Table of Contents
Meditations for the Time of Retreat
While of course most importantly Saint John Baptist de la Salle was a saint, it is also the case that he was a very innovative educator. Moreover, he provides a classic example of reading the signs of the times in light of his faith with Jesus.
His life is filled with the rich experiences that cause one to turn to God. He had highs and lows in his life. Born into wealth, he had the available opportunities in life. Encountering the poor and allowing them to touch his heart made him a great educator and a holy man.
The Friar Book Club is adding the Meditations for the Time of Retreat to the selection of books we offer as part of our Friar Book Club. While Saint John Baptist de la Salle and his story are likely familiar to Lasallians, it may not be so familiar to the rest of us.
His is a story of faith and trust in God, as the path his life took was quite different from the path his life was expected to take. Blessed by God, there were also times when it hardly seemed possible he was doing the work of God and would be blessed by God.
His story is also one where he can be seen as inspiring others. But even this had ups and downs, as brothers came and brothers went. At one point, the Christian brothers. were limited to Saint John Baptist de la Salle and two others. At the time of his death there were only 22 Christian brothers. The sections below will be uploaded (again) each day during Lent 2023 until the book is finished.
Meditations – Introduction
The book is the work of Christian Brothers who translated it and provided ample introduction to the text. This was very helpful in not only making the text available, but more importantly just like De La Salle inspiring others to learn of this powerful saint and innovative educator.
How is it the work of De La Salle has lasted more than 300 years after his death? How is it the educational innovations he pioneered are still considered innovative all this time later? This section helps to show how it is this can be true. The training of teachers, and mixing students of all backgrounds together in one classroom are only a few of the things he has done that are still considered best practice today.
It is often the case that the best of innovations occur in the midst of the darkest times. With the Church in France, and the country of France both in dire straights, the climate was surprising fertile for those who see a spiritually internal prayer life as an essential component of faith.
Every one of us is the result of a collection of relationships. Saint John Baptist de la Salle is no exception. From his good fortune of being born in a wealthy family which allowed him to be well educated, to is connection with people of faith and his study for a doctorate, Saint John Baptist de la Salle had a collection of influencers.
So this Sunday we take a break from the Mediations for the Time of Retreat in order to read a meditation written by De La Salle for the First Sunday of Lent. This is actually from Saint John Baptist de la Salle’s Meditations, and not the specific section limited to the Meditations for the Time of Retreat.
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.
To understand the French School of Spirituality it is necessary to remember that life was more than a little chaotic for France, and for the Church. Still digesting the teachings of the Council of Trent, and responding to the secular threats posed by the Enlightenment, it is easy to see why the French School of Spirituality could be harsh in its understandings between the human person and God.
The challenge for these meditations is that for a long time they were not widely circulated or known, even though they were read to the brothers on their yearly retreat. But in recent times, they have come to be seen as more important to Lasallian spirituality than originally thought.
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.
The Word of God, living and effective, can demonstrate the presence of God in a powerful way. Recognizing the presence of God was particularly important to De La Salle. And no wonder, for the both the brothers and the students had need of acute awareness of that presence to help them in their day to day lives and in their ministry.
It is often important to set historical writings into their proper context. Or put another way, to seek to understand how something written centuries ago can remain relevant for today. And so in this introduction, that is precisely the task.
It is hard to know to what degree Saint John Baptist de la Salle understood where the community of brothers would go. It is hard to imagine that he could have seen them becoming what they became. After all, at one point, during the Heroic Vow, there were only three brothers!
“When temptations and interior trials have been endured patiently, God ordinarily encourages a pure soul with spiritual consolation.” While it can be difficult to find ourselves being tempted, when we respond to God’s grace by resisting temptation we receive a certain benefit from God.
For this reason we find the pattern of every two Sundays of Lent. The First Sunday of Lent is always an account of the Temptation of Jesus. And the Second Sunday of Lent is always an account of the Transfiguration.
Saint John Baptist de la Salle begins this meditation, the first for the retreat, with an important reminder for the brothers. They are about God’s holy work. Even a casual reading of the history of the order reveals that in so many ways, that this was the most unlikely endeavors to have succeeded. This holy work was inspired by God.
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.
What is most important when it comes to salvation is the way in which we are saved. We are not saved by our efforts, and so the popular image of the judgement where Jesus weighs our good deeds against our bad deeds is not accurate. We are not saved because of our greater number of good deeds.
