THE STYLE OF LIFE FOR THE RELIGIOUS EDUCATOR
BEGUN WITH ST. JOHN BAPTIST DE LA SALLE AND ITS PERSPECTIVES FOR TODAY.
By way of introduction:
The canonization of John Baptist de La Salle, 100 years ago today, brought with it the implicit official recognition of the Church that a type of religious life had come of age, that of the lay religious devoted to education, which was born in the experience of de La Salle. After the "Brothers of the Christian Schools", and following more or less their inspiration, several congregations of consecrated men and women appeared, whose founders contributed to the life of religious educators with their particular charisms.
Other official recognitions would come from the Church, from the proclamation of St. John Baptist de La Salle as Patron of Christian Educators, 50 years ago, to the recent canonization of the Founder of the Marist Brothers, Marcelino Champagnat.
Now, does that official recognition refer to the richness and novelty of what that charism brought to the religious life and mission of the Church, or did it come about in the normal course of events and fit naturally into the official structure of the religious life?
It is not that doubt that I would like to clear up as I develop this reflection, rather something else, that affects us more directly, even though what I say will be related to that first idea. Do we, lay religious men and women, founded for the education of the poor, have a clear awareness of what is specific to our charism in the Church? Do we distinguish our vocation within the wider pan9rama of the religious life? It is not a mere intellectual question. From a positive response to these questions depends our capacity of adaptation to the new epoch, to the new social and ecclesial "ecosystem" into which we must be integrated.
My reflection has two sections, following the title of the conference:
· In the first part I'll limit myself to pointing out some key issues that stand out in the itinerary of the Congregation founded by St. John Baptist de La Salle. It is possible that these keys can be applied partially to other congregations, but I have intentionally avoided generalizations and have preferred to refer explicitly oniy to the Brothers of the Christian Schools. · In the second part I have dared to jump ahead and aim my proposal at the totality of lay congregations, masculine and feminine, who participate in some way in this current of the religious life that began with St. John Baptist de la Salle. Each of you can both complete and correct the proposal as you see fit.
The teflection is based on my conviction that it is the Spirit that is leading our congregations through a process of refoundation, a process where we have witnessed the beginnings but as yet do not know where it will all end. Success is not guaranteed; according to some, failure is more advanced than what we can foresee. Be that as it may, the only thing that is asked of us is that we let ourselves be animated by the Spirit. John Baptist de La Salle exhorts us to do just that repeatedly. Let us set out in a process of refoundation that is as inductive and experiential as was that of the foundation.
THE STYLE OF LIFE OF THE RELIGIOUS EDUCATOR
BEGUN BY ST. JOHN BAPTIST DE LA SALLE
I begin with a very elementary observation but one that it is important to bear in mind: the religious life that we will be speaking about is not the result of a theoretical or conceptual planning. Quite the contrary, it was born in the course of a spiritual journey whose protagonists in no way foresaw their destiny from the beginning, but gradually discovered it as they went along, deciding as well, each step of the way, in dialogue with the Spirit. And the Spirit caused them to hear His voice in the needs that they encountered in children and youngsters, in the expectations of society and the Church of their day, but also in the sensitivity and generosity that He placed within their hearts. That is how the Lasallian charism arose historically, and with it a new kind of religious life in the Church.
We find ourselves before a typically inductive process, one which was the involvement of John Baptist de La Salle in the foundation of the Institute. He did not start out with a preconceived idea but was attentive to the signs of God and let himself be carried "from one commitment to the other". The elaboration of the identity of the Brothers was not to be an adaptation of some previously defined canons; neither could a generic, universal concept of the "Religious Life" apply. It followed the dynamism of its own charism, and that can be seen in the development of a history which is closely linked to the itinerary of the Lasallian community.
De La Salle's reading or interpretation for the Brothers clearly reveals this inductive process. The Brothers consecrated themselves to God because He had called them to participate "with their entire being" in His work. They joined together in a ministerial community in which Jesus Clrrist'was the undisputed center. This community required the stability of its members in order to be faitliflil, not to a canonical religious life but to the Work of God, which was carried out in the Christian education of the "sons of artisans and the poor" and made concrete in the gratuitous schools.
To accomplish the Work of God, John Baptist de La Salle makes no reference to a supposed fidelity to determined canonical vows but to the Spirit of Jesus whom we must beseech so that He give us to know the gifts that He has granted to complete His Work. (cf. MF 189.1)
With this description, a brief summary of what John Baptist de La Salle offers us in his own writings, let us view it from the outside, an overview which will also be necessarily brief. How has this religious life manifested itself? How has it been seen thioughout its history, in society and in the Church, over these 300 years?
