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Today's Marists

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 Spring 2019 Todays Marists Newsletter
(updated July 8, 2019)

From Today's Marists Newsletter

Contemplation Meeting Action in Discernment

Contemplation Meeting Action in Discernment
by Ted Keating, SM

The theme of the past year's Today's Marists threaded and woven through several articles has been "the Marist Way, a Contemplative Way." This theme emerged out of deep concerns from the 2017 Society of Mary General Chapter (an international meeting of the Marists that convenes every eight years) to deepen the contemplative dimension of our lives.

It became even more relevant with the publication of Jean-Claude Colin: Reluctant Founder by Justin Taylor, SM, an exhaustively researched biography of our Founder. One of the book's key areas of exploration is the spirituality of Father Colin – his principal spiritual influences, how he responded to them in his own life, and what he asked from Marists by way of a life of prayer and conversion as a foundation for and an exercise of mission and pastoral ministry.

In this year's Today's Marists we will focus on the theme of discernment described by Thomas Green, SJ, in his classic on the topic, Weeds Among the Wheat (Ave Maria Press, 1984) as "the meeting point of prayer and action." The title of Green's book comes from the Gospel parable, as you will no doubt recognize, of the farmhand who asks the farmer what to do when he discovers that someone has sown destructive weeds abundantly in the field of good wheat. (Matthew 13:24)

Before we move on to that theme, however, we have to note that it is not clear that Jean-Claude Colin actually used the word "contemplative" to describe his prayer and spirituality. But, now in recent decades of intense studies of two famous American Trappist authors, Thomas Merton, OCSO, and Thomas Keating, OCSO, we find many close connections between Colin's way of seeing prayer and spirituality and the current use of the word "contemplation."

For example, contemporary Jesuits describe themselves these days as contemplatives in action, based on years of multiple new studies about the spirituality of their own founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola. Several of the approaches in this past year's issues of Today's Marists have similarly presented this spiritual reality as the "Marist Way, a Contemplative Way," to follow the wording of Michael Whelan, SM, a Marist theologian from Australia.

The General Chapter of 2017 placed deep prayer in this contemplative sense at the heart of mission for Marists. The Catholic understanding of mission flows out of the Mission of God among us, especially the Missioning of Jesus, which refers to His being sent by the Father, as Jesus mentions frequently in the Gospels.

This Mission of Jesus is none other than the mystery of the Incarnation, Jesus among us as both God and Human. Jesus, in turn, tells us that "he will not leave us orphans but will send us the Spirit" whose own Mission is to remind us of all that Jesus taught.

Therefore, Mission is first the action of God among us, and our mission is only authentic when it is exercised in the God "in whom we live and move and have our being." (Acts 17:28) It begins and ends as the grace of God. We can live out our ministry only as it comes from the grace of God in the light of the mystery of God. Prayer, contemplation, and dwelling in the mystery of God must somehow pour out into our ministries if they are not to become secularized activities of "good works" rather than the work of God among us in grace. Ideally, contemplation, mission, and ministry are one.

Discernment is what unites all this. The world of mystery, faith, and prayer has to "hit the ground" in action. Decisions must be made using the best techniques involved in discernment. Our human decision-making faculties, however, have to be forged, tempered, and shaped by faith in the will of God for the world, 'not just by our own best strategic analysis' using only secular methods of decision-making.

When 'prayer meets action', transformation of
even the best secular decision making methods
help to shape our lives of prayer into actions
that will deepen our contemplative Marist Way,
whether we be vowed or lay Marists.

We have to leave space for the Spirit in our understanding and practice of mission in a manner that infuses our decisions with the gifts and fruits of the Spirit as we "become Mary" for the Church and the world. Without Spirit's prompting, we can gradually grow unconsciously "secularized" in our efforts to serve the Church. Therefore, discernment is inseparable from contemplation. It is where and how our contemplation truly becomes "the energy source, the mystical heart of Marist mission" as the General Chapter expresses it. (2017 General Chapter, 30)

This is how the clarity of Colin's vision of "thinking, judging, feeling, and acting as Mary" becomes a reality in our spiritual lives as well as in our everyday life and ministry, as individuals and as a group. As Mary, we too become more like "icons" of the Holy Spirit. We bring Mary as the Icon of the Spirit into the world through our pursuit of contemplation.

