Feel the pulse of the age

A Certain Way

A Certain Way coverChapter Six: On the fringe (13 MB)

On the fringe (1 MB)

Fee the pulse (1.4 MB)

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When Jean-Claude Colin spoke to his priest companions about their need to “burn with the desire to fly to the salvation” of others, and to “be as it were impatient” for the moment when they could “race to the aid” of sinners, his very words described the sense of urgency that he himself felt.In his own words, he “longed for the notion of mercy to take root” in the Society of Mary.

Profoundly influenced by his experience of reconciling people in the Bugey area, Colin had seen clearly with what great sensitivity one must approach those who are struggling to find a way to God. He himself had learned what it means – and what it costs – to get into the skin of another, to get below the surface of another’s life, and to see the world through the eyes of another.

He had also learned that to bring back the lost sheep, a good shepherd must be prepared to go beyond the boundaries of human comfort, self-interest, and even safe theology in order to find the lost where they are.

From the beginning, Colin wanted to stamp Marists with an attitude which gave greatest play to the mercy of God.

The approach he recommended in Confession and elsewhere was one which actually ran counter to the accepted sound theology of his day.

It was an opinion which was favoured by St Alphonsus Ligouri, but which did not have the full acceptance of most of the clergy in France. Through his theologians, Colin laid the foundations for an approach to ministry, and especially the ministry of Reconciliation, which has become a tradition in the Society of Mary to this day. The Marist family has been characterised by an approach which always favours compassion, which looks first at the situation of the penitent, which gives greatest play to the forgiveness of God, and which pushes the limitsof mercy to the outer reaches.

Actions speak louder than words – or at least give weight to words; and in our own times the action of Pope John Paul II in pardoning his would-be assassin gives great substance to the words he had already written some time before: “It is necessaryto know present-day man in order to understand him, listen to him, love him, just as he is, not to excuse evil, but to discover its roots, quite convinced that there is salvation and mercy for everyone, provided they are not rejected consciously and obstinately.We must constantly feel the pulse of this age of ours, in order to know our contemporaries…. Today it is necessary to have patience, and to start all over again from the beginning.”

The Mayet Memoirs

Speaking to me one day about a pupil whose behaviour had been such that he deserved to be expelled, a child, moreoever, whose character and lack of mature reasoning gave little hope of his mending his ways, Father Colin urged me to pray, saying that we had to pray all the more and have an even greater confidence, that our hope was not founded on anything human. He said to me, “How 1long for this notion of mercy to take root in all our men! It is so much easier to get rid of dangerous ele- ments than to convert them. It is not zeal to send away straight off what stands in the way of good. If so, the matter would be quickly settled. Our Lord did not take that line….Personally, pardon two, three times, and I am not afraid of doing this, because I say to the Lord, ‘My God, this is the wayyou act.’ I have often exercised mercy, and I have been glad afterwards…. We are not out for the healthy, but the sick.”

Submit to souls

It was usual in those days to be severe in the confessional. Being sorry for your sins and hoping to do your best by God’s grace was not enough. People were sent away without absolution if the priestwas not sure they were a hundred percent sorry for their sins. The Marists, led by Father Colin, took a different line. They bore the name of Mary; they were to be caring. They were to persuade sinners to repentance rather than to try to force them with great threats. They were to accept what degree of contrition their penitents could genuinely muster, and leave the rest to God. They found, in practice, that people would afterwards go much further in conversion than had seemed likely at first. In the pulpit, too, the missioners were to persuade rather than thunder at the congregation,to speak naturally and not in the high-flownstyle that was common then and for long afterwards.

– Denis Green, sm

A theology of mercy

Mayet copied into his Memoirs an article entitled: “Great strides to which the elder Father Epalle prompts the Society in 1843 in theology and preaching under Father Colin’s direction.” The article deals with conferences on theology given by Father Epalle. Epalle took a line on theology, especially sexual morality, which was more compassionate than the current of thinking at the time, and, in particular, it was against the thinking and teaching of Father Cholleton, a revered and influential figure in the Society. Mayet records the incident:

Father Epalle had the greatest difficulty in gaining acceptance for a theology favourable to the salvation of souls at the expense of the older, severe moral theology generally taught in France at the end of the great revolution of 1793.

Those who had been nurtured and raised in the study of this austere theology, which they had themselves applied in the confessional, struggled hand to hand with him and he refutedall their objections with a force of logic all his own. He taught in a manner diametrically opposed to that of Father Cholleton, former Vicar General become Marist….

Father Epalle’s starting point in his teaching and all his decisions is the good of souls. Speaking about this theological teaching,Father Epalle told me, “If Father Colin had not by his authority put an end to the objections and recriminations of those who thought my moral teaching lax, I could never have established the principles that were promulgated.But Father Superior was in perfect agreement with me and gave his approval and support, both as theologian and as Superior.”

Here then is the first great good that Father  Epalle procured for the Society, a rather difficult one, because of the consideration due to Father Cholleton, who all his life had held and taught, before entering the Society, to priests who had since become Marists, a doctrine that was the complete opposite. But such a consideration, weighed against the good of the Society, was of no account to Father Epalle, anymore than to Father Colin.

Why forgive?

Under the headline, “Why Forgive?”, Time Magazine reported the historic meeting of Pope John Paul II and his would-be assassin Mehmet Ali Agca in Rome’s Rebibbia prison two years after the shooting.

The magazine reported: “For 21 minutes, the Pope sat with his would-be assassin. The two talked softly. Once or twice Acga laughed. At the end of the meeting, Agca either kissed the Pope’s ring, or pressed the Pope’s hand to his forehead in a Muslim gesture of respect. John Paul’s words were intended for Acga alone. ‘What we talked about will have to remain secret between him and me. I spoke to him as a brother whom I have pardoned, and who has my complete trust.”

It was a startling drama of forgiveness and reconciliation. On one level, it was an intensely intimate transaction between two men.But if the Pope spoke in whispers, he also meant to proclaim a message to the world. The Pope’s deed spoke, not his words, and it spoke with full¬†authority.”

Missionary Sisters’ Constitutions

It is in a deep experience of God, personal and communal, and by trying to live daily the Gospel values of communion and reconciliation, that we become witness to God’s love and instruments of divine mercy, sharing with Him in the transformation of society and its total liberation in Christ.

– Constitution 26

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