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Marist events and stories about parishes, Marist School and Marist personalities are shared regularly in the print edition of our newsletter, Todays Marists. We invite to read about our ministries, missions, history, schools, donors and more.

Download Winter 2019 Todays Marists Newsletter
(updated March 14, 2019)

From Today's Marists Newsletter

Mysticism at the Heart of Marist Mission
by Gerald Hall, SM, Marist Community, Paddington, Queensland, Australia

To "put on the mind of Christ" (St. Paul) or to
"think, feel, judge, and act as Mary in all things"
(Fr. Colin, Marist Founder) requires a mystic heart.

Lest this be misunderstood, we are not speaking of the unrepeatable, ecstatic, visionary experience of a chosen individual (even though this cannot be discounted), but the heightened experience of the sacred and, in theistic-Christian terms, a depth-awareness of the God of love manifested as Father, Son and Spirit. This is the center-point and foundation of mission: not just our mission, nor even the Church's mission; but God's mission.

Today, Christians are more likely to speak of 'contemplation.' Yet, there is value in reclaiming the language of 'mysticism' given its attribution to 5th Century Syrian monk, Pseudo-Dionysius, who also gave us the image of the trinitarian "dancing God." This God of light, dazzling darkness, gift, excess, silence and transcendence brings humanity and the whole creation into being in order to display the divine glory. Arguably, the notion of the "mystic heart" includes the all-important contemplative values of stillness, prayer, withdrawal and union with God, while giving further prominence to the dynamic interplay between the divine and human missions.

Society of Mary USAGenuine mysticism has nothing to do with the occult, heightened emotional experiences or developed intellectual knowledge. Nor, strictly speaking, does it set its sights on God as the object of one's life, since God is not an object but the divinizing presence, "the One in whom we live and move and have our being." (Acts 17:28) True mysticism then is active and practical, an organic life-process through which one develops one's own being and mission in interrelationship with the Living God. In the words of two theologians: "The Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist at all" (Karl Rahner); "In this crucible of the modern world, only the mystic will survive" (Raimon Panikkar).

This understanding of mysticism at the heart of Christian mission is implied in Church teachings from Vatican II onwards. It is the mission of the trinitarian God that is all-important; it is from the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit the Church draws her origin; it is the Holy Spirit who is the principal agent of evangelization. Moreover, Christian mission does not focus on the Church, but the "reign of God;" and it is not the Church, but Jesus Christ, who is "true light of the world." Importantly, too, we are reminded that the Church's first duty is attention to its own evangelization, which, in view of current abuse scandals and ideological divisions, is evidently paramount.

The Marist mission of beginning a new Church in the image of Mary springs to mind as especially apposite today. The heightened appreciation of Mary as archetype, model and mother of the Church gives added weight to the centrality of Marist mission for today's Church and world. What might not be so evident is that such a mission is not just a matter of reinvigorating former ministries or founding new ones. Unless we reconnect our ministries with God's trinitarian mission and the work of Mary from Nazareth to Pentecost and now "at the end of time," we have no particular raison d'être. Such connection challenges us to reappropriate the mystic heart of Fourvière with its eschatological vision of "the whole world Marist."

One of the issues confronting our Church – consistently highlighted by Pope Francis – is that of clericalism. Clericalism could also be called the first enemy of mysticism in view of its non-Marian imaging of Church and discipleship. Colin's "three No's" to greed, pride and power are essentially a call to avoid the clerical mindset for the sake of "Mary's work" and the Church's mission. His further elaboration of the "hidden and unknown" approach to ministry – emphasizing humility, self denial, intimate union with God, poverty, humility, modesty and simplicity of heart – is clearly anti-clerical. Yet, such virtues are only born of a contemplative spirit and what we may call the mystical Marian heart.

Such a mystical Marian heart is nowhere more evident than in the biblical story of the "Visitation," culminating in the words of Mary's "Magnificat." This hymn of praise is intimately linked to what may be called the first Christian mission, namely Mary carrying the body of Jesus in her womb to visit her cousin Elizabeth, herself pregnant with John the Baptist. Mary and Elizabeth are presented to us as two Spirit-filled, peasant women-mystics supporting each other in adversity by singing of God's justice and mercy. They do so with joy in their hearts, not a superficial joy that overrides the world's sufferings, but a mystical joy celebrating the liberating presence and revolutionary promises of God despite the pain, negativity, oppression, and evil that threaten us everywhere.

Society of Mary USA ProvinceThe mystic hearts of Mary and Elizabeth remind us there are multiple paths of human knowledge. In the words of 12th century monk-theologian, Richard of St. Victor: "We have a threefold way of knowing: experience; reasoning; believing." Unfortunately, in modern thought, the act of belief has come to be seen as a matter of doctrine and creed, or even wishful thinking. As such, believing is seen, at best, as an inferior path to knowledge centered on dubious reasoning. The more classical understanding of belief is quite different: to believe is to set one's heart upon the ultimate reality whom we call God. It is the fundamental human act of living within the divine Mystery – and, as such, a mystic act.

Richard's teacher and fellow-monk, Hugh of St. Victor, speaks of the "three eyes of knowing:" bodily sensation; rational thought; spiritual awakening. The human person is more than body and mind, but also spirit, corresponding to the threefold consciousness of beauty, truth and goodness or, indeed, the triune constitution of reality as cosmic, human and divine. The dualism of western culture makes it especially difficult to appreciate the mystical path of spiritual awakening through faith, experience, intuition, affectivity, transcendence, prayer, and silence if we are, in Colin's words, to "taste God." Or, in the words of Richard of St. Victor, to experience the divinity as a river, a loving wave which originates in the Father, ebbs and flows in the Son, to be subsequently spread with joy through the Holy Spirit.

In order to develop the mystic heart as the source of Marist mission, we are invited to return to Fourvière and be reinvigorated by our Marist symbols of Nazareth, Pentecost, hidden and unknown, instruments of divine mercy. For Colin, Nazareth is key-symbol of the Marian mystic heart:

"I place myself at Nazareth; from there I see all I have to do." To this he adds, "Let us unite silence and prayer with action... since we are called to be missionaries of action and missionaries of prayer."

Colin's 'intensive' understanding of mission places emphasis on Marist communities reliving the life of the early Church so "there would be seen at the end of time what had been seen at the beginning: cor unum et anima una (one heart and one soul)." Communal witness at the heart of Marist mission is, for Colin, an expression of the Marian mystic heart.

Pope Francis reminds us "the mercy of God is the mission of the Church." This also expresses the foundational vision of the first Marists and the ongoing mission for Marists today. For Colin, Marists are especially called to be "instruments of divine mercy" since "Mary is the Mother of mercy." Her "Magnificat" sings of God's mercy. This focus on divine mercy as the source, inspiration, and goal of evangelization demonstrates the abiding relevance of Marist mission to the extent that Marists are spiritually alive to the profound mystical sources of their tradition.

Marist mission may also be described as "prophetic dialogue" calling us to "go forth" (proclamation), "gather in" (witness), and "walk with" (solidarity) people on our shared human journey. The task is beyond us if we rely solely on human resources. However, if as Mary, we "treasure in our hearts" the mission God shares with us each day, we will also find ourselves on the mystic path or, to what Panikkar calls, "a radical metanoia, a complete turning of mind, heart and spirit." This was Mary's journey from Nazareth to Pentecost; it is also the mystic missionary journey God and Mary calls us to today.

 

 

Pope Francis
reminds us
"the mercy of God
is the mission
of the Church."

 

 

 
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The human person is more than body and mind, but also spirit, corresponding to
the threefold consciousness of beauty, truth and goodness...