Hello.  My name is Fr. Edwin Keel.  I am a Marist priest and the Promoter for Marist Laity. This is
the first of a series of talks on Marist spirituality that will be posted on this website.  We will explore
the Marist way, that is, we will examine how Marists take inspiration for their lives from Mary’s way
of life, especially as it is understood in the Marist spiritual tradition.  This tradition had its beginnings
in early nineteenth century France when a group of seminarians came to believe that Mary was
calling them to found a religious congregation, indeed a spiritual movement, dedicated to her, so that
she could be present in the church of these latter days through them as she had been present in the
church at the beginning.  This movement has come to include priests, religious brothers, religious
sisters, and lay men and women who dedicate themselves to the work of Mary in the Church.  This
series of talks will explore the spirituality that animates and energizes and sustains them in this work.

Mary’s way is the way of joy.  Mary’s life, as presented in the scriptures and in Catholic tradition,
begins in joy and is filled with joy from beginning to end, and carries through into eternal joy in God.
Our first glimpse of Mary in the scriptures is when she is visited by the angel Gabriel, who greets her
with the words, “Hail, full of grace!”  Sometimes this is translated, “Rejoice, O highly favored one”
because a way people greeted one another in those days was to say “Rejoice!  Be happy!”  The
reason the angel invites Mary to rejoice is that she “has found favor with God” and will become the
mother of the Messiah.  But the Church also hears in the words “full of grace” echoes of our belief
that Mary, from the first moment of her existence, was already graced, for she was conceived
immaculately, bathed from the beginning in that saving grace that her own son would win for us by
his life and through the paschal mystery of his death and resurrection.  Grace has been the operative
factor in Mary’s life from the beginning, and at every point she said yes to that grace.  Thus joy has
defined Mary’s life from the beginning.  When Mary visited Elizabeth to assist her older cousin in her
pregnancy, Elizabeth called Mary “blest” (i.e. “filled with joy”) because Mary “believed that the
Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled.”  And Mary herself went on to affirm that “My spirit rejoices
in God my Savior.”
If we fast-forward now to the last glimpse that the scriptures give us of Mary during her earthly life,
we find her with the disciples in the upper room awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit.  The
outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost was indeed a moment of ecstatic and overwhelming joy, so
much so that the apostles seemed to be drunk at nine in the morning!  St. Peter had to assure the
crowds that it wasn’t “new wine” but the Spirit of God that had enraptured them so.  The specific
word “joy” is not used in the Pentecost story, but later on, as the word of God spread through the
world and more and more people experienced the outpouring of the spirit, we are told at the end of
chapter 13 of the Acts of the Apostles, that “the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.”  
The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of joy because when we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we have God
within, the one who is the true delight of our souls.  The Holy Spirit came upon Mary at her own
conception in her mother’s womb; the Holy Spirit came upon her in a special way when she
conceived the Messiah in her own womb; and the Holy Spirit came upon her and the apostles when
the Church was conceived and born on Pentecost.  Mary’s words are true of her whole life: “my
Spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

Our spiritual life, too, begins in joy.  It is true that at our conception and birth, we are infected by
original sin.  But then, at Baptism, that same love of God and favor of God that graced Mary’s life
from the beginning now comes to grace us.  I suppose that for those of us who were baptized in
infancy, our early memories of religious sentiment may well be of guilt for things we have done
wrong.  We do not remember the joy of our Baptism when God, in effect, said to us what he said to
Jesus at Jesus’ Baptism:  “You are my son, my daughter, you are my Beloved.”  But perhaps we can
remember that joyful moment when our mature spiritual life began in earnest, that moment of
conversion, that moment when we came to know the love of God, the favor of God, in our life, and
we said our yes to our Baptism and to God.
So yes, our spiritual life begins in joy.  The joy of knowing God in my life, the joy of knowing that I
am forgiven, and that I am incredibly and awesomely blessed.  The joy of knowing that my life has
been redeemed by a love “beyond all telling.”

But don’t we begin our spiritual life by becoming conscious of our sin?  Don’t we have to repent and
atone before we can know the grace and joy of salvation?  On the contrary.  Scripture tells us that
God’s love precedes our repentance.  In the Gospel according to John, chapter three, we are told that
“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son...that the world might be saved through him.”  
And St. Paul, in chapter five of the letter to the Romans, says that “God proves his love for us in that
while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  God’s loving grace precedes our efforts to repent and
to atone.  God’s loving grace is what enables us to repent and to atone.  And therefore repentance
itself becomes a work of joy.  The liturgy affirms this:  In the first preface for Lent, the season of
repentance and remorse for our sins, Lent is called “this joyful season.”  And the second preface
says that this great season is God’s “gift to us, his family, to renew us in spirit.”  For those touched
by God’s love, mortification and penance become works of joy.
It was no accident that the preaching of the apostles did not begin with the condemnation of sin but
with the proclamation of the resurrection.  It is the promise of the joy of eternal life, a promise made
to us in the resurrection of Jesus, that draws people to conversion of heart and, yes, repentance for
their sins.  It is the hope of joy that leads us to repentance.  Joy, not sorrow, characterizes the life of
the Christian.  The famous Jesuit scientist and religious thinker, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, called
joy “the infallible sign of God’s presence.”  And St. Augustine, one of the greatest theologians and
pastors in the Church’s history, said, “We are Easter people and Alleluia is our song!”
Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict the Sixteenth, speaks of “the joy that comes from following Christ
and living according to his commandments.”  And he told the Bishops of Canada that “there is an
urgent need to recapture the profound joy and awe of the first disciples whose hearts, in the Lord’s
presence, ‘burned within them.’”

Fr. Jean-Claude Colin, the founder of the Marists, considered joy an important mark of the Marist
way.  We are told that he wanted Marists to have “freedom of spirit, a good, cheerful, brotherly way
of living, a certain abandonment, a free-and-easy manner.”  He was heard to remark one day that “in
a certain house they were stilted and strained, but now that has all changed.  They are more
magnanimous, they conduct themselves in a simple and happy fashion.  Ah! If we did not always
have a certain joy in our soul like this, a certain liberty, where would be the attractiveness of our way
of life?”  And as a matter of fact, in the journals of an early Marist, Fr. Mayet, who jotted down
many of the things that Fr. Colin said and did, there are recorded 140 references to laughter!
I remember many years ago when I was working with the Marist Teaching Brothers in the Brothers’
spiritual renewal program, there was a young brother in the program from Nigeria.  If my memory
does not fail me, his name was Chima.  He was always smiling.  Someone asked him one day why
he was smiling, and his reply was, “Because I know that Jesus Christ is my savior.”  The joy of
salvation.  The joy of knowing I am loved by a love “stronger than death” as the Song of Songs says,
by a love from which nothing can separate us:  that is where Mary’s way begins.  That is where our
Marist life begins.

Exploring the Marist Way


Talk 1:

It begins with Joy