Hello. This is Father Edwin Keel. I am a Marist priest and the Promoter for Marist Laity. This is
the eleventh in our series of talks on Marist spirituality.
We have been speaking of the mission of the Society of Mary, and how Mary calls us to work
toward bringing about true communion among the members of the Church, guided by the description
of the early Church found in chapters 2 and 4 of the Acts of the Apostles.
Fr. Jean-Claude Colin, the founder of the Marists, and the other early Marists, lived in France at a
time of great upheaval. It was the time of the French Revolution. Priests and religious had been
persecuted. The Church was divided between those who favored the old ways where the Church
was united with the monarchy, and those who favored the more democratic ways ushered in by the
Revolution. And many people had given up on the Church, had left, had even given up faith in
God. Atheism was in the ascendancy in Europe. In the midst of all that, the Marists believed Mary
desired to be present to God’s people, to help heal the divisions, and to draw people gently back into
the Church. She seemed to be saying to them: “I was the mainstay of the Church in the beginning,
and I want to be so now in these last days through you.”
In this time of darkness and desperation in which he was living, Fr. Colin saw Mary’s desire to be
present among God’s people through the Marists as a great light and a great hope. God had not
abandoned his people. God had sent Mary, the loving mother who wants to gather all of her children
into safety in her embrace.
But why had God sent Mary at this particular time in history? This was the question Fr. Colin posed
to himself. Part of the answer that came to him was that in this time of greater freedom in society,
people could no longer be coerced into believing, nor could it simply be presumed that people were
growing up in a Christian society that would automatically make believers of them. Rather the
Church had to take a whole new approach, gentler and more unassuming, more servant-like, more
respectful of people’s freedom and personal autonomy. Mary seemed to embody all of those
qualities so necessary in the Church at this time.
Not only that, but Fr. Colin perceived that a whole new world was coming into being, the modern
world, the world as we know it. No longer would the Church be part of the political establishment.
In fact, the situation of the Church was very much like it had been at the time of the apostles:
outside the political establishment, rejected by many in society, living in a culture that could not really
be called Christian, a time of great violence and social upheaval. It was enough to make a loyal son
of the Church like Fr. Colin throw up his hands in despair. But he didn’t. Rather he perceived that
Mary was challenging him and the other Marists to assist at the birth of something new, a new birth
for the Church, as it were. Here is Fr. Colin in his own words:
We must reproduce the faith of the first believers.
The Society must begin a new Church over again. I do not mean that in a literal sense, that would be
blasphemy. But still, in a certain sense, yes, we must begin a new Church.
Of course, Fr. Colin did not want to start his own church like a Martin Luther or a John Calvin. But
he did perceive that the times he was living in offered a rare opportunity for the Church to make a
new beginning, as it were, to recapture something of the zeal, the fire, the enthusiasm and boldness
of the Church of the Apostles. And the one who seemed to provide the early Marists with an image
of this “new” Church, the one who embodied the Gospel values and attitudes and approaches that
were called for at this time, was Mary, the mother of Jesus, the one whom Pope Paul VI has named
Mother of the Church.
This is not a new idea. The Fathers of the Church and the great medieval spiritual writers often
called Mary the model or image or “archetype” of the Church. They pointed out that whatever could
be said about Mary could be said about the Church.
So we Marists, picking up on Fr. Colin’s desire to bring about a new beginning for the Church
modeled on Mary, we Marists speak of a “Marian Church.” By our lives and by our work we are to
help make the Church more Marian in its character and approach. Our goal is to make of the Church
a Marian Church.
In the coming months we will explore some of the dimensions of this “Marian Church.” Here let me
just say that a Marian Church is one whose life is centered on Jesus and is at the same time attentive
to people, to their grief and anguish, their joy and hope, and works to gather all into unity of mind
and heart. This is Mary’s way. This is the Marist way.
Exploring the Marist Way
Marist Mission: Toward a Marian Church