1. A COMMUNITY IN THE MIDST OF THE PEOPLE
When we look over the historical trajectory of the Brothers in the past three centuries it is easy to appreciate the relationship of closeness which generally has existed between its community and the ordinary people.
The sort of life of this community was clearly different from what was common in society. The relationship did not come therefore from similarity of life, but from what this community offered to the people and because it was truly interested in all that concerned the people.
As with all religious. its witness made reference to God, but it was a witness combined with the promotion of this world. Its form of living did not transmit the negation of the human but the quest for its deepest meaning, and so, this they offered to the people in the form of all that represented modernity - order, organization, professionalism. The main beneficiaries were precisely those people who most lacked meaning and hope because they were on the edges of society and history. The sons of the artisans and the poor could learn the use of the word in the schools of the Brothers; with that they could acquire awareness of themselves and of their identity. They entered into a world of human and religious relations, integrating themselves into society and the Church. They became the active subjects of their own history as well as in the story of salvation.
The community of the Brothers offers itself as a sign of hope and of meaning. It does so by means of its way of life and teaching, by its dedication to God and to men and women, by its renunciation and distance from human realities while, at the same time, its concern for culture and progress. Its consecration can easily be understood as its willingness to search for God and its disinterested and freely given encounter with man. For this, the presence of the Brothers in the town is both a sign of the Incarnation of God in human history as well as of the transcendence of God, which does not belong to us, rather it is we who belong to it.
Let's make mention of three characteristics:
visible and close to the people of its time, because its life is integrated into the cultural problematic of society and the construction of civil society in the area of education.
- Its sign is, in the first place,
2. THE LAY MINISTRY OF THIS CONSECRATED COMMUNITY
These religious educators pitched their tent in the world of education but they did not enter into it as an excuse to impart the catechism or Christian instruction. If the people have accepted them so fully it is because they recognized the professional spirit of these educators. Even more, they were seen to be identified with education. It is their field of action, they are not in it on loan as it were.
However, in this field they did not direct themselves to all in equal measure; they did have some privileged interlocutors, persons they spoke to and who spoke to them. These were exactly the ones who were the least heard, those who had the smallest chance to take advantage of an education and, for that reason, the least likely to fully assume their rights in society.
Why had they chosen that field of action and that target group? What did that have to do with their religious life?
Religious educators, like their founders, recognized that the Christian education of children and young people is the Work of God, the vineyard to which the Lord had called them to work, a place especially desired by God for His Kingdom to grow. It was in that soil that they had seen the "Burning Bush" to which they were to approach "unshod", disposed to listen to and adore God because this fully profane situation is at the same time fully sacred. That is why they were present to it.
What title did they bring to it? By what authority did they come?
They did not have the title of the priestly ministry, but neither did their religious vows work for them as a title. They were sent by the ecclesial community, surely, but that was only the recognition of the charism that impelled them.
The charism that they had received from the Spirit changed them into the "eyes, ears and heart" of God; and for that they could sense in a special way the silent cries of those abandoned children and youth. That was their title.
They came sent as prophets. The prophet is the vigilant sentinel who discovers God's action and points it out.so that the people can discover it as well. His first mission is not to reveal the dimension of the sacred, rather it is to point to the human as a place of the presence of God.
The religious educators brought to education and to the Church the sign of the lay dimension. Thus they recovered the originality of the religious life in its beginnings and they prophetically affirmed the possibility of living without dichotomies the relationship of God with men and women, the dedication to the Gospel and the commitment to culture. Faith in the Incarnation of God has its basis in the unity between these elements.
One option had a positive significance.
Their choice of the lay state as a form of religious life was not, as so often it is seen from the outside, a renunciation of the priesthood, as if this were the alternative before which they would have to decide. Theirs was an option for something that in itself made complete sense; it was the conviction, or even better said; the "sentiment of faith"-an expression of St. John Baptist de La Salle that the ministry of Christian education is one of the best contributions to the Kingdom of God and His Church. But the fact that it was to be lived in a community of consecrated lay persons, identified with the ministry, gave it a special resonance with the people. It raised it to a privileged position of encounter with the God who dwells among men and women.
We know the great value that de La Salle placed on this ministry, comparing it favorably with that of Bishops and Doctors of the Church (cf. MR 199). That appraisal is reflected in the radical attitude that he maintained, engaged in advancing a "prophetic" project that did not reject other more limited projects but which would have to maintain its radical character if it were to continue to be a sign.
That is how we can explain de La Salle's insistence in rejecting any school where any one of the three great mediations of his project might be called into question:
· The educator, as an interior man, with a ministerial identity and a professional sense;
· The community, a sign of Christian fraternity and the basis of the educative work;
· The educative work, a Christian school made to measure for the poor, but open to all.