The Fourth Meditation makes an observation and provide assistance. Teaching is hard. Ministry is hard. There are going to be times when it might even appear that you cannot go on. But that is precisely where you need to recognize the grace of God. For when we fully trust in God, in Jesus, it is at those moments when we realize that the burden is light and the yoke is easy.
Thank God for the angels. They show us the goal of our lives, namely salvation and our deeply spiritual relationship with God. And the angels, free from the travails of our life, but existing only for God, can help us to see the tremendous hope that God holds out for us. He wants to much for us because he loves us so much.
Saint Augustine said that for angels, angel described what they did, spirit described who they were. And in this meditation, De La Salle starts by reminding the brothers that just as the guardian angels had a specific mission, namely, to protect the one they were to protect, so too did the brothers have a similar mission.
The summary of this entire meditation must be emphasized. You must, then, regard your work, which has been entrusted to you by pastors and by fathers and mothers, as one of the most important and necessary services in the Church. The teaching of children and opening to them the possibility of growing in their faith, and most importantly, to accept the gift of salvation, can easily be seen as having importance in the endeavor of the gospel.
The eighth meditation reasserts the importance of the Lasallian educational ministry and its connection and imitation of the apostles. They were constantly teaching in the Temple, and, as is pointed out, selected deacons to make sure the poor were attended to in their needs.
A Lasallian, as a successful teacher, must be filled with a lot of zeal. Such is the notion for Saint John Baptist de la Salle. And it is also important to note that such zeal has as its source, the Lord Jesus Himself. In return for this gift, the Lasallian then offers this gift to those to whom he ministers.
De La Salle asks, “How is it the zeal of a Lasallian is present? How can we see it exists. This meditation by De La Salle makes it clear. It happens because the Lasallian shares in the same purpose of Jesus coming to earth: to destroy sin. And yet, what does this mean in the day-to-day life of an educator?”
We might not think of things this way, but how specifically is zeal made real? For De La Salle, one way is through correction. This is not an easy thing for any of us to do. We can find ourselves afraid to correct because we ourselves need correction. But if the goal of Lasallian education is the salvation of those we teach, then it becomes quite important for us to be willing to correct the types of behavior that does not lead one to be saved.
Have you up to the present paid attention so that you correct your disciples only with God in view? Have you not corrected them
with exaggerated zeal, perhaps with impatience and in anger? Was that to help them change their conduct, or was it not rather to punish them for some annoyance they caused you? Has charity guided you in this behavior, or have you acted instead to vent your bad humor on them?
Where does the zeal for teaching and ministry come from? Saint John Baptist de la Salle indicates that it comes from the knowledge of cooperating with God’s grace to be a co-creator with God in salvation. The brother, and by extension the Lasallian educator today, needs both to cooperate with God’s grace, and to recognize that their own salvation hinges on the degree to which they have presented the faith in a way that students are made to want to accept the faith.
Because God has called you to your ministry in order to procure his glory and to give children the spirit of wisdom and the insight to know him and to enlighten the eyes of their hearts,1 you will give an account of how well you have instructed those who have been under your guidance. This is an inescapable obligation for you, and you will be punished for their ignorance in these matters (if it is your fault), just as if you had been ignorant of them.
Using the two versions of the parable of the talents, De La Salle indicates the two ways that the brothers can expect rewards in this life for doing their work well. First, there is the outpouring of grace that makes so much difference in the lives of those who are diligent in their ministry. And second, there is the increased ability to affect even more individuals in this gift of grace.
It may not be the case that you are familiar with Dante’s inferno, but you may be aware of his mechanism for hell. He has circles of hell which each one is worse than the one before. But there are also circles in heaven, where the ability to receive the Beatific vision becomes greater and greater depending upon the work of the minister.
The Purpose of the Friar Book Club
The purpose of the Friar Book Club is to make available, both to read and to listen, the texts of books. Given copyright, it is not possible for this website to provide many modern writers in this way. But the classics, being free from copyright are a great way to become acquainted with the rich tradition and spirituality that we share today.
This selection of Meditations for Time of Retreat is geared first to the community of teachers, staff and administrators with whom I work. The hope is that as they become more steeped in the charism of Saint John Baptist de la Salle, they will also find their hearts moved by the faith and zeal that comes from the Holy Spirit.
In addition to the reading of the book, it is also the case that each section will feature reflection questions. The reflection questions provide a way to help understand better the text and to apply it to your life. Happy reading!