Hello. This is Father Edwin Keel. I am a Marist priest and the Promoter for Marist Laity. This is
the sixth in our series of talks on Marist spirituality.
We have been talking about the joy of knowing God and God’s mercies in our lives so that we can
share that joy with others. I would now like to talk a bit more about the theme of mercy in our
Marist spiritual tradition.
Fr. Jean-Claude Colin, the founder of the Marists, lived in a time when the moral theology and the
confessional practice of the Church were very strict and rigorous, even rigid. But he learned from
Mary another way, a more merciful way. As he said once in a mission sermon,
“She is the mother who in her tenderness is more of a mother than all mothers on earth, the mother
of all Christians, for whom she underwent on Calvary all the pains of childbearing, whose motherly
heart is forever open to all and whose boundless charity embraces all the ages of the new covenant,
all nations and all peoples, comforts all miseries, meets all needs, grants all prayers. Ought we be
astounded to see all Christians unite their voices to proclaim her goodness, her tenderness, her
mercy, and that never has anyone sought her help in vain?”
For Fr. Colin, then, Mary is the Mother of Mercy. This title, of course, is drawn from the traditional
prayer, “Hail holy Queen, mother of mercy…” But for Fr. Colin, this had very practical
consequences for Marists who bear Mary’s name. Marists are to “give the greatest play to the mercy
of God” in their ministry, especially in their preaching and in their confessional practice. Marists are
to be instruments of God’s mercy toward sinners. They are to have a great knowledge of the human
heart and are to show great kindness and compassion to sinners. In a time when the commandments
of God and the laws of the Church were interpreted with such severity that many people found
themselves alienated from the Church and her sacraments, Fr. Colin used to say, “All for souls” and
“Salvation before law” and “Law was made for men and women; if I cannot save them with the law,
I shall try to save them without it.” And indeed Marist priests have a reputation for their gentle and
merciful way in the confessional.
But what is mercy? And what does Fr. Colin mean by mercy? In the Latin language the word is
“misericordia” and in Fr. Colin’s French, “misericorde”. It means “suffering heart,” that is, a heart
that feels the suffering of another person. Thus mercy denotes “compassion” which in its Latin root
means “to suffer with” another person, to feel what the other person feels. Although they are
sometimes used synonymously, mercy or compassion and pity are not the same thing. When we pity
someone, we are paying attention to how their suffering makes us feel. We then try to do something
about it to get rid of that feeling. We avoid the person, or give them a handout to quiet them and get
them out of our way. When we have mercy or compassion for someone, we focus on what the
other person is feeling, we enter into that person’s suffering to the extent possible, we make room for
that person’s suffering in our own hearts, in our own lives.
That brings us to a second meaning that the word mercy had for Fr. Colin. He once said “Mary is
the Mother of Mercy. Her body will have several branches. She will be open to all kinds of
people.” When he speaks of Mary’s “body”, he means the Society of Mary, the Marist religious
order. The Society of Mary indeed has several branches—for priests, for religious sisters, for
religious brothers, and even a branch for lay people. Fr. Colin even said that our aim is to make the
whole world Marist! What he meant by all this is that as Mother of Mercy, Mary’s embrace extends
to all people. All people are included in her motherly concern. And therefore, all people, without
exception, must be the concern of Marists, so much so that no one is excluded from membership in
Mary’s family which is the Society of Mary.
If for Marists, then, Mary is the mother of mercy, and if we Marists, in whatever ministry we may
engage in as religious or as lay people, are to be instruments of God’s mercy towards others, this
means that we must include everyone within our care and concern, indeed we must welcome them
and their suffering, and their joy as well, into our hearts and into our lives. That is Mary’s way.
That is the Marist way.
Exploring the Marist Way