Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Saint John Baptist de la Salle, Confessor

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John Baptist de la Salle, the teacher of the humble, takes his place today beside Leo the Great, Athanasius, and Gregory of Nazianzum. He has no fear. The victor of Paschal Time is the same Jesus who said during his mortal life: Suffer the little children to come unto me, and unless you be converted and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven, that kingdom of heaven which, after entering into his glory, he manifests so fully upon earth. On the other hand, the Lion of Juda is never more terrible in his anger than when he beholds evil men conspiring to keep from him the little ones of whom he forms his court.

The promise made in Holy Scripture that they that instruct many to justice shall shine as stars for all eternity is addressed not only to the great doctors of the science of salvation, but also the humblest Christian teacher, and the supreme Pontiff, when inscribing the name of the saint of today among those of the blessed, declared that the inspired words “apply in an especial manner to those who, like him, have left all things and devoted themselves to the instruction of the baptized from earliest infancy in the teaching of the Gospel and the precepts which lead to life eternal.”

John Baptist de la Salle was a true disciple of our blessed Lord, and entered so fully into the thought of his Master that no sacrifice was too great for him if only he might carry it out, and no suffering, humiliation, or persecution could hinder him from persevering in the accomplishment of his works of love. He suffered from misunderstanding and lack of support all through his life, but is he less great in heaven today on that account?

The following account of him is given in the Breviary:

Joannes Baptista de la Salle, Rhemis claro genere ortus, puer adhuc moribus et factis in sortem Domini se vocamdum et sanctimoniæ laude honestandum portendit. Adolescens in Rhemensi Academia litteras ac philosophicas disciplinas didicit; quo tempore etsi ob animi virtutes et alacre ingenium ac suave omnibus carus esset, ab æqualium tamen societate abhorrebat, ut solitudini addictus facilius Deo vacaret. In clericalem militiam jampridem cooptatus, sextodecimo ætatis anno inter Rhemenses Canonicos adscriptus est. Lutetiam Parisiorum, theologiæ in Sorbonica universitate daturus operam, contendit atque in Sulpitianum seminarium adscitus est. At brevi parentibus orbatus, domum regredi coactus, fratres educandos suscepit: quod scientiarum