“Evangelizers in the Midst of Youth”
We are all familiar with the story of Marcellin Champagnat visiting the dying boy, Jean-Baptiste Montagne in 1816. As you may recall, Jean-Baptiste Montagne was illiterate, having received no formal academic or religious education. More than likely, his family was what today would be called “non-practicing”. Church practice at this time forbade a priest from hearing the confession and giving absolution to anyone who was not familiar with the fundamentals of the Catholic faith. Nonetheless, Marcellin went to visit the boy, heard his confession, and gave him absolution. Why, in a time of rigid adherence to Church practice, would Marcellin do this?
This excerpt from the document Evangelizers in the Midst of Youth gives us an idea of why Marcellin did what he did and why we, as Marist Educators, do what we do…
37. Champagnat being a man of his times, well aware of the prevailing attitudes about young people and possessing a solid background in Church norms — how was it possible for him to act the way he did? Can you imagine what would have happened if he had looked upon that young man with the bias current in those days? What would have happened if Marcellin had not made the trip to that house, which surely did not encompass the characteristics of a Christian home according to the accepted definition of his day?
38. Champagnat did not go to visit, he went to “meet” the young Montagne; he did not go to pass judgment or analyze a situation, but to meet “someone” who, like him, had a history, a truth, a reality. Champagnat did not look at the youth based on what others said or assumed about what to expect from a 17-year-old youth of that time. Both persons met at the point where each one was. Without denying his being an adult and a priest, Marcellin interpreted everything in terms of that meeting, not his own status. He put the youth’s needs first and foremost; laws were intended to serve people, not the other way around.