The Lived Experience of the Brothers – Meditations for the Time of Retreat – 18th Century Wisdom
The Lived Experience
Sometimes there is a challenge when reading theology that it can be too esoteric, too abstract, too far removed from the ordinary experience of people. Even though De La Salle was a very learned theologian, his genius was to see the needs of the times, and to alter the presentation of his theology in a way so that people could understand it.
This was just as true when De La Salle was speaking directly to the brothers. His theology was as much a reflection in the ways that God had been present and active in the lives of the brothers as it was a deep theological reflection.
This was particularly true given that the endeavor of the brothers was so new. It was, in today’s language, a paradigm shift, believing that not only could all kids be taught, they should all receive a quality education, one suited to helping them discover the ways in which they could find opportunities to escape poverty.
This is no less a challenge today than it was in De La Salle’s time. Poverty has a fierce grip in the lives of so many people around the world today. And so the during the time of retreat, a reflection on where it is that God is present is quite appropriate and wonderful.
A Look Back at the Lived Experience
One aspect of each day is to look back over the day to identify the ways in which God has been present, as well as those ways in which we rejected God’s presence or did not look for it. The reflection back on the past, however, is not simply the salvation history of long ago, but the recent past where the brothers can see how their acceptance of this vocation has had a direct impact on the lives and salvation of the poor.
It is easy for Lasallians today to see the hand of God in the founding of the order. But it was not so clear at any point in De La Salle’s time. As mentioned earlier, the Church in France, as well as the government was in a mess. And there were those who benefitted from the status quo, both in the Church and the government.
So to look back meant not only to see how God was present in their lives in their ministry, but how God sustained them in those difficulties they encountered in the opposition they faced. Like so much of Christian life, the reflection was one on both the Cross and the Resurrection. So much of our lives is the cycle of death to new life.
But as mentioned, this is not a look back to the time of Saint Paul, for example. Nor does De La Salle tell the brothers where they should have found God in their lives. It is not the story of De La Salle at all, but rather an invitation to the brothers to tell their own story and to share their own experiences of God.
The Lived Experience – The Hope of the Future
Whenever we look back to think of what God has done for us in the past, it should fill us with hope for the future. And given the reasons we mentioned in terms of the current situation in the time De La Salle lived, hope was a virtue sorely needed.
What was important in this hope is that it was an invitation to see how the brothers, in answering the call of God in their own lives, not only provided the hope of salvation for their students, but in seeing the hope of their own salvation they were able to witness to how this hope was life-changing.
The Lived Experience – Both Communal and Professional
For De La Salle, the communal dimension of the vocation was not at all separate from the professional dimension of the brothers. Helping the brothers receive the necessary training to be professionals was important to De La Salle. Their habit reflected the professional dress of the day, and the training and formation was to help their ministry with the poor to be more effective.
To this end, it could be said that one fed into the other. And these two aspects of life, the communal and the professional found their life in the faith in Jesus and the sacramental life of the Church. And, to be sure there really could be no other way to explain how a small rag tag group of brothers could have become such a force in the education of the poor and the spiritual formation of the brothers.
Questions to Ponder
The spiritual life is founded on the paschal mystery of Jesus, his life, death and resurrection. Put another way, we can see our lives as looking to our past to see how God has been active, reflecting on the present to see how he is still active, and looking to the future to provide that hope that he will also be active. So,
How has God been active in your past life? In other words, in what ways have you found God preparing you for this present moment?
How is God active in your life today? Where do you see his presence in the ways in which he helps you today?
How does thinking about your future and God fill you with hope?