3. CONSECRATED IN COMMUNITY FOR THE MISSION
Consecration is the most elevated consequence of the radical value that our founders placed on the ministry of Christian education-a lay consecration for a lay ministry.
This consecration is born and develops in community. Outside of community it loses that significance or finds it seriously compromised. This is because membership in a community is the definitive criterion that constitutes these religious as "consecrated", as signs of God before His People. Naturally this does not have to do with a simple material membership, but of an internal communion with the other members of the community and with their finality. It is the community that consecrates them for the mission, even before the gesture and formula of consecration.
The people that see them know nothing perhaps of religious vows but do easily perceive that this community is consecrated. Their availability for God and men can easily be observed. That availability is what justifies what appears strange in their way of life.
Their way of life at the same time expresses theirconfidence in God, to Whom they attribute the work that they have on their hands, their solidarity with the other Brothers whom they count on to carry on the work and the responsibility they feel for the beneficiaries of the work, the abandoned children and youth.
This triple bond constitutes the consecration of religious educators. The community lives it before any expression of gesture or formula.
The personal gesture of consecration also must sooner or later enter the picture as a requirement of the community to be able to institutionalize itself and guarantee its continuity. It is a rite of covenant to which all involved in the work are called to take part and is the motive of their consecration: God, the other members of the community and the children who are the objects of the work. The gesture of consecration binds the person to the community, the community to the beneficiaries of the mission, and all of these to God.
To grasp the meaning of the consecration, and through it, the identity of the religious life of the educator, it is very enlightening to analyze the formula of consecration employed by the De La Salle Brothers during the life of their Founder. We know how, just a few years after his death, that formula was substantially changed because of the demands of the Bull of Approbation, submitting it to canonical formalisms and stripping it of its originality. What was lost in the process was a great opportunity to enrich religious life with a new focus. Certainly, a new religious identity was already introduced in the Church, for it was the work of the Holy Spirit, but its originality had not been grasped. What remained, then, was a latent conflict for those religious: that of living a type of ministerial religious life in conformity with their charism and, on the other hand, not being able to express their experience in their own terms but rather in those borrowed from categories foreign to them.
The formula of consecration that we have been referring to has a very simple and very substantial nucleus:communion for the mission; but this in very concrete terms- communion with these persons, with this community, for this specific mission for which they know themselves to be responsible.
association, stability and obedience. Each one of those reinforces one aspect of communion for mission. Observe that the three vows, directed to God, have as the direct addressees the Brothers with whom one is associating, that is, with the community, and not the apostolic projection properly speaking, even though this is the finality of the former. The fulfillment of the vows is accomplished, therefore, through the Brothers with whom the association is constituted.
· The object of the consecration is expressed at a two-fold level, "to procure the glory of God" and build up the community that has as its end the education of the poor. The consecration unifies both ends, or rather makes them equivalent. It is the maximum expression of the unity of the life of the religious educator.
· The commitment consists in "uniting myself and remaining in society with the Brothers of the Christian Schools..." and breaks it down into three vows:
· The result of this is an "intentional" community, a brotherhood in which its members are fully disposed for the construction of community and for the fulfillment of its finality, not just in the
local sphere but in universal terms as well. In a certain sense, the consecration breaks down the limitations of the community in space and time. This isthe Association, in Lasallian terminology. No mention is made of the evangelical counsels in which the three classic vows of religious consecration are based. These are, however, implicit in the radical availability which the person offers as the basic attitude of the consecration. The reason for.this absence is very simple-the formula of consecration raises to the category of official sign what is lived in fact as existential sign. This is not in the quest for evangelical perfection, represented by the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, but by the ministerial fraternity for the education of the poor.
4. ANIMATED BY THE SPIRIT OF FAITH
It is necessary to ask ourselves where these religious obtained the sense of what they were living, what was the root of that which nourished them and what force compelled them. Said in another way, what was the essence of that spirituality that drew them to what is human and converted them into ministers of Jesus Christ?
To answer that question it is fascinating to look closely at the experience of John Baptist de La Salle. He, being a priest and canon, saw himself led to undertake an exodus that changed his way of encounter with God. In that exodus he was drawn from the place of the sacred, the temple of stone, to the profane ambit of a community of teachers, all of them laymen; and, through them, to the place which was just as profane, or even more so, the school, belonging to the culture and to human society. In faith, John Baptist re-lived the original Christian experience, the elevation of the community to the sacred through the presence of Jesus in the midst of it. He was able to say to the Brothers,"Your community is a holy place, the house of God" (MSF 77.1) and "the house of prayer" (MSF 62.1).
In the same way he would discover that the school was a space where God continued His creation, for His powerful Word caused the light to shine forth, first in the hearts of those whom He had chosen to be his ministers and, through them, to shine in the children (cf. MTR 193.1).
