VATICAN CITY, AUG. 17, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The founder of a new spiritual family, the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, says that gratitude should be the real motivation for a moral life.
The Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, also known as the Missionaries of Gratitude, are present in 78 dioceses in 22 countries, totaling more than 10,000 lay members, consecrated women, priests and seminarians. The group’s statutes were recently granted pontifical approval at a Vatican ceremony.
In this interview with ZENIT, Father Santiago Martín, a journalist and priest of the Archdiocese of Madrid, discusses the origin and meaning of the missionaries’ new approach to evangelization and the pursuit of holiness.
Q: What led you to found the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary?
Father Martín: When you consider the history of the Church, you can see that the process of founding organizations has always been similar. First, problems arise, and then, a solution.
There were unschooled children in the street, so the Holy Spirit moved someone, St. John Bosco, for example, to do something for them; that is how the Salesians arose.
There were beggars in the streets of Calcutta and the Spirit urged Blessed Teresa to found the Missionaries of Charity.
Something similar happened to me.
Q: What problem did you see?
Father Martín: Secularism. The work I have founded is oriented directly against this evil that uproots God from man’s heart and, as a consequence, casts God and all religious matters away from society.
In the last few years, a suicidal perversion has come about in the message transmitted by certain ecclesial persons.
They have stated that hell does not exist or that it is empty, and that everyone goes to heaven. This is not so, but most people now believe it.
Most people that acted, stirred either by fear or convenience, have suddenly been told that, no matter what they do, they will get the same payment. They have ceased to be driven by religious motivations.
These motivations, which were so strong in the past, have proved ineffectual, particularly in countries in which the standard of living has improved considerably and there is not much material suffering.
In this way, the crisis in the belief in heaven and hell has accentuated secularism and has led people to forget about God, at least in everyday life.
Q: How do you include gratitude in the process?
Father Martín: This new foundation is a movement of spirituality based on gratitude, because I believe this to be the best way to combat estrangement from God.
I became aware, and I trust that it was through God’s inspiration, that the problem was that for centuries we had been comfortably settled, drawing returns from motivations that, in fact, were pre-Christian, even if genuine.
It is true that saints have insisted on the love of God, but most Catholics have made the journey of their relationship with God based on convenience or fear.
That is what led me to feel that the solution to the problem of secularism should take the form of a spiritual conversion that should place in the hearts of Catholics the genuine reason for which things ought to be done: gratitude toward God, who loves us to the extent of having given his life for us.
Q: Is this why you have called your parish groups Schools of Gratitude?
Father Martín: Indeed. We have devised a formation program that is intended to teach people to be grateful.
The first thing is to make them understand how much God loves them.
The second point is for them to understand that God has rights and we have duties toward him, duties of gratitude.
The third aspect is to teach them to be grateful in everyday life, because gratitude should be demonstrated through deeds of love. And in this, God’s word, which the Church offers us every Sunday, is our point of reference.
Q: What accounts for the name Franciscan Missionaries of Mary?
Father Martín: St. Francis was the first to denounce publicly that Catholics were not seeking God for the right reason; he did so after the vision that lead him to say in tears: “Love is not loved.”
As for the Holy Virgin, she means everything to us, together with St. John Bosco, of whom I feel a spiritual son.
I want to say, among us, Mary has done everything. She is the model for loving God because, in her, in the Immaculate, there was no room for interest nor fear; everything was love. She teaches us to love God with a Eucharistic heart, with a grateful heart.
Q: How has the movement spread?
Father Martín: It has been very rapid, due, mostly, to the use of the media and, particularly, to Mother Angelica’s television channel, EWTN.
However, I think the reason for this rapid progress is that people are ready to receive this message; they are hungry to hear, not only of God’s love, but of returning God’s love and of how to go about it.
Our mission of loving and leading people to love Love, God who is Love, is welcomed everywhere with great enthusiasm.
Q: Where is this movement present?
Father Martín: We are all over America, from Canada to Chile and in several dioceses of Spain.
We have started in Italy, in Poland, and in the Netherlands, in Amsterdam. We are also in Sri Lanka.
It is the Virgin Mary who goes opening the way for us, and we only begin with a “School of Gratitude” where there are people interested in establishing one.
Normally, people have heard about them through some communication media or because someone has told them about us.
Q: Is this a movement only for laypeople?
Father Martín: No, it is for everyone, because we are all called upon to live Eucharistically, to live in “thanksgiving” all day long.
In fact, I think it is a movement that has arisen particularly for priests, both because of the spiritual good they can derive from it and because of the assistance their parishes receive from the Schools of Gratitude.
We insist on the need to help parishes, on the fact that it is through them that one must become inserted in the dioceses.
I believe that the future of the Church is to be found in the union between movements and parishes. That is why our movement is essentially parochial.
Q: So there is a branch that is specifically for the priesthood?
Father Martín: Yes, and also a branch for consecrated women. The statutes that the Church has recently approved establish these three vocations: laypeople, consecrated women and priests.
The call to gratitude is for everyone. In fact, I dare insist, that it is more for priests than for anyone else, because priests are the servers of the Eucharist and the Eucharist is thanksgiving par excellence.