1st PHASE:THE INSTITUTE FSC

ROOTS OF ASSOCIATION AND THE ORIGINAL DYNAMIC OF THE CHARISM

 

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1. The roots: the itinerary followed by the "Community for the education of the poor"
2. The crisis: an opportunity to deepen the roots and to guarantee the future
3. The threshold of the Association: a radical gesture of commitment
4. Association is the affirmation of the community, referring it to God and to the mission
5. The theological foundation of Association is "communion for the mission"
6. The first phase of the Lasallian Association: The Institute FSC on its own

 

1. The roots: the itinerary followed by the "Community for the education of the poor".

1.1 The Lasallian Association has a period of gestation which coincides with the beginnings (decade of the 1680) of the itinerary of that first community -scattered in several houses- made up by De La Salle and his teachers/first Brothers. Such an itinerary is a meeting point of different lifestyles, brought along by the necessity to give an answer to the educational needs of poor children.

1.2 When revising that period of gestation we can check that the Association is not born out of motivation for itself, but for the educational needs ofabandoned children and young people, "far from salvation". This call, read from the point of view of faith, is also interpreted as a call from God. The willingness to give an answer to that call of God and of the poor becomes the driving force of what will become Lasallian Association.

1682-84: De La Salle renounces his canonry and his goods: it is not out of longing for perfection or for setting an example to his teachers, but for strengthening the community that needs to serve the poor. It was the challenge N. Barre' had set him:"to be with them and like them".

1684-86: The first gestures of the community to institutionalize its identity: name, habit, regulations...make clear the intrinsic relationship between community and educatlon of the poor. The vow of obedience that they take for the first time in 1686 goes on the same line, to secure the cohesion of the group for the service to the mission.

1686-1690: The community matures and takes its first steps towards universality, at the same time as it experiences the first strong temptations, from the outside, to limit the range of the Lasallian community: the expansion from Reims to Paris, against the financial security offered by the Archbishop of Reims if they keep to his diocese; the option for the internal autonomy of the community against the protection derived from becoming functionaries of the parish priest; the decision to maintain a project of a Christian education integral and open to all as opposed to the tranquillity of submitting itself to a school system which was legal but unfair to the poor.

1.3 The itinerary that takes shape in those years becomes a process in which people are being transformed:

they see themselves inside a history of salvation which has concrete names and faces; they experience communion with other people animated by the same spirit;
they are introduced into a ministry which increases their reponsibility to God, the Church and the recipients of its mission.

The result of the process is a new identity shaped by the Lasallian charism.

1.4 The itinerary, animated by the charism - the Spirit- makes clear the importance and the necessity of the community as mediator in fulfilling the educational mission, but also as a sign of the educational offer proposed to society.

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2. The crisis: an opportunity to deepen the roots and to guarantee the future.

2.1 The itinerary also reveals the weakness of this mediation in the measure in which the external and internal horizon of the community is being reduced. The community is threatened by immediate interests, by what is being done and what can be done; it is itself threatened with disappearing as soon as the mission disappears from its horizon. But, above all, the community is threatened by the fatigue or the inconstancy of the people who are part of it, by lack of internal commitment, by the loss of its roots.

2.2 The 1690 crisis - half the Brothers leave the Lasallian community- shows, above all, the lackof internal horizon, the personal commitment which can only arise from the interior man, secured in God, in communion with his brothers and responsible for the work with which God has entrusted him.

2.3 So as to solve the crisis and save "the community for the education of the poor", De La Salle proposes to two of his Brothers in 1691 and to ten more in 1694, to be associated by committing themselves to God, a "vow of association". In that gesture of consecration there are closely linked together: confidence in God, who is credited with the project; the solidarity with the Brothers, on whom they are counting to carry out the project; the responsibility for the receivers of the mission. 

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3. The threshold of the Association: a radical gesture of commitment

3.1 The vow of association of 1691 and 1694 is the real threshold of Lasallian Association. And it is also the "knot" which solves the crisis and joins together the two tracts of the itinerary at the very moment when the threat of breaking that continuity is looming.