In his exodus John Baptist left behind the company of the sacred ministers and joined that group of laymen that had no other sacraments but those of Christian initiation. In faith he contemplated the action of the Holy Spirit in those teachers and found that the great Gift of Jesus Christ to his Church became a reality in them."Jesus Christ is in the midst of the Brothers in order to grant them his Holy Spirit, and to direct them through that Spirit in all their actions and all their conduct" (MMP 2.26). This Spirit is the primary protagonist in the building up of that fraternity as well as the work of education that they achieved in the school (cf. MTR 195.2).
Contemplating what had been his own exodus, John Baptist presented to his Brothers the "lay" image of God - the God of history, the One who"guides all things with wisdom and gentleness, and is not accustomed to force the inclination of men" (Memoire of the Beginnings). It is He who is found in the most ordinary life, Who is in the community that has gathered in His name, not just in prayer but in all their exercises, the God that awaits them at the heart of their school duties, Who comes to them in the poor, for they are His sacrament as well as the One who causes those Brothers to be sacrament for the poor.
In this exodus there was a personalized evolution, that of the "presence of God". It was the God of Jesus, from the Lord of history to the Incarnate God, from the God at the very depth of mystery to Jesus, life of our life. That is how the personalizing dynamism of our ministry is explained, which is not to be confused with our school tasks but consists in representing Jesus to children and youth.
Starting out from that experience of exodus lived in community with his lay Brothers, John Baptist has transmitted to us a spirituality that can be summed us as"spirit of faith", "faith and zeal". These expressions embody an attitude that encompassed all of life, a way of situating ourselves in the world, of searching for and finding God. Based on the spirit of faith, the Brothers live in depth that experience of Christian roots, as when "the veil of the temple was rent" (Mt. 27.51), and since then "God must be adored in spirit and in truth" (Jn. 4.24).
The spirit of faith, nourished by the Word of God and the sentiment of faith, according to what de La Salle proposes to us, imparts to the spiritual life a style of relationship and dialogue with God that is not reduced to the time of prayer and worship but is projected onto the reading of events and, in a special way, to the encounter with persons, particularly in community and in the educative work.
Animated by the spirit of faith the Brothers are enabled to live their educational tasks as a privileged moment of encounter with God. In that moment they are in a "mano a mano" with the Trinity, creating, saving, sanctifying. And in their duties, which are as profane as they are sacred, ~they expe4ence the fullness of the their religious consecration. The times of prayer and celebrati6n will come afterwards to deepen that same experience, to contemplate God and convert them into His instruments, to express thanks for what they have lived, to open themselves to His inspirations and prepare themselves to be better ministers. Nothing, then, about having to live a double life.
The spirit of faith converts the Brothers into prophets who know how to read God's signs in history and in the world, and recognize the"seeds of the Word" (AG 11) in culture, in the nations, in the persons of their students. It is for that they are enabled to awaken hope in those to whom they have been sent and accompany them along the way to their human and Christian realization.
Animated by the Spirit, they can see the Kingdom of God grow in those places where God still cannot be named nor the Gospel preached. That permits them to be placed in the vanguard of the mission of the Church, and be changed, at the same time, into signs of the Love of God, Who comes to men and women much sooner than these can recognize Him.
For a brief synthesis of Part 1:
The religious life that began with St. John Baptist de La Salle, identified with the ministry of Christian education, has become the prophecy of salvation of the "here and now" of this world, the bearer and sign of hope for abandoned children and youth. And it has accomplished through the two means that characterize its consecration. The consecration is owing, then, to the lay character and brotherhood.
ITS PERSPECTIVES FOR TODAY
In broad terrns we have expressed in the first part what constitutes the patrimony of our religious life. What remains for us to say in this second part can be summed up in the following way: Let us convert that patrimony into prophecy for the present that it is our destiny to live, in this world and for the Church of today.
Nevertheless, right from the start there is an objection that can be made to anything that we might say to this second part. It comes from an evident historical fact: the consecrated religious life for lay educators came to be at the same time as the modern age and developed together with that age. Now then, if the modern age itself is a thing of the past, doesn't it follow that our congregations of educators are also passe'? It is a logical question that many, even among our number, have asked with total frankness.
The question can become very pragmatic and consequential. Do we still have something to offer? That same question becomes even more to the point if it comes from those we aim to serve. Does today's society need, and does it accept, the sign of our life?
Let us put that question in the two perspectives of offer and request, supply and demand, so as to frame the question more concretely. Based dn the charism that we have received, what basic lack d6 we detect in our society that we can convert into the core of our educational proposals which, in their turn, permit the Lord to become visible to our world?
