Hello. This is Father Edwin Keel. I am a Marist priest and the Promoter for Marist Laity. This is
the eighth in our series of talks on Marist spirituality.
Until now we have been focusing on personal, individual, interior spiritual attitudes. And in a certain
sense, that is where our spiritual life begins: with the personal experience of grace and our personal
conversion of heart. And yet, that is not the entire picture. After all, we would not be converted if
we had not heard the Good News, from parents or teachers or mentors or preachers or the example
of those who live lives of faithful service. Probably the direct personal encounter with the risen
Christ, such as happened to St. Paul, is rare. Rather our faith is communicated to us and nourished
in us by the “great cloud of witnesses” spoken of in the letter to the Hebrews: we inherit the gift of
faith from others who have gone before us or who are walking beside us even now.
But this is not all. The involvement of others in our life of faith is not simply because we need
someone to communicate the faith to us. Nor is it because we need the support of others in living
what is the demanding life of the Gospel. Nor is it because there is strength in numbers and so the
Gospel is better served if there are many people living it in the world. Rather we can say that we are
saved as members of a community. And furthermore, that salvation is not merely a matter of the
salvation of individual souls, but that the salvation wrought in Christ is a salvation of the corporate
dimension of human existence as well: God in Christ was reconciling us to God, but also reconciling
us among ourselves. Christ came to heal the human race, to overcome the divisions, the hatreds, the
conflicts we experience and are implicated in here on earth. We would like to explore this corporate
dimension of our lives of faith over the next several months.
Let us begin by considering that most Christians belong in some way to a church. The English word
“church” seems to be derived from the Greek phrase kyriakon doma meaning “the Lord’s house.”
Thus the emphasis is on the building and secondarily on the people who worship there. But in the
Greek of the New Testament, a different word is used for what we call church: ekklesia. In Latin it
is the same: ecclesia, the word from which we derive the English “ecclesiastical.” Well the Greek
word ekklesia means an assembly or gathering, literally the gathering of those who have been “called
together.” The church is the assembly of those whom God has gathered together through the death
and resurrection of Christ and is forming into the new, redeemed, reconciled human family. We are
the people whom Christ has called together and to whom he has given his new commandment: “love
one another as I have loved you.” The Law of Moses commanded us to love our neighbor as
ourselves, and to hate our enemies. Christ commands us to love our enemies. And he commands us
to love one another as he has loved us. And how has he loved us? As the one who has befriended
us even when we were sinners and has laid down his life for us whom he has made his friends.
In a way that seems a formidable challenge to us—to love as Christ loved. And we will explore the
various dimensions of that in future months. But let us begin as we began this whole series of talks,
with joy. What joy it is to know, through the faith that has been communicated to us by our fellow
Christians, that we are saved, that in spite of our sins and our unworthiness we are accepted by God
in Christ and found worthy! What joy it is when we find ourselves among a peace-loving, forgiving
people (and how horribly disappointing, even crushing, it is to experience rejection or to experience
factionalism and competition and squabbling in the community of the church)!
For God has gathered us in joy. God himself takes delight in us, the people he has redeemed in
Christ, the people among whom he is working his salvation and the healing of the human race. We
can truly say that the church is the assembly of those gathered by joy, by God’s desire to delight in
his people, and by our joy at knowing the gracious and abundant mercy of our God.
Mary was the first to know the salvation God was bringing in Christ. She was the first to rejoice in
God her savior. She is the archetype or model or image of the Church. She invites us to share her
joy and to make of the Church a place of joy. This is Mary’s way. This is the Marist way.
Exploring the Marist Way
Gathered in Joy