November 12th Marist Country
Life is so very rich at the present time, and I'm feeling the need of a bit more space to sit with our collective and individual experiences that have come so thick and fast. For instance, two days ago our group of about fourteen of us sat around the very table made by Marcellin's own hands in the small room at La Valla where he began life with the brothers in 1817. (Yes, it's our bi-centenary in a little over two years time!!!) It was a simple mass, liturgically sparse, some bread and wine, cup, candle, a small cross and readings around the theme of community. 'Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God ....... If we love one another, God remains in us and his love is made perfect in us.'
I'm sure we all felt the presence of that first Marist community, gathered around Marcellin. For my own part, I reflected on my fifty one years of community life and its continuous challenge to put love, and especially love for the men with whom I live at its centre. Judging by some of the prayers and reflections shared, I was not alone in feeling challenged. Br Mick Sexton, (old boy of Marcellin College Melbourne and now a missionary working in Algeria) in his thoughts on the readings recalled something from his own home life. He said that his father never left home, nor arrived back without first kissing his mum. I found that a beautiful story, because as I said to Mick after mass, I'm sure there were times, when he didn't feel like it. Yet that was his custom, his habit, maybe at times his pleasure, maybe at other times it was his pure self discipline that kicked in, but it was his way of saying and reminding himself about something sacred and central to his life as a married man.
Yesterday we visited the small hamlet of Les Maisonettes where there was a farm house, perched on the side of a narrow river valley from which one of Fr Champagnat's early recruits came, the ten year old Gabriel Rivat. A few others had arrived earlier including an illiterate twenty four year old returned soldier from Napolean's army . A most unlikely start!
And today we visited Le Puy where the Marist dream was first conceived in the mind and heart of a visionary and charismatic young seminarian, Jean-Claude Courveille,who not that many years after ordination had to be dismissed from the growing Marist enterprise because of sexual advances he made to one of the novices. How in God's name did it ever succeed, you might ask! But it did, thanks to the God of Surprises ........... and to the goodness and fire in the belly of another hard working young priest, Marcellin Champagnat.