We recently continued our series of reflections on the characteristics of Marist Education, this time considering Marist Presence. The six of us who assembled at Marcellin College Bulleen saw presence as one of our very alive characteristics and central to the way Marists relate. Presence for us was not a superficial acknowledgement of another, although we recognised that sometimes this necessarily does occur in larger gatherings, but the presence we were considering was deeper, a presence in which we reveal something of who we are.
We reflected on Jacob's journey to the Promised Land. There the Lord invited Jacob and his followers to realise (in the Lord's words) 'that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go' (Gen 18:15). Another example of God's presence mentioned in the Old Testament occurs when the psalmist pleads with God 'Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me' (Ps 51:11).
We then moved our discussion to the New Testament and considered Paul's acknowledgement, even joy, when he proclaims: 'I can do all things through Him who strengthens me' (Phil 4:13). The strength of God meant a lot to Paul.
So, you might ask, what does this mean for each of us in today's busy world? Our Pope Francis guides and inspires us in this area too. In his recent encyclical The Joy of the Gospel, he states 'How good it is to stand before a crucifix, or on our knees before the Blessed Sacrament, and simply be in his presence!' (N.264) Our Pope is clearly speaking from his own experience.
Our group's reflection moved finally to considering how we see Marist presence. This was very real for us as each of us works in a Marist school or community. Pivotal to our analysis was the foundational work of Hungarian Marist historian Br Alexandre Balko who reminds us that Marcellin recommends we avoid any 'stand-offishness' or 'solemnity' in our relationships. Marcellin apparently saw some of this in the teachers of his day. He believed that an artificial pose smothers the 'joie de vivre' of a classroom and impedes the relationships students crave (1990, p.39).
Br Michael Green points out that during Marcellin's time, those in charge of boarding students began the day by greeting the students thus: 'Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God.' The students would respond 'Let us pray to him to come to live in our hearts.' (2014, p.1) Fortunately such prayers and dispositions are available in every age.