Stated in that way, the question is a challenge to update that original dynamism of our charism. We are challenged to discover the signs of hope, the signs of the presence and the action of God for today. It is an invitation that we make our own, as an act of faith and hope, like the attitude of Jesus in the synagogue of Nazareth. Standing before his neighbors he read the Word that he identified with himself: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for I have been anointed to carry the Good News to the poor..." He goes on to commit himself publicly, accepting in his person the challenge that brings with it the action of the Spirit: "Today this prophecy has been accomplished before you" (Lk. 4:18-21)
Most likely, this is a time to act more by intuition than by logic, as long as that intuition is that of the prophet, attentive to the action of God and moved by the Spirit. It is a time to sense within us the sap that rises from the roots, a sap that calls us to "dynamicf idelity" (VC 37). It is a time for creation rather than repetition. It is a time, as John Paul II tells us in Vita Consecrata, to "reproduce with courage and audacity the creativity and the holiness of your Founders as a response to the signs of the times that arise in the world of today" (VC 37)
Let us say it then with a term that has become quite current-it is a time of refoundation. The congregations of educators have run the course of an historical cycle. It is no longer a matter of prolonging that cycle but of opening a new one, convinced that in this new cycle their heritage can once more be prophecy.
1. A NEW CYCLE IN ANOTHER SOCIAL AND ECCLESIAL ECOSYSTEM
The new historical cycle is developing in a very different scenario from the previous one. I will borrow from biology the term "ecosystem" to talk about the social and ecclesial context we find ourselves in. Our survival in this ecosystem depends on our ability to adapt ourselves to its internal laws and relations, without renouncing our own identity in doing so. The international Colloquia convoked by the Lasallian Institute in the previous seven years have painted the picture of that ecosystem in broad strokes and have defined the tendencies from the particular perspective of our mission.
I will limit myself to mention certain signs of the times that reveal to us the difference of the new ecosystem from the previous one.
· In the social sphere, the mention of globalization and the all-pervading change that is the specific sign of our days.
· Changes also have profoundly affected the Church. In the Church a new awareness has developed in which the community dimension of its identity has been put in relief as also the responsibility of all its members for evangelization. "Communion generates communion and it takes shape essentially as missionary communion" (ChL 32).
As regards religious life, there has been an important displacement at the heart of the Church. From having been at the center and separated from others, it now finds itself together with other Christians and at their service. In sharing the mission, the religious can no longer assign exclusive tasks to him/herself, in relation to the laity, however pastoral those jobs may be. Quite to the contrary, he or she ought always promote the action of the laity. Religious must live in fidelity to their foundational charism in communion with all who share the same spirit, and also in cooperation with all men and women of good will (VC 81).
2. THE NEW FLOWERING OF OUR FOUNDATIONAL CHARISMS
It appears more and more evident that the guiding principle of all activity of the Church is thus defined:communion for the mission. And it also appears evident that the Spirit has broken into this moment of change in the Church, a Pentecost that tends to give strength and dynamism to that principle through a great charismatic flowering. The perspectives of the religious life, in general terms, are different depending on how they are seen - either along the margins or in the very context of that charismatic flowering which reaches the diverse ecclesial groups. In the first case, those perspectives are closed and have no future. In the second case, they are flill of possibilities, many of them unsuspected. They form part of the "new chapter" to which John Paul II made mention in Vita Consecrata (n. 55), which has scarcely begun to be written.
It is now just a few years ago that we began to be aware that the charisms that brought about our respective congregations are not our exclusive property. They are a gift given to the Church in the persons of our Founders, and today they are reaching other believers who are living other forms of Christian life.
The new cycle that we are beginning and which, definitively, is being impelled by the Holy Spirit, is characterized by the new flowering, recently begun, of our foundational charisms. Let us look at some of the consequences:
The first consequence is that we no longer consider our own Institute as if the foundational identity of the religious educator and the ministry of education promoted by the foundational charism. The Institute, the ministry that was commended to it and the identity of the religious ought to be situated now in the new context of Church-Communion, around the core concept of "communion for the mission" and in relation to the new flowering of the charism.
Vita Consecrata insistently reminds us of this (cf. VC 33.84). The second consequence is a change of an important accent on the pastoral ministry of vocations. Our first concern cannot be to maintain the Institute and obtain vocations for it, but to bring spirit to, and promote, the foundational charism, which can be lived in different Christian vocations, together with other gifts. It does not mean we suppress our concern that the Institute may grow, rather including it in a broader context, that of the common charism for the mission.
