Kevin Duffy sm, well-known Marist, currently based in England, writes: I was invited to write something for this JPIC Blog, something personal, saying something, if I felt inclined, about Buddhism. Here goes.
I had the interesting experience of attending yoga lessons from a fellow Marist, Bernard Rérolle, in The Forum in Paris, and although I didn't take up his kind offer of instruction in Zen Buddhism, I did subsequently have some experience of another variety of Buddhism - in the form of Vipassana Retreats. Benefits were calmness, focus, concentration, but I can't report any spiritual benefit in a more particular sense. This wasn't interreligious dialogue, but a typical Westerner looking for psycho-physical techniques from the East that would help in terms of general well-being. Some people integrate such techniques into their Christian prayer, but that was never my experience. For some years, I would do a lengthy Buddhist 'retreat' each year but never felt that it would count as the week's retreat we have to do as Marists. When time constraints kicked in, it was the Buddhist experience that I dropped.
When you look at the identity of Marists as described in the first chapter of the Constitutions, it is of a well-trained, mobile group of contemplative missionaries. The spiritual exercises given in the Constitutions give us a basic healthy diet of a variety of practices: eucharist, prayer of the church, meditation, and so on, that underpin the contemplative dimension. We say in Constitutions No. 6, however, that we look to the Constitutions of Fr Colin as the authentic expression of what the Society is and what it is for. This presents a challenge.
I don't open that 19th century book very often, but when I do it is a shock. The culture and mentality are strange, but more significantly you find yourself in the world of Francis of Assisi or Ignatius of Loyola, a high octane, full-on version of what it is to live a contemplative life as a Marist.
I was struck by an inscription over the door of the chapel in La Neylière where the Marists under the leadership of Father Favre record their gratitude to Father Colin buried there. They don't express their gratitude for receiving the Marist spirit, but for receiving from him a "form of life". The lifestyle of the first generations of Marists had a built-in contemplative infrastructure with institutionalized recollection and silence. They were more contemplative than we are, and, possibly for that reason, more effective missionaries as well.
Perhaps another contributor to this blog will take up the question of how to meet this challenge today without falling into the temptation of "restorationism"!
The Inscription includes: "the Marist Fathers, led by the Superior General Fr Favre, record their thanks “as grateful sons” to Fr Jean-Claude Colin buried here, “from whom they received their form of life”.
Editor's note: We have just celebrated our Titular Feast - the Holy Name of Mary. Questions: What "form of life" would Colin be asking of us if he were writing our Constitutions now? What would a "high octane, full on version" include?