Saved without the law

A Certain Way

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

On the fringe (1 MB)

Saved without the law (1.4 MB)

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Jean-Claude Colin was profoundly affected by his experiences in the Bugey area where he preached those country missions. Here he became more and more aware of the numbers of people beyond the limits of the Church, beyond the Law, whom the Church could not or at least did not touch, and who felt unable or unwilling to touch the Church.

Colin’s experience was paralleled by that of Marcellin Champagnat, Jeanne-Marie Chavoin, and Francoise Perroton in their own situations.

It’s not difficult to imagine what such experiences do to one who has the viewpoint of Mary who wants only to gather all into the Body of Christ.

When he was in Rome on his visits as Superior General of the Marist Fathers, Colin discovered there a theology which was much more flexible than his own, a theology which enabled him to stretch the limits as far as possible to enable those on the margins to be included. “It was in Rome”, he said, “that I learned the maxim: ‘Law was made for man’. If I cannot save him with the law, I shall try to save him without it. ”

Colin did not mean that Marists would by-pass laws of the Church which may be irksome. But on the other hand, to go to where the “lost” and “abandoned” are, is to find oneself in situations where the saving word of God’s compassion must be spoken to people before the Law can be put to them. When one begins to live by the rule of compassion, one immediately comes in contact with people whose situation makes it impossible for them to communicate with the Church.

The good shepherd is one who has made the decision to go beyond the safe limits and to meet the lost and abandoned where they are to be found.

Today’s “abandoned” may not be the same sort of people as the pioneer Marists encountered. They are more likely to have the faces of those in complicated marriage situations, those who know nothing of God and are happy to stay that way, those affected by addictions of every sort, those who have laid violent hands onĀ themselves and have taken their lives, those who die unknown, uncared for, unnoticed and unmourned.

The only guideline that the loving shepherd has is the “appalling strangeness of the mercy of God”. But only those who have experienced this mercy can speak of it to others. This is why Jean-Claude Colin insisted so strongly that Marists are to be people of deep prayer. Only through prayer and suffering can one enter into the deep womb of God’s compassion for the earth and for every creature, and so become an effective instrument of the divine mercies.

The Mayet Memoirs

Father Colin said to us: “Gentlemen, let us educate ourselves. The more learned a man is, the more he opens up to you when you consult him. If he is only a fraud he puts a spoke in your wheel and prevents you going further.

Rome was very useful to me on this point. It was there that I learned the maxim: ‘Law was made forman’. If lcannotsave him with the LaW,I shall try to save him without it.”

– September, 1948

Prayer for the lost

I nere is a story written by the “most Russian of all Russian writers”, Nikolai Leskov, which is called “The Enchanted Wanderer”. In the story we are told of a poor priest in an outlying village in Moscow who was reported to his bishop for being a terrible drunkard. The bishop decided to deprive the priest of his ministry and banish him. However, just before the bishop did this, he had a dream in which St. Sergius appeared to him and put the fear of God into him, revealing that there were countless dead who were grateful to this broken-down priest because of his prayers for them.

When the Bishopwoke, he immediately sent for the priest and questioned him about his prayers. Eventually the priest broke down and said, “I confess to being guilty of one serious transgression. Being weak in spirit myself and in my despair thinking that it were better to take my own life, I always during the service of Holy Communion say a special prayer for those who die without absolution and lay violent hands upon themselves.” The archbishop was astonished by this story and gave his blessing to the lowly priest and told him to carry on his good work as before. Leskov also hints that there are many others who pray for suicides. He says, “I believe that on Trinity Sunday – or is it Whit Monday? – everybody is allowed to pray for them. They say special prayers for them on that day, wonderful prayers, so moving that I could listen to them forever.”

The appalling strangeness of the mercy of God

Graham Greene’s novel Brighton Rock tells the story of the relationship between Pinky, a vicious young gangster, and Rose, a simple girl, in the beach resort at Brighton.Both are Catholics, which is an important element in the suicide pact that they make. At the close of the novel, Rose is in despair because Pinky has been killed, and she has, as she thinks, let him down by remaining alive. She goes to confession to an old priest, telling him what has happened, and she accuses the priest of not understanding. Greene writes:

Rose couldjust see the old head bent towards the grille. Thepriest had a whistlein his breath. He listened -patiently – whistling, while she painfully brought out her own agony. She could hear the exasperated women creak their chairs outside waiting for confession. She said, “It’s that I repent – not going with him. ” She was defiant and tearless in the stuffy box; the old priest had a cold and smelt of eucalyptus.

The old man began to talk – whistling every now and then, and blowing eucalyptus through the grille. He said: “There was a man, a Frenchman, you wouldn’t know about him, my child, who had the same idea as you. He was a good man, a holy man, and he lived in sin all his life, because he couldn’t bear the idea that any soul could suffer damnation.” She listened with astonishment. He said: “This man decided that if any soul was going to be damned, he would be damned too. He never took the sacraments, he never married his wife in the Church. I don’t know, my child, but some people think he was – well, a saint. I think he died in what we are told is mortal sin – I’m not sure; it was in the war; perhaps….”He sighed, and whistled, bending his old head. He said, “You can’t conceive, my child, nor can I or anyone, the…. appalling….strangeness of the mercy of God.”…..

He shivered and sneezed. “We must hope and pray, “he said, “hope and pray. The Church does not demand that we believe any soul is cut off from mercy.”

A sudden feeling of immense gratitude broke through the pain. It was as if she had been given the sight a long way off of life going on again.

Prayer for the forgotten

Every day call this prayer to mind, and repeat it to yourself as often as possible: Lord, have mercy upon all who appear before thee today.” For at every hour and every moment thousands of people depart from this earthly life and their souls appear before God – and how many of them depart in loneliness, unknown to anyone, sad and dejected because no one feels sorrow for them or even cares whether they are alive or not! And then, perhaps, from the other end of the earth your prayer for the repose of their souls will rise up to God, although you never knew them nor they you. How deeply moving it must be for a man’s soul, as he stands in fear and trembling before the Lord, to know at that very instant that there is someone to pray even for him, that there is still a fellow creature left on earth who loves him! And God will look on both of you much more favourably, for if you have had so much pity on him, how much greater will God’s pity be, for God is infinitely more loving and merciful than you! And he will forgive him for your sake.

– Fyodor Dostoevsky, “The Discourses of Father Zossima”

Marist Brothers’ Constitutions

For us, prayer is an absolute necessity. It is our way of being present to and entering into communion with God, who draws closer to us as we show our concern for others. Little by little, our life becomes a continuous prayer which influences everything we do and everyone who enters our life.

– Constitution 77