The Institute and the religious must find their place and live their charismatic identity in the new ministerial community, at the side of the lay partners, the priests and other consecrated persons who participate in the same charism. In the common ministry of Christian education all these parties must more fully develop their specific ministry which, doubtless, is going to coincide with what is most prophetic. This takes nothing away from the importance or transcendence of the vocation of the religious educator, rather it brings out more fully what is peculiar to it: to be sign, memory and prophecy of the fundamental values of the Gospel. The document
On the other hand, the paucity of consecrated vocations in many countries can lead us into a grave temptation-that of wanting to get new members for the Institute, reducing the demands in the bonds of association, and with that, the sense of membership. That will only bring with it the loss of identity in the Institute and, as a consequence, of the consecrated members.In the new historic cycle we speak of; the foundational charism will be the specific bond that establishes internal cohesion among those that share the same mission, but that internal cohesion should not be translated as the complete integration into the Institute. Quite the contrary; it is the Institute which ought to seek integration into an association or a wider charismatic family. In this process the Institute directs its efforts in a two-fold direction:
· Promoting and transmitting the educative charism that gave rise to its existence as Institute. For this it establishes avenues of formation at various levels for those who share in the mission and develops bonds of communion with them;
· Offering a greater commitment in the framework of communion for the educative mission to all those who feel more compelled by the charism.
But it is necessary to add a new line of action that is more and more urgent: real communion, the ever greater closeness and collaboration among the various charismatic families that sh&e the same educative mission. On the basis of the many common coincidences and dynamisms of our charisms we ought to be moving toward an approximation in each one of the institutional levels to the benefit of the educative mission. Thus, we can give a witness of communion before the Church.
In the new cycle we have to clarify the diverse identities, both the religious and the non-consecrated lay. The richness lies in the complementarity of the differences, not by eliminating them or reducing the sense of their identities. And in this area, the greatest effort corresponds to the consecrated, this for two reasons:
· Their identity transmits in a prophetic way the most particular traits of the foundational charism-those that we spoke of in the first part of our reflection. If this is lost it is very possible that the corresponding charismatic family disappears as well, for no religious group can endure very long without the existence of prophets at their center.
· On the other hand, their identity must result from two additional elements that belong to the previous epoch or cycle, and should be re-defined within the concept of Church-Communion, reclaiming their essential function of sign.
For the consecrated person to reclaim and deepen his or her awareness of being sign is an authentic challenge in the cycle that we are beginning. This is so not just for the consecrated themselves but especially for the benefit of the ecclesial community, and more specifically for the corresponding charismatic family.
· The new cycle needs consecrated educators to dedicate more time to contemplation, to shared reflection, to the profound relation between persons. It is the condition they must have to maintain the capacity to discover each day the foundational charism and be able to inspire and transmit the same.
· It may be that the center of gravity-and with it, his reason for being-was not situated where it should have been. That center is what we have to recover, that is not in the advance of education or in school tasks but in the sign that through these, we must offer, the sign of the Kingdom of God that breaks into our world. We'll be specific about this proposal in the 3rd and final section. The service function has characterized our congregations very much. We have made great contributions to the developments of peoples and even continue to do so in geographic sectors that are most depressed. The displacement of that center of gravity towards assistant work is the origin of the feeling of uselessness today frequently affects religious, especially in societies where. education is sufficiently attended to.
· What is proper to the consecrated life is not to fill in for other believers in their contributions for the betterment of humanity, nor much less is it to solve the educational problems of society. What is proper to the consecrated life is to go in advance, placing signposts of the Kingdom that is corning, as the ideal world not fully here but at least glimpsed. This is the element of newness. When the novelty has been accepted by society or, in this case, by the whole Church, as an ordinary service, those who were the first to offer it ought to rejoice and prepare to offer new alternatives,. "new answers for the new problems of today's world", "new projects of evangelization for the actual situations" (VC 73).
· Consecrated educators ought, then, to direct their greatest effort, not so much to maintain a routine presence in the traditional works, as to look for solutions to new problems of education. They can. man alternatives for children without school or adolescents who have dropped out. They can continue the renewal of the school as their Founders did. As professionals of learning, consecrated educators must be effective in their work. However, technical proficiency is not enough in itself. In many cases this simply anesthetizes and causes the c6nsecrated person to forget the reason for his or her being. Mere professionalism in no case justifies the presence of a consecrated person in the school.
And now, in the context of the expansion of our foundational charisms, we have to respbnd more concretely. What sign should consecrated educators present in this new social and ecclesial ecosystem? With how many other Christian identities do they participate in the same charism? The question is based on what was put to you at the beginning of this second part, but now we place it in the new ministerial community for all the answers must be based on it and in communion with it. What does this society need from us? What do we fmd in our charismatic inheritance to offer it?
