August 22, 1847
Father Colin said: ‘let us go everywhere, let us do all the good that we can, all the while remaining unassuming and hidden… Let us understand (the Society’s) goal properly. There are those who think that Marists devote themselves only to works that are hidden, unknown, neglected… Gentlemen, the Society does not refuse them, it greatly prefers them….But the Society will not shrink from any ministry, from any task.”
– The Mayet Memoirs
In 1986 the CBS-TV team produced a series of four programmes on the Church in Latin America. The series covered the work of the Church in Lima, Peru; in Sao Paulo, Brazil; and in Managua, Nicaragua.These places were chosen because they showed the many diverse challenges facing the Church in Latin America. In Peru and Brazil,the CBS team followed the work of Marists working in both these countries. Callao in Peru has a population of close to one million catholics, there are few jobs available, there is massive poverty, and not much hope for economic change. The Marist parish of St Rose runs a food bank which provides breakfast for about 500 school children each morning. In Brazil, Marists serve in Sao Paulo, which is the largest archdiocese in the world. They work among those whose chances of economic improvement are minimal. At the end of the filming, CBS producer John Santos said: “What impressed me tremendously in the filming of the programs is the quiet dedication of the Marists we met along the way. On the one hand we met the great thinkers and the church hierarchy, but on the other hand is the profound ministry of the Marists who put all of the talk into action.”
Hidden, yes: sterile, no!
Colin never at any time suggested that the unobtrusiveway of acting that he recommended for Marists meant they should not be in the forefront of the church’s mission. And yet, even from the early years of Marist existence, there appear to have been Marists who interpreted the ideal of the hidden life as a reason for excluding this or that type of work. Once again, we have reason to be grateful to Mayet, the faithful observer of the scene, who in 1867 wrote this forceful comment:
May we be permitted to remark that Father did say unceasingly: “hidden and unknown”, but not “dead”. It is the hidden life that he praised, not a useless, sterile life; it is the nothingness of humility, of self-contempt, of modesty, not the nothingness of the tomb. While he repeated without ceasing “hidden and unknown”, heals o repeated without ceasing that we are called, that we must offer ourselves, to do great things for God. More, he even made his “hidden and unknown” the true basis for great deeds. How wrong would be those who, being of a temperament that is soft and peaceful, or fearful and pessimistic, or cowardly and lazy, would want to shut themselves up in their shell under the pretext that we must lead a hidden life, and who would do nothing, or next to nothing, under the pretext that we must act “hidden and unknown”. That mistake would be even more prejudicial to good, and to souls, if it were made by a local Superior. Nature is clever at self-justification.Corpses are also “hidden and unknown’: good-for-nothingsare “hidden and unknown”, too. Y es, it is the hidden life that Father extols, and to which we are called with Mary’s example, but it is LIFE…. We will make this remark only once; the thing is so obvious. But we do feel that we should make it at least once, because, on very rare occasions, we have seen some subject, and even a superior, make a false application, at least in part, of this vital, productive principle “hidden and unknown”, which they made a principle of death, of sterility, and even of sheer idleness.
The statement of Mayet shows what Father Colin really meant: it was the basis for great deeds and never a pretext not to do something. And it is very well analysed: “Nature is clever at self-justification”.It is so easy for us to look for pretexts not to go out and work, to look for pretexts precisely to shut ourselves in our shell; and it is so hard, sometimes, to leave our warm houses and go out, go out in to the cold to meet the danger, to meet the world and what it requires from our responsibilities. Always the danger will be to say: “Oh no! We are not supposed to do so, we are supposed to be hidden and unknown.Let us stay at home,then; let us not undertake this or that work, these new things, because you know, we are supposed to be hidden and unknown.”” Never wouId such a reasoning enter into the preoccupation of Father Colin. That would be a false interpretation.
– Jean Coste, sm
The dangers of half-understanding this phrase, of seeing one side and not the other, are obvious: we go for the “hidden” bit, and fidish up hermits; or go for the “unknownbit, and be simply lazy, inactive, opposed to change; or go for “in the world” and become mere activists, or secular humanists. Or we make “hidden and unknown” selective, and think that it restricts us to special kinds of works,the hidden and unwanted works. All of these interpretations are wrong.
– Kevin Maher, sm
Marist Sisters’ Rule of Life
The personal inspiration of our Founders, “hidden and unknown in the world”, forcibly recalls this ideal for us. Far from preventing us from undertaking great things for God, it tells us how they should be done, how to become useful instruments in God’s hands, fully open to his action.
– Rule 6