First, at his Baptism, Jesus heard God call him a “beloved Son”; then, immediately afterwards, he was led by the Spirit into the desert in order to be tested; and finally, he left the desert and began his mission.
Jesus was chosen by God; he was tested in the desert; and he set out on mission.
St Mark’s Gospel is full of a sense of urgency as he describes Jesus going from place to place on this mission, urging his disciples, “Let us go elsewhere so that I can preach there, because that is why I came.”
In one way or another every disciple of Jesus will experience these same moments of choice, testing and mission. It was the experience of Mary, the first disciple of Jesus, and it was the experience of the first apostles.
The same pattern of grace was seen in the first Marists. When Jean-Claude Courveille told his fellow seminarians that he had “heard” in his heart Mary saying “Here is what I want”, they began to realise that Mary was inviting them to undertake a work that she had in mind. And they understood that they had been invited into, or schosen for, something bigger than themselves.
The years of preparation and foundation were years of testing as the project matured in the minds and hearts of the founding Marists Champagnat, Chavoin and Colin. For Colin, this time of testing and forming was a time of “tasting God” in prayer. But to “taste God” is also to develop a taste for those whom God cares for most particularly – the lost, the abandoned, the confused, those on the margins, the sinners, the non-believers.
And so, from the very start, the Marist project was to be a missionary venture, an enterprise which would push those who joined it to the boundaries of the church and to the boundaries of the world.
Within months of the first profession ceremony for the Society of Mary, Marist priests and brothers had set out to the very ends of the known world. They were soon joined by lay women and then by sisters. And since then, the history of the enterprise has been one of setting out and setting out again for wherever there is need.