3. "TODAY THIS PROPHECY IS FULFILLED BEFORE YOUR EYES"
Perhaps the key to enter into this new cycle, the key to be able to pronounce with faith and hope the affirmation of Jesus in the synagogue of Nazareth, consists in recognizing the convergence of these three factors:
· The axis around which our identity is built: a consecrated community of lay persons who live for the educational service of the poor;
· The nucleus that constitutes the central mystery of the Church, as has been manifest since Vatican Council ll - communion for the mission;
· Certain strongly felt necessities and aspirations in the world of today: the desire for unity in diversity, given the climate of individualism and massification that predominate in society; the urgent need to rescue and integrate so many children and youngsters pushed into marginalization; and also the need for prophetic voices to defend what is best in the culture and prevent consciences from falling asleep. In the previous cycle, that of the age of modernity, it was our duty to answer to the need for order, rationality, organization, instruction, professionality. The new necessities have to do more with relationships, human encounters, the sense of belonging, the things that bind us together socially...
In this confluence everything tells us that we must recover the centrality of our charismatic axis and conVert it into an educative proposal.
A) Let us recover the corninunity and offer it as a sign of hope and meaning for the new "sons of artisans and of the poor".
To construct the sign: the community is the principal sign and, building on it, all the others can be established. It is very' demanding because it supposes, first of all, that our communities recover or reaffirm the quality of their own fraternal life. Secondly, that they be capable of making themselves visible, without which they cannot be a sign. Fraternal life "is a prophetic act, in a society in which a profound desire for brotherhood without frontiers is hidden, at times without realizing it." (VC 85). To give witness of community in the midst of education is the first prophetic act that today is expected of consecrated school persons.
But it will not be a prophetic sign if it does not have a goodly measure of radicality. For that we will have to give real priority to the building up of the internal life of the community and not permit it to be easily pushed to the background by the always pressing urgencies of the outside apostolic tasks. We must make the necessary adaptations so that the sign be seen transparently.
To communicate and amplify the sign: Communion, as a prophetic act, has as its first target group the other educators with whom we share the mission. With them the consecrated educators, experts in communion, propose to craft communion and "foment the spirituality of communion" (VC 46, 51). Their labor in the school passes through this first link in the chain, and frequently has to remain in that first step: the formation and animation of the educative community and, within that, the community of faith. It is a work that can be extended into retirement age in many different ways.
In reality, what we have been terming in recent years "shared mission" has the process of communion as its essential nucleus. It is an extroverted communion, a missionary communion. It all consists in creating bonds among educators. From the bonds of solidarity between persons and co-responsibility for the common project, we continue on in communion in the faith and harmony of values and the message of the Gospel. We finally reach the bonds of ministry, feeling ourselves to be jointly mediators of God and the Church for the mission, bearers of a charism that must be guaranteed communitarily.
To convert the sign into an educative proposal: From the educative community and the community of faith we must have the proposal of community reach the students. This would mean that the educative project revolves around the community and the creation of community. Thus it puts forward an alternative model of person as opposed to a society that exaggerates both the individual and the masses. The school is structured and set up as a place of encounter, of getting along together, of listening, of communication. The pedagogical options favor teamwork rather than individualism, solidarity rather than competition, help for the weaker members rather than marginalization, responsible participation rather than passive submission. In this way education is put to the service of the human encounter.
At the apex of this proposal is the Christian community as the result of a process of initiation that is not just learning contents but the experience of Christian fraternity. Consecrated educators know that, among their educative tasks, this is the one that requires the greatest commitment on their part, especially as prophetic sign that inspires other Christian educators to involve themselves in it.
B) Let us reclaim the option for the poor as the distinctive characteristic of each one of our communities, and make of it our educative proposal, as the global perspective of all of education.
The option for the poor, so clear cut in the origins of our respective congregations, is not just a characteristic trait but the motor that set them into movement and gave meaning to all their projects. At the present time, the option for the poor is altered in diverse forms:
· In some cases it has been replaced by the option for a global concept, or by a less problematic perspective, or simply by the middle class. At the same time a few discreet concessions are made-in means, personnel or time-for the really needy.· In other cases a pact is made with the realm of the possible, that is, with what social, economic and political circumstances permit us to make without major problems. Frequently this pact goes with a certain bad conscience because our stated preferred group is not being attended to.
· Finally, and more and more, there is a real concern to create works that can make a real difference in our option for the poor. However, neither is. it a rare case that these signs are marginal and do not seriously question the rest of the religious province.
There is a lack of credibility and no possible excuse to justify them, for a religious community of educators not to have assumed the option for the poor.. There will be no entrance into the new cycle unless they reclaim this option. A community that lives for the poor and fights against poverty is probably the most necessary sign that the world needs today, a world where poverty is everyday less the result of natural scarcity of goods and more the consequence of injustice.
