Bro. Brian Poulin
Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Although vocation ministry is my official full-time responsibility with the Marist Brothers, I share with other Marists a wider concern for our overall evangelization efforts. How do we invite people into a healing encounter with Christ, if the Church that is meant to help facilitate such encounters sometimes possesses a culture just as toxic as so many secular institutions? Catholic voices of intolerance and condemnation are amplified while those Catholics promoting inclusion and unconditional compassion are too often viewed with suspicion, as if we somehow give less faithful witness to the Christ who famously and scandalously welcomed all manner of sinners and outcasts into his midst.
I’ve spent a lot of time in recent weeks talking with groups of students about the origins of the Society of Mary. The first Marists were responding to a world in which too many people had been alienated from Church, both by social turmoil and also by an ecclesial culture that was rigid and punitive. The founding Marist inspiration was that the same Mary who had once brought Jesus to the world could help bring the world back to Jesus through her example of absolute love, bold tenderness, gentle strength, and determined mercy. Marists soon discerned that to truly present Mary as a pathway to Jesus, we must seek to think, feel, judge, and act as she did.
St. Marcellin Champagnat understood this implicitly, teaching the first Marist Brothers that “to educate children, you must first love them, and love them all equally,” both the good, and the “not yet good.” Acting in love does not guarantee we will avoid wrongdoing, but acting in unloving ways indeed guarantees that we will do harm. If we’re bound to make mistakes regardless, isn’t it preferable to make mistakes that we can at least feel good about?
Much is made of the archetypal love of a mother that persists in spite of whatever any child of hers has done. Such love abhors exclusion and refuses to accept unnecessary suffering. It mystifies me that so many Catholics can demonstrate ardent devotion to Mary while emphasizing only those qualities of hers that suit their purposes: obedience, humility, and faith.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Presenting Mary as an example to follow rather than simply a statue for a pedestal can encourage us to reach out to the margins and make the peripheries the center. Mary calls us to a kinder and bolder way of following Jesus, one that may at times be misunderstood by secular or religious authorities. We remember that Jesus himself was targeted by such figures in his own time.
It’s very fashionable and convenient for those worried about declining Church affiliation to blame the effects of the larger culture. A more honest approach would be to ask if the Church’s failure to attract people has more to do with it straying from Jesus’ teaching and thereby making itself unattractive.
A Church with a Marian heart is one that desires to welcome all people and one that more people will feel drawn to.
All to Jesus through Mary!
This month’s ‘ear candy’ is a song about finding comfort throughout life’s ups and downs—something the faith provides for many. If only our Church was more consistently willing to be a shelter for all. The ‘brain food’ is an opinion article actually published for Mother’s Day two years ago that describes different ways that Mary has been viewed over time.
Ear Candy: “Catch & Release” by Matt Simons (Deepend Remix)
Brain Food: “Mary: Our Often Reimagined, Always Radical, Mother” by Kaya Oakes
Come back on the first Saturday of next month for a new post!