Power in the name

A Certain Way

A Certain Way coverChapter Seven: Making it happen (13 MB)

Humble people (1.1 MB)

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When Alberica Filo della Torre, an Italian Countess, was murdered in Rome in 1991, the enquiry cast a net round a number of suspects. One was a 30 year old former drug addict. His interrogation lasted a long time, and at the end of it, he cried out: “I’m bringing action against you all. You have smeared the name of my family, and of my father – a name that is beyond reproach.”

The young man was angry because his family name contained his personal history, his roots, his sense of belonging, even his sense of personhood. To have called his name into question was to question not only his own integrity, but that of his whole family and his ancestors. For him, and for most people, one’s name is not simply a means of identification. In some cultures, a person’s real name is so sacred that it is revealed only to a small group of privileged people. Torevealone’s name to another is to hand over power to that person. This truth is clearly revealed in the Scriptures.

The Bible story of creation¬†tells that God enabled Adam to name all the animals. The truth being taught in this story is that the descendants of Adam and Eve have power over the rest of creation. The first question Moses asked in his encounter with God was, “What is your name?” and when God revealed what that name was, it was the first sign of an intimate relationship between God and humanity.

All this helps us to understand the significance of covenants in Old Testament times. A covenant was always a two-way agreement, in which both sides accepted privileges from the other, and committed themselves to responsibilities towards the other.

One of these responsibilities was that of ensuring the protection of the other, and coming to the other’s aid in any time of need or crisis.

This responsibility obliged each of the families down to the second and third generation and beyond. It was for this reason that Covenants involved the exchange of the family name. Each family incorporated the name of the other family somehow into their own, and thereby carried some part of the other family for whom they had taken on those responsibilities.

So, when God made a covenant with Abram and Sarai, part of the name of Yahweh was incorporated into¬†Abram’s name, to make his name Abraham, and Sarai’s name Sarah. From the beginning, Marists have seen their relationship with Mary as a sort of covenant with rights and responsibilities on each side. Those who bear her name can presume on her protection, but they are also called to be worthy of the name they bear.

They Mayet Memoirs

Father Colin said: “If I reflect on the name I bear, what a source of hope, of reassurance! But the name is no longer enough. For I profess to belong to Mary, snd I want to profess my belonging to her I even more. I want my devotion to her to redouble, that my dependence on her be total and continual. I shall always hold her by the hand. In my troubles, in my difficulties, I shall say to her, ‘Blessed Virgin, help me, I falter. I cast myself into vour merciful lap, help me to pick myself up sgain’.”

– September 17, 1849

What’s in a name?

Short but paradoxical answer: nothing and everything. A name can mean nothing, if it’s used in the sense that “it’s just a title” or “he’s a nominal catholic”. But a proper name like Mary can also mean everything because it stands for the whole person, body, soul, mind, heart.

Every religious Order or Congregation has one important feast which in some way expresses and confirms its spirit, charism, or reason for being. We might have had one of the relatively clear-cut and defined feasts of Our Lady, such as the Immaculate Conception, the Annunciation or the Assumption. Instead the Founder has landed us with this rather vague and seemingly unimportant feast of the “Holy Name of Mary”. The choice of this feast rather than any of the other more definite ones also stresses that our aim is to be Mary.

When in the Marist Fathers’ Constitutions Father Colin listed 32 virtues of Mary that Marists should show, one of the first Novice Masters was perplexed. Father Colin might as well have listed a thousand and 32 virtues of Our Lady. Colin really wanted Marists to BE Mary in a real sense. And being a person she is more than the sum of her virtues and her greatness is more than the sum of her individual glories which can be isolated and delineated, but only by and for the mind.

– Peter Janssen, sm

Worthy of it?

Historically, it is impossible to maintain that this name was first coined for our Congregation. It cannot be denied, however, that no other congregation was approved by the Holy See before ours under the name of Society of Mary. This fact had been brought to the attention of Father Colin in Rome itself and he did not fail to see in this a special grace of God. But more than a source of vanity, this name was for him a source of responsibility.

The important thing is not to know whether this name gives us a certain pre-eminence over other congregations dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, but rather whether we are faithful to what it implies for us. In that sense, the question which Father Colin asked of the Marists of 1848 should still be heard by us: “It is a remarkable thing (they told me so in Rome) that no one until now had thought to adopt the name which our Society bears. Are we worthy of it?”

– Jean Coste, sm

Covenant relationship

If our name is full of meaning for us, it is because the very fact that we bear it places us in a very special relationship with the Blessed Virgin. The fact that she gave us this name and the fact that we accepted it established between her and us a kind of covenant in the biblical sense. From then on, Mary and her little Society are linked together, in a sense, and the conduct of the latter has a bearing on the honour of the former. Father Colin was acutely aware of this alliance and he used to expound with great spiritual assurance its two complementary aspects: prayer to Mary in difficulties so that she will look after her own glory by coming to the aid of those who bear her name; generous acceptance by the Society of its obligation to render honour at all times to the name which it bears.

Father Colin, when speaking of the name which we bear, does so less in the manner of some modern author than in the manner of the Bible, where the receiving of a name from someone creates a very special relationship with him.

– Jean Coste, sm

Let us live their life

“Westandby ourstate andby ourduty in the footsteps of Jesus Christ and of His Divine Mother; let our every thought, every stirring of our hearts, our every step be worthy of ouraugustmodels. Let us live their life; let us think as they thought, let us judge things as they themselves judged them. Let our union with them through prayer be such that we never lose sight of them and that the world with its deceitfulglory be to us what it was to the great Apostle:

‘The world is crucified to me and I to the world’.”

This fine passage is taken from a Circular Letter written by Father Colin in April, 1842 when he informed the Marist Fathers that he had finished his work on the Rule…. In it, after writing the key words: “Let us live their life”, Father Colin enlarges this thought by point- ing out to us two ways of carrying them out.

The first consists very concretely in looking at what we know of the life of Jesus and Mary in order to liken ourselves to it: “Let us think as they thought, let us judge things as they themselves judged them”. By placing ourselves before Jesus and Mary in such a way that we know them historically through the Gospel, we come upon a standard which is as objective and reliable as it is highly exacting. In this way, without audacious or over-strong phrases, without deviating from the most simple path of Christian tradition, Father Colin lays down for us such a programme as opens up to our good wills an unlimited field of action.

The second attitude proposed to us is prayer. It is not enough for us simply to meditate on the lives of Jesus and Mary. Union with them through prayer is the only means of not losing sight of them and of entering the supernatural world in which they lived themselves.

– Jean Coste, sm

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