Table of Contents
The means that those responsible for the education of children must use to procure their salvation
194.1 First Point
The lack of care on the part of the parents for their children is not really completely the fault of the parents, who may themselves need to look for work, and may lack the means to provide education for their children. So the lack of care on the part of the parents for their children during the day is the necessary result of the challenging and harsh poverty of the day.
As de la Salle writes, “These parents have no concern to send their children to school, because their poverty does not allow them to pay teachers, or else, obliged as they are to look for work outside the home, they have to abandon their children to fend for themselves.”
The biggest problem for de la Salle, then, is the reality that the tragic circumstances of the parents lead to the same tragic outcome for their children. Without oversight, without education, the children will end up unable to be employed, and the bad habits they obtain will be very difficult to overcome.
And so, the high providence of God in establishing the Christian schools is highlighted again. After outlining the problem, sad and tragic, there is the reminder that God is now using the brothers to provide the gift of knowledge and the oversight of the children that will lead them in much better directions.
An interesting observation about the early ministry of the brothers is the requirement that the brothers not charge for their teaching. “Be faithful and exact to do this without any payment, so that you can say with Saint Paul, The source of my consolation is to announce the Gospel free of charge, without having it cost anything to those who hear me.”
194.2 The Second Point
“It is not enough that children remain in school for most of the day and be kept busy. Those who have dedicated themselves to instruct them must devote themselves especially to bring them up in the Christian spirit, which gives children the wisdom of God, which none of the princes of this world has known.”
So for de la Salle, the brothers are not simply responsible for imparting knowledge, but more importantly they are to impart wisdom. Content alone is not enough if it does not lead to the acceptance of the gift of salvation.
This task of imparting wisdom is the primary task of the brothers for de la Salle.
“Let this be your primary concern, then, and the first effect of your vigilance in your work: to be ever attentive to your students to forestall any action that is bad or even the least bit improper. Help them avoid anything that has the slightest appearance of sin. It is also most important that your vigilance over your students serves to make them be self-controlled and reserved in church and at the exercises of piety that are performed in school. For piety is useful in every way, and it gives a great facility for avoiding sin and for practicing other acts of virtue because of the great number of graces it brings to those who have it.”
Moreover, de la Salle recognizes the importance of the brothers modeling this behavior. It is important to note that the brothers themselves in de la Salle’s time might also be the type that struggled to live the gospel and the life of faith authentically. This serves as a good reminder for us today.
194.3 The Third Point
For de la Salle, this concern for the acceptance of faith is the primary and main task of the brothers, and by extension, us today. He cites Saint James, who says faith without works is dead. He cites Saint Paul who says, “If I knew all the mysteries and had full knowledge and all the faith such that I move mountains from one place to another but have not charity (that is, sanctifying grace), I am nothing.”
And so de La Salle suggests a three-fold ministry of the brothers: to instruct in the gospel, to help to live the gospel, and to understand the good they teach as the foundation of the good the children will accept. This is a truth that must not only be expressed in word, but made real in deed.
Questions to Ponder
What are the ways in which the students you serve or the people to whom you minister lack the appropriate means to experience salvation? What hardships do they face?
In what specific ways are instilling the faith and developing virtues the primary concern of what you do?
Since modeling this behavior is important, how is it you see your life as an authentic witness of zeal?