The option for the poor does not consist only in the; creation of some educative works dedicated to the. poor. The option must be present in each religious community and, through it, must be communicated to the community of faith and the educative community. It translates into a tension that impels us towards those who are in "the ends of the earth" (Act 1,8), to the search for marginal situations and situations of poverty of the most diverse kinds. It implies a change of mentality in passing from an attitude of assistance, that characterized the former epoch,~ to a more prophetic attitude that needs to be informed, to denounce, to collaborate with those who struggle against poverty, to break off from unjust social institutions and to change structures that distance us from the poor.
The option for the poor must become the educative proposal for all the establishments. dependent on congregations of educators, whoever may be their most direct clients. Among other things that means placing education for justice as an axis that runs through the whole educative program. It signifies changing the pedagogical model of the "free man" (who dominates creation, who knows how to utilize resources, who is trained for self-realization....) for that of the "just man" (the man in solidarity, who feels himself part of creation, who grows with the others...). It also signifies that our educational establishments are places where we not only speak about the poor but, above all, let the poor speak, be heard and permit them to interrogate us. They are places where the voice of the poor is transmitted and amplified so that it can reach from the school to other social sectors.
C) Let us recover the
quality of being God's witnesses,
And let us convert our lay spirituality into an educative proposal.
This is the challenge that surely puts to the test what is most peculiar to our identity as consecrated educators and which has frequently been obscured by the professional dimension. It sends us back to the deepest roots of our spirituality, the spirit of faith, which enables us to be prophets who know how to read God's signs in history and recognize the "seeds of the Word" in cultures and peoples.
We must recover that facet of our identity' that defines us as a consecrated lay community that looks for and finds God in human realities and also points but His Kingdom which is still to come. For that we denounce the resistance of this world and culture to the coming of God and the values of the Kingdom.
As for prophets of education, our first contribution is to be the voice of conscience for culture. It is our job to listen attentively to the deepest questionings, the most disturbing questions that surface in our day, and make them resound in the educative community before students and educators. As special ombudsmen between faith and culture we attempt to bring the light of the Gospel in order to find valid responses to the queries of life or, at least broaden the horizon where the answers can be sought. It is not simply an intellectual contribution, but an existential one. We submit to criticism the life styles that consumer society paints as desirable and we propose other ways of being in the world, free of false gods. We back up the proposal with our presence marked by simplicity of life style in such a way that our manner of living clearly indicates the One who gives foundation and fullness to human life.
Through personal relationships we offer the experience of a life as a journey towards God. We have the experience of search to find the signs through which God makes Himself present and the experience of contemplation to consider persons, events and things in depth. In us, the other educators and the students ought to encounter the deepest roots of life.
We might say that it is our job to bring the question to the school, much more than the answer-questions that ask why, more than how, questions that lead us to the encounter with the mystery of beings and the Mystery of God.
But these are not contributions that are just "added to" ordinary school activity. It is a global way of understanding the educative project as the art of setting the person out along his path. For that our educative project takes on the challenge of becoming an evangelizing project and in no case accepts being reduced to an academic program or an adjunct to a bunch of subjects.
The proposal includes one very specific aspect of our ministry of consecrated educators: young people, but also the very companions of the educative community, need to find in consecrated persons expert masters and guides of the spiritual life more than professionals of this or that subject matter (VC 55). In this facet consecrated educators will find many possibilities to service youth and adults as educators of the spiritual life, even when they have retired from formal education.
This applies to more than individuals. Consecrated communities should become aware of this special component of their prophetic identity, to be "privileged places where the ways that lead to God can be experienced" (Fraternal Life in Community, 20), and this awareness should form part of the planning in the framework or the proximity of the educative community. With this awareness they cultivate, as community, their capacity to call to prayer, to share the search for and experience of God, their reading of Scripture, their dialogue in depth between faith and culture....
On finishing this reflection I would like to recall once more these words of St. John Baptist de La Salle: "Jesus Christ is in the midst of the Brothers to give them his Holy Spirit" (EMMP 2.26). They contain a promise that is subject to a condition.
The promise is not survival but the gift of the Spirit. It is the only thing that Jesus promises us for us to fulfill the mission that he has entrusted to us in this time in which we live.
And the condition is this: a community united around Jesus. This has been the key of our existence. How can we continue to be this community in the new conditions that we have described? The "Declaration of the Brother of the Christian Schools in Today's World" said in 1967: "The living community, one where there is dialogue, is the place par excellence where the Holy Spirit dwells and acts", (Decl. 7.2). Only in this kind of community will we hear the word and the message: "He has anointed me to bring the Good News to the poor. And only from this community will we be able to proclaim in the name of Jesus, "Today this prophecy has been fulfilled before you " (Lk. 4.21).