Externally it adds nothing, either to the mission or to the community. But internally it sets them in an explicit reftrence to God himself It is due to this that the protagonists will find greater strength to carry out the project.

The vow projects what already is being lived into the future. It is a prophetic gesture: they state that God is present in what they are endeavouring to do, and that is why, in spite of its apparent fragility, they can commit their life in giving continuity to the experience.

It is precisely in that present fragility of the project, that, in the vow of 1691, De La Salle and the two Brothers avoid tying themselves down to any type of concrete structure: it is the purpose of the work that is being proclaimed prophetically and which is going to be the object of the signatories' creativity. It refers to a future not yet built, one which demands initiative and decision. It expresses the concrete willingness to invent the good, to answer to the needs, to produce efficiency... and it is all discerned in community.

In 1694 there is a better structured project. It will be the second step over the threshold which will help solve the crisis. The structures which appear in the formula are aimed more at reinforcing the internal cohesion of the Society, at strengthening availability for the mission, at discerning God's will through obedience to the "body of the Society" and to those who guide it...

3.2 The formula of consecration or gesture of commitnient of John Baptiste de La Salle and his Brothers expresses on the whole the bond established between the "community" dimension ("together") and the "association for the mission" dimension. The bond points out the lifestyle in community, the radicality with which the objectives of Association are being assumed and the priority order among the options a person has to take in his life. In this case, the link points to an absolute solidarity with the members of the community and with the objectives of Association, to which each one's interests and needs are subordinated. The type of Association that the commitment of John Baptiste de La Salle and the Brothers establishes corresponds to an intentional community.

3.3 In the first part of the consecration formula the Trinity is presented as the ultimate reference of the Lasallian Association, since the Trinity is the communion model for the mission and the ultimate foundation on which the Association is established, and not the associates' capacity for commitment or their generosity.

The whole person is involved in what is proclaimed as the object of the consecration, which identifies "the glory of God " and Association for the schools for the poor. It thus expresses the unity in the Brother's life.

3.4 The second part of the formula marks very clearly the direct object of the consecration: "to unite myselfand to remain in society...". The Brother's consecrated life is incarnated and has its nucleus in this Association (not in "canonical religious vows").

The commitment is not, therefore, immediately with the work of the schools but with the Association, that is to say, with the "Community for the schools for the poor". From the very beginning it is very clear which is the centre of gravity, the essential mediation which distinguishes the Lasallian project. It is situated in communion, in the fraternal relationship among the members of the Society, rather than in the apostolic endeavour in itself, even though this is the aim of the communion.

The purpose is the maintenance of the gratuitous schools for the poor. In this purpose are implied the preferential recipients, poor children. The strength of Association is aimed at the poor, not exclusively, but with a strong preference. It is the aim of the Institute and it must be fulfilled by the Institute itself, not by each member individually.

"Together and by association": This marks the style in carrying out the work and also indicates the necessary fluitful tension between the immediacy and closeness with those who benefit from it - something which favours the community- and the universality and broadmindedness more peculiar to the Institution.

3.5 In the third part of the formula are specified the links of Consecration, the vows of association, stability and obedience. Each of them reinforces an aspect or dimension of the Association. The vows, as every religious vow, are directed to God; however, all of them have to do with the Brothers with whom one is associated; the fulfilment is carried out in and with them.

We could translate its meaning like this:

Association I unite myself to these Brothers;
Stability = I promise to be faithful to them (they can count on me, come what may);
Obedience = I accept what they decide

The bonds, therefore, confirm the essential importance of the chosen mediation to fulfil the purpose.

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4. Association is the affirmation of the community, referring it to God and to the mission.

4.1 Association is born in the community andfrom the experience of that community, but also so as to secure and strengthen the community, inwardly and outwardly:

The Association is born to give roots to the community and to radicalise it in its internal links so as to better serve the mission. With consecration, it points to God as the foundation of the community, and to the educational work as the Work of God.
Association is born to universalize that experience of the community~for~the-education-of-thepoor in time and in space. Association is the guarantee of the continuity of the community beyond its concrete existence in a given time and space.

