Chapter Two, Section 8:
Useful instruments

Chapter Two, Section 9: The great No's

Chapter Two, Section 10:
The only way to do good

Chapter Two, Section 11:
Flesh to the Word

Chapter Three, Life from Within Intro: Life Force

Chapter Three, Section 1: Icons

Chapter Three, Section 2: Least Marian yet most Marian

Chapter Three, Section 3: Woman, mother and disciple

Chapter Three, Section 4: Most hidden

Chapter Three, Section 5: Most present

Chapter Three, Section 6:
I am watchful

Chapter Three, Section 7:
A parent's care

Chapter Three, Section 8:
Care for the people of God

Chapter Three, Section 9:
A Marian Church

Chapter Three, Section 10:
Silence gives you perfect sound

Chapter Four, Intro:
Fire and rose

Chapter Four, Section 1:
A place to stand

Chapter Four, Section 2:
A place of the heart

Chapter Four, Section 3:
Pentecostal fire

Chapter Four, Section 4:
One in mind and heart

Chapter Four, Section 5:
A bridge to souls

Chapter Four, Section 6:
Losing itself in the church

Chapter Four, Section 7:
Power bursting forth

Chapter Four, Section 8:
Caught up

Chapter Four, Section 9:
Life from within

On mission

Chapter Five, Introduction:
Setting out

Chapter Five, Section 1:
Any part of the world

Chapter Five, Section 2:
An uncommon deed

Chapter Five, Section 3:
A woman of great virtue

Chapter Five, Section 4:
The pioneers

Chapter Five, Section 5:
Set out in haste

Chapter Five, Section 6:
Buried in the rich soil

Chapter Five, Section 7:
New language

Chapter Five, Section 8:
Free people

Chapter Five, Section 9:
Setting out again

Chapter Six, Introduction:
On the fringe

Chapter Six, Section 1:
The Bugey missions

Chapter Six, Section 2:
The world as mission

Chapter Six, Section 3:
A taste for sinners

Chapter Six, Section 4:
Feel the pulse of the age

Chapter Six, Section 5:
Leave the ninety-nine

Chapter Six, Section 6:
At the margins

Chapter Six, Section 7:
Beyond the margins

Chapter Six, Section 8:
Compassion to the limits

Chapter Six, Section 9:
Saved without the law

Chapter Six, Section 10:
Do we hesitate?

Making it happen

Chapter Seven, Introduction: Humble people

Chapter Seven, Section 1: Trees and branches

Chapter Seven, Section 2: Today the society begins

Chapter Seven, Section 3: Family likeness

Chapter Seven, Section 4: Power in the name

Chapter Seven, Section 5: Marist spirit