Marist School President Fr. Bill Rowland, S.M. Reflects on the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Mother and Teacher in the Spirit

At the first all-school Mass of the 2021-2022 academic year, Fr. Rowland shared the following homily, which unfolds the Marist values of simplicity and humility. 
Last Friday, I introduced this year’s Marist theme that we will be reflecting on as a school community: living our faith in simplicity and humility. To cultivate growing in simplicity and humility, Fr. Colin wanted Marists to return frequently to Nazareth. He is not speaking about traveling to the physical place called Nazareth. There Jesus lived simply and humbly with Mary and Joseph and grew in wisdom, stature, and grace before God and his parents and friends. He is talking about Nazareth as an interior place of the soul.

Society of Mary Founder Fr. Jean-Claude Colin would see going to a Marist school as going to a type of Nazareth. He saw a Marist education as being a time of spiritual formation. Here at this Marist school, students learn how to pray. They familiarize themselves with the history and teachings of the Church and study the Sacred Scriptures not only to learn about them but to hear Jesus speak through them, revealing how certain passages are meant for them and can reveal their purpose or vocation in life.

The second spiritual truth associated with the Holy Family’s time spent in Nazareth is the phrase, “as if hidden and unknown in the world.” Fr. Colin believed that this phrase was revealed to him by God and was meant for the Society of Mary. It describes how Marists should conduct themselves in the world, preferring to stay in the background, as if hidden and unknown, and not get in the way of Christ accomplishing his work through us.

I want to give you another way of understanding this phrase, “as if hidden and unknown in the world.” I want to suggest that God works in the world and our lives, more often than not, as if hidden and unknown. In other words, the effects of God’s grace on us are often slow to develop, hidden and unknown to our consciousness, and not immediately emotionally satisfying. That is why people often struggle with prayer and worship. The complaint is nothing happens. We like to see results immediately. God’s way of relating to us human beings can be frustrating as if hidden and unknown in the world.

However, I want to remind you of these words of the Prophet Isaiah, “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Is. 55:11) We experience God being as if hidden and unknown in response to our cries for help. In reality, God is responding in ways that are often hidden and unknown to our consciousness. Notice, too, there is no time frame provided as to when we can expect results. As we sing in the hymn, “We walk by faith and not by sight.”

Let me give you an example of what this can look like. Dr. Kathryn Hamrlik and her associate, Kate Parker, have taken it upon themselves to reveal and make known stories of young people through a blog entitled, Seen and Heard Youth. It "aims to amplify the voices of exceptional young people, particularly those who have faced challenges due to race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, physical or intellectual ability, mental illness, or socioeconomic status.”

Two Marist alumni and a current Marist student are among those whose stories are told. There is a common theme that ties all the stories together. Each one had to go through significant challenges but came through them and is flourishing because of them.

From my vantage point as a priest and Marist religious, nothing escapes God’s providence. I hear in the stories of these young people these words from the letter of 2 Timothy: “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.” (2Tim. 1:7)
In today’s Gospel, we see that Spirit of power and love and self-control being revealed in Mary standing at the foot of the cross. She is teaching us two lessons: First, there will be times when darkness will have its hour. In other words, there will be times when God appears to be hidden and unknown, and I will add silent when we need to know, see, and hear from God the most.

Second, Mary is standing at the foot of the cross. Standing is a posture that expresses defiance, resistance, and hope that the wrong that appears to win the day will one day be reversed. During those moments, we are called to leave Nazareth and go to Calvary. There we stand with Mary at the foot of the cross of her Son. She reminds us that we have not been given a spirit of cowardice but the power of the Holy Spirit, who is love and who empowers us with self-control. In other words, we do not panic or despair. Instead, we endure. We resist, and we hope for the day when we will rejoice with Mary, our Mother, and Teacher in the Spirit, and say with her, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant…the Almighty has done great things for me, holy is his name.” (Luke 1: 46-49)

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Marist School

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An Independent Catholic School of the Marist Fathers and Brothers