4.2 A fluid relationship is established between community and Association which makes the limits of each of them less rigid:

The local community feels itself as an integrating part of Association. From a feeling of belonging, it acts as Association's delegate or mediator to guarantee the local project so that it fulfils the aims of Association.

All of the communities - the Community of the Christian Schools- assume in solidarity the responsibility for the educational works. The problem or the needs of a local commuruty are considered a problem or a necessity of the whole. It is starting from the vow of association that we can properly speak of a ministerial community.

Association develops bonds of communion among the people integrated in it in such a way that the collective structures which characterize the Lasallian Association - the Institute, in the first place, and each district, later on- tend to constitute themselves as communities that foster personal relationships, and not simply as organisations for an adequate running of the works.

Association takes as its main objective to achieve living communities that can be signs for the mission. Its partners assume their contribution to the establishment of the communities as their first commitment.

4.3 Community and Association must be seen, in the Lasallian context, not so much as two different realities, but as two dimensions of the same reality, that cannot exist independently of each other.

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5. The theological foundation of Association is "communion for the mission".

5.1 The "Community of the Christians Schools" is constituted above all, not as a work group, but as a community of people who feel called by Jesus Christ and sent to represent him. Lasallian Association does not rest primarily on an efficient organisation but on the interpersonal relationship between those who feel themselves called and sent to carry out God's work.

5.2 That is why the mystic and vital nucleus of Lasallian Association is "communion for the mission", in its theological and ecclesiological sense:

We are called by God to be his representatives among the young; we feel saved and sent to save others. We experience God's love and we transmit it to the young. It is the spirit offaith and zeal.

We are constituted as an evangelizing community: a community Qf Brothers who announce and promote Brotherhood.

5.3 This is the message which our Founder transmits when he points out that "that which is ofthe utmost importance. and to which the greatest attention should be given in a Community is that all who compose it possess the spirit peculiar to it... " (CR 2,1). He will refer to this "community spirit" more explicitely in the reference text of EM 24-28 ("Jesus Christ is in the midst of the Brothers...") It is Jesus Christ and the Spirit who assemble the community for the mission entrusted to it. They supply the community with its specific identity ("charismatic") so that it fulfils its mission.

5.4 The result of this communion for the mission is a ministerial community and a community ministry: a communion which realizes it is called to carry out God's work (identified with the education of the poor) and a ministry which is carried out not individually but in community, with the contribution of the community members in different ways and in different degrees of commitment.

5.5 It is a consecrated community, not by an additional sacrament or by some canonical vows, but by Christ's presence in the community: it is a lay dynamism which springs from the sacraments of Christian initiation made present in the spirit offaith. Thanks to this spirit the community discovers God acting in and through it.

5.6 It is in the community that "charisms" occur. Charisms, in their turn, produce the spirituality that reveals the sense of the mission which gives birth to Lasallian identity. The spirituality and the mission are made explicit and brought up to date in and with the community.

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6. The first phase of the Lasallian Association: The Institute FSC on its own.

6.1 In the phase following the vow of association the "Society of the Christian Schools" is being constituted; it will later on take the name of "Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools".

6.2 The protagonists are, primarily, De La Salle and some Brothers. A priest and several laymen, all of them celibate. Of the members who make up the communities only some of them make explicit their commitment with the gesture of association (the consecration), but this gesture has a prophetic meaning for the whole community: the rest of them are caught by the consequences of the others'gesture and contribute to the setting up of the Society and the achievement of its purpose. The gesture of a few 'benefits them all, it serves as a reference for all and it is the link that integrates them all in the Society.

6.3 The commitment is inside an itinerary characterized as a relationship process in three dimensions:

God, the community, the children. Each one enters the itinerary through one of the three dimensions; but, once inside, the driving force and the motivation that pushes the process on is the call of the abandoned children and the young, the urge to answer that call. That is the purpose that configures the other two dimensions, the one that justifies the existence and the process of association.

6.4 The model (or type) of association resulting from the first threshold is an Institute of celibates consecrated in community for the educational service of the poor. It is an association of Brothers (religious) which takes shape "here and now" in communities of Brothers, closed to other people, just as it was established by the model of Church prevailing at the time.

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