The Feast Day of Saint Marcellin
This week as we celebrate the Feast Day of Saint Marcellin, his example of living as a faithful follower of Christ is broughtagain into sharp focus. As a Saint of the universal Church, Marcellin’s relationship with Jesus provides an ongoing example for all Catholics.
Recently on the Marist Pilgrimage, participants had the privilege of spending time in the foothills of the French Alps, which spectacularly skirt the rich, beautiful lands of the Rhône Valley. It was among these steep hills and ravines that Saint Marcellin and the first Marists commenced their project. Walking some of the centuries old trails in the region, retracing Marcellin’s oft trod paths between the small hamlets and towns of the Parish of La Valla, one is struck by the sheer physicality of life for the local people of Saint Marcellin’s time, still evident in many ways today, despite our modern technology. The climate in this high country is also extremely cold for most of the year with sudden and dramatic changesin weather commonplace.
Clearly Marcellin and the early Brothers possessed remarkable physical strength and endurance. The impact of their ministry and passion for the Gospel are greatly amplified when understood against such a foreboding and rugged backdrop. Spreading the Good News in such environs required resilience, perseverance, and faith. The fact 50 brothers died in the years between the founding in 1817 and Saint Marcellin’s death in 1840, attests to the challenges they faced.
Courage, strength, perseverance, resilience, and selflessness are all virtues evident in bounty in the person of Saint Marcellin, each faithfully exercised in the name of Jesus and Mary in a manner that moved people closer to God. Comprehending the impact and influence of Saint Marcellin among the people of his time is aided enormously by visiting the places in which he worked. Brother Neville Solomon fms, a respected and renowned historian with particular interest in the life of Saint Marcellin, has likened Marcellin’s widespread appeal across the parishes of that region to the way in which modern day Catholics are encouraged and motivated by recent and contemporary spiritual leaders like Mother Teresa and Pope Francis. Testimony to such comparisons resides in the numerous prominent recordings of Marcellin’s name in Churches, on streets and town squares in settlements throughout the districts of southeastern France. Letters written in Marcellin’s life time and shortly after his death, remark upon the distances people travelled to hear him preach, such was the transformative nature of his words and the persuasive humility of his character.
During the recent Pilgrimage, Brother Michael Green fms led participants through a series of letters written and received by Saint Marcellin. The overwhelming impression of this remarkable person was his earnest, patient, and consistent desire to recognise goodness in other people, affirm the gifts God had given them, and encourage them always to be their better selves. Brother Michael shared a selection of written communications in which, Marcellin’s indefatigable hope, optimism, good humour, and prayerfulness shone through the encouraging letters he carefully composed in response to the often woe ridden, desperate descriptions and heartfelt pleas from some of the frustrated leaders of early communities.
Whilst this week, we celebrate the life and ongoing inspiration of Saint Marcellin, it is also a time for reflection on our own relationship with God, our openness to the Spirit working through us for others. Pope Francis, in his recent Apostolic Exhortation on “The call to holiness in today’s world”, reminds us that each person is called by God, each in his or herown way, to perfect holiness.
We should not grow discouraged before examples of holiness that appear unattainable. There are some testimoniesthat may prove helpful and inspiring, but that we are not meant to copy, for that could even lead us astray from the onespecific path that the Lord has in mind for us. The important thing is that each believer discern his or her own path, that they bring out the very best of themselves, the most personal gifts that God has placed in their hearts (cf. 1 Cor 12:7), rather than hopelessly trying to imitate something not meant for them. We are all called to be witnesses, but there are many actual ways of bearing witness. (GAUDETE ET EXSULTATE paragraph 11).
In this week of celebration in our Marist Schools, let us recall Saint Marcellin’s encouragement to his early Brothers, and heed Pope Francis’ invitation to us today, to bring out the very best of ourselves, the most personal gifts that God has placed in our hearts, as we seek to bear witness in response to God’s call to holiness.