Marist Presence 2: The Church-being-born
Notes by Michael Whelan SM
A good place to start is with the statement that lit the fire in Fr Colin’s heart. Fr Jean Claude Courveille shared with Colin and some other seminarians words he said he had ‘heard’ on 15 August 1812 in the cathedral of Le Puy: ‘Marie dans l’église naissante et à la fin des temps’. He attributed those words to Mary. The French is generally translated as “Mary in the newborn Church/the Church at its birth and at the end of time.” There are various versions. We should note, however, that ‘lÉglise naissante’ literally means ‘the Church in the process of being born’.
The idea contained in these words – Mary being there, supporting the Church at the beginning and as it comes to birth until the end of time – became foundational for Fr Colin. Jean Coste SM says the expression, ‘I was the support of the newborn church; I shall be so as well at the end of time’ is the one which Father Colin repeated most often, most consistently and most regularly during his whole life. (Cited by Michael Fitzgerald, “A Marian Consciousness,” Maristica, Textus et Studia 5, 22.)
- .... our model, our only model, must be and was the early Church. And the blessed Virgin, who then did such great things, will do still greater ones at the end of time, ...” (A Founder Speaks, 117:2f.)
- The Society must begin a new Church over again. (A Founder Speaks, 120:1)
- I am pleased to be able to repeat it here once again: I supported the Church at her birth: I shall do so again at the end of time. These are the words which served us as a foundation and as an encouragement at the very beginning of the society. (A Founder Speaks, 152:1)
“l’Église naissante” .... “The Church-being-born” .... “The Pilgrim Church”. In the thinking of Fr Colin, the Church is a creation of God always coming to be. The Mary we discover in Luke’s Gospel fits this picture perfectly:
- You see before you the handmaid of the Lord, let it happen according to your word. (Luke 1:38).
- As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2:19).
- Mary is the woman of faith, who lives and advances in faith, and ‘her exceptional pilgrimage of faith represents a constant point of reference for the Church’. Mary let herself be guided by the Holy Spirit on a journey of faith towards a destiny of service and fruitfulness. (Evangelii Gaudium, #287.)
And so we are led to the significance of Mary’s presence with the first disciples. Nazareth, in particular, came to signify for Fr Colin, Mary’s way of being present in support of the Church during those early years.