PRAYER, FASTING AND ALMSGIVING
By Brother Jeffrey L. Calligan, FSC
Lent is a season for reflection. Lent is a season for renewal. Lent is a season for action. Lent is a season challenging us to live our Lasallian Charism anew.
Traditionally there are three Lenten practices that the season calls us to. We hear about them from pulpits, in religious writings, and in our memories of past Lenten times. The three Lenten practices are prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
There can be no doubt that the center of Lasallian Prayer is the presence of God. It is in the silence of this presence that we discover who we are. It is in the silence of this presence that we discover our mission It is in the silence of this presence that we discover the God who enlivens everything with the breath of life.
De La Salle was insistent. "Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God" and "God be blest" were his watchwords. Enveloped and enlivened by the Spirit of the Living God he went about God's Work day in and day out. No misunderstandings, no obstacles, no momentary doubts were allowed to rob him of his acute awareness of God's providence and presence.
His prayer was always to the ever-present God who wants all to be saved and who entrusted to him and his followers the fragile children in need of care and tenderness. All were God's children. The most needy were never allowed to escape the Lasallian mission of touching their hearts. The teacher was always a care-giver FIRST before being anything else. The school was a place of sanctuary and blessing for children whose world marred them and mangled them by surrounding them with demands, oppression, and the false love of "giving them what they needed" even when they were in need of more.
Like the air which surrounds us and gives us the breath of life, the presence of God and God's appointed ministers (teachers) was to give life by touching hearts and walking with. The breath of God was the life-giving source of everything which called itself Lasallian.
The mission of the Lasallian teacher was always one of caring and accompanying. Before teaching "things", the teacher was to be sister and brother. Teaching was always secondary to this ambient identity. The teacher was to fast from oppression, punishment, force, and the implication that the student in their care was anything other than "good". The student was always younger brother and sister. The first obligation of the teacher was always to re-present the loving care of the ever-present God who was love. Subject matter, school rules, even "the good of the student" took second place to the love of God incarnated in the teacher.
In The Conduct of Christian Schools, the method of "punishing" ended with the statement that no punishment should be given unless the student agreed to it. Such was the accompaniment that took place in the Lasallian School an incarnation of the accompaniment of the God "who leads us on step by step as we are able".
Impatience, anger, hurting to change were to be fasted from and seen as non-godly behavior that never produced the heart changes called for in the Lasallian School.
And finally the Lasallian teacher is always the minister of the unexpected. The loving word, the glance of approval, the encouraging gesture are the coins of almsgiving in the Lasallian School. The student's emotional poverty is to be enriched by signs of the teacher's being sister and brother to the student in good and in bad times.
The operational preposition in the Lasallian School was the preposition "WITH". As the Rule said, it was by being WITH the students from morning to night that growth and conversion were to take place. 'Step by step" but always accompanied by the sister and brother adult guarantor, the student was to grow.
Moments of recognition were common coins of enrichment. No matter how small the growth, it was acknowledged (without long sermons) by a word, a glance, a smile, a gesture. Gradually, students came to realize that the teacher was WITH them, even as visible proof of God's invisible care and love. All growth was celebrated.
So it is that Lent is a time for renewal of mission and charism, a time for growth in replicating the identity which is that of the wise and gentle God. Lent is a time grounded in our Lasallian identity.
Happy season! May it enrich us all and bring us to new life at the time of Easter.