The great gift St. Ignatius of Loyola and the Jesuits have given to the Church is this "gracious" work referred to as discernment. It is the principal focus of the book St. Ignatius wrote, Spiritual Exercises, a classic in Western spirituality. It is rooted deeply in the imagination, which was rather new at the time. The aim is to search in our hearts through prayer and in the midst of desires, consolations, and desolations, for clarity about where God is calling us (drawing us by desire), while also helping us to become conscious of the false desires that tend to lead us away from God.

The very title of Thomas Green's classic on discernment, Weeds Among the Wheat, (a book designed to be read and discussed with others in small groups) shows how challenging the work of sifting the "wheat and weeds" of inner experience can be, because false and destructive desires are often mixed together with our greatest hopes for purity. This sifting can only be done effectively when others are ready to help "keep us clear." It involves a boundless humility in our path to God of which Ignatius himself spoke so frequently. Thus, we hope that you will appreciate this year's theme of discernment as the natural next step flowing out of a life of contemplation moving into action and service to our world.

Let me leave you with an excellent analogy used by Thomas Green, SJ, that helps us understand how loving knowledge shapes our way of making decisions even when we may not know we are doing so. Discernment may be much more common in our lives of love than we realize. Green imagines a woman married for fifty years to her husband. She is shopping for a necktie for his birthday. She looks at the neckwear selection in the men's store and immediately dismisses whole racks of ties as not being what she is looking for. She zeroes in on another rack and perceives that these might provide the gift she wants. Finally, she spots the perfect tie for her husband. She has lived with him lovingly for fifty years and knows exactly what he likes. She goes home confident that he will love the tie she has chosen.

Similarly, knowledge flowing from
our love of God over many years gradually
helps us to love what He loves and
helps us know how to make choices
based on that long relationship.

You will probably also enjoy reading in this issue the movie review Brian Cummings, SM writes of the film Of Gods and Men.

It helps concretize how "knowledge born of love" shows itself in action in community.

A Cry Is Heard by Jean VanierBook Corner
by Ted Keating, SM

As this issue of Today's Marists was being assembled, the news reported the death of Jean Vanier on May 7, 2019 in Paris at the age of 90. He was one of the great lay voices of mysticism and prophetic action in the post-Vatican II era. His death was described as the death of a "living saint," like that of Mother Teresa, a good friend of his.

Vanier radiated a holiness manifest in profound and persistent love to the intellectually handicapped. His death came as the end of a long search to discern what God wanted him to do with his life. In his youth he had been a naval officer in the Canadian navy, earned a doctorate in Catholic philosophy, and finally his calling "found him" in the horrendous experience of witnessing how the intellectually handicapped were treated in in society. He saw his call, however, as not to serve them in any traditional sense, but to befriend them, to learn from them, and to discover Christ in these thoroughly marginalized people. Vanier began a significant lay movement called L’Arche (the Ark). He started with a small residence and two intellectually challenged men.

The Arche Communities spread rapidly all over the world, even in Buddhist and Muslim nations. He attracted and still attracts large numbers of young people to these communities not to serve the people, but to live with them, “encounter” them, and learn from them the truth about the practice of love in Jesus’s final command to live His "new Commandment."

Jean Vanier published more than thirty books over the years, many of them still in print, calling forth a life of love rooted in engaging our own brokenness before and while we would dare move forward to “serve others.” Henri Nouwen, another great post-Vatican II mystical writer, lived several years in a L'Arche Community. Both men made enormous contributions to the nature of Christian ministry as "wounded healers" who move not out of power to serve others benevolently, but to bring one's own "broken places" into ministries of compassion, recognizing one’s own limits while at the same time engaging the brokenness of others. Vanier wrote a testament of his spiritual search and the surprising growth of L'Arche in a book titled A Cry Is Heard: My Path to Peace, published by Twenty-Third Publications in 2018.



Jesus, in turn, tells us that "he will not leave us orphans but will send us the Spirit" whose own Mission is to remind us of all that Jesus taught.



Today's Marists Newsletter
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Lenten 2011



Discernment is what unites
all this.

The world of mystery, faith,
and prayer has to
"hit the ground"
in action.











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