The Originality of a Great Saint: Meditations for the Time of Retreat – 18th Century Wisdom
Originality of Saint John Baptist de la Salle
It is one thing to simply mimic the work of someone else, but another thing altogether when the contribution you make to the body of work is original. The Originality of the work of De La Salle lies in his application of spirituality specifically to the work of teachers.
The work of Saint John Baptist de la Salle is one such contribution. While still a product of his day, his application of the spirituality of the French School to the work of teachers was a great contribution. And, his emphasis not on the horrible nature of humanity but rather on the invitation to a powerful relationship is quite helpful.
The paragraphs below help to show his original contributions. Those working in Lasallian schools today will undoubtedly recognize the ways in which his contributions are active in schools today. But the themes of his original contributions are not limited to just the charism of the brothers, but have application to Catholic education today.
You Are Called by God
Fundamental to the end result of our baptism is the vocation that arises from it. For Saint John Baptist de la Salle this is the significant aspect of the foundation of the Christian Schools. And even a quick examination of his biography indicates that his life took many twists and turns in terms of following the call of Jesus.
Called to Do God’s Work
The most important aspect of the Lasallian spirituality is to see that all done in schools is a response not only to God’s call but also seeing the work being done in the schools as fundamentally the work of God. It is important to see that all that is done in the school is a participation in the ministry of God.
As Co-workers with God
Moreover, it is important to know that work in schools and elsewhere is a partnership between God and the person in the school or ministry. The initiative is always taken by God, but the response of the person called to ministry is a representation of the partnership that makes those working in the Lasallian ministries partners with God.
Especially for the Poor
De La Salle’s life was dramatically changed when he encountered the poor. It was changed again when the brothers attracted to his new enterprise challenged him about relying on his wealth while they were essentially poor themselves. Thus, if the enterprise failed, he would be fine but they would be in a tough situation.
In the Service of the Church
The ministry was both for giving the students served opportunity to gain skills to be productive members of society, while at the same time providing them with the relationship with Jesus that would lead to their eternal salvation.
For the Building of the Body of Christ
The salvation provided by Jesus comes through the entire Body of Christ, the Church. The education had its ultimate purpose to build the Church, the Body of Christ. This image used as it was by Saint Paul is a good one for a person desiring to integrate those on the margins into society.
Through the Action of the Holy Spirit
Even in the most desperate situations it is not difficult to see the presence of the Holy Spirit in action. And this Spirit was one that guided De La Salle throughout his life.
In the Spirit of Faith
The evidence of the action of the Spirit was in the outpouring of faith and zeal, important characteristics of Lasallian spirituality. The action of the Holy Spirit manifests itself in the faith it strengthens in those open to its presence.
In the Spirit of Zeal
There is also a sense that once it is realized the Spirit is active, there is great desire to put this faith into action. Despite the difficult circumstances in creating the schools, there was no diminishing the zeal of the brothers committed to the mission.
By Living the Interior Life
De La Salle was not only concerned by external observance of a rule, but more so on the internal conversion of the brothers responding to God’s call. While De La Salle does focus on pedagogy and other techniques necessary for the successful education of youths, there is much more consideration about strengthening the interior life.
Based on Asceticism
There is important attention to the sacrifices necessary to credibly witness to the poor. There is the need to recognize the need to help desperately poor children to learn, but also the credibility De La Salle needed to create among the brothers, may of whom were quite poor when the order was founded.
By Attention to the Presence of God
If there is an important foundation for the successful education for youth, it is the constant awareness of the presence of God. “Let us remember we are in the holy presence of God” is a phrase well known to anyone who goes to a Lasallian school today. But it was an also important concept when De La Salle found himself in circumstances that were quite difficult.
With Total Abandonment to God
All of the above ideas and concepts find their fulfillment in the total abandonment to the will of God and to God Himself. It is only with this desire that the success of the order today can be explained.
This work is never the work of one alone. It is always the work done in association. In other words, an integral part of Lasallian spirituality is the notion that the work is the result of many people working together to respond to the presence of God.
With Obedience and Faithful Observance of the Rule
The rule developed by De La Salle was not to be slavishly followed, but rather was designed to provide a structure to meet the needs of the day. This was important as much of what occurred in the Christian Schools was a result of this structure, which at the same time was able to provide a way to meet the needs of the day.
Union of Religious Work and Professional Work
If one looks at the habit of the Christian Brothers, there was a two fold goal. The habit provided the witness to the religious life and the importance of being instruments of salvation for the students they taught. At the same time, it is important to state and acknowledge the tremendous and innovative work De La Salle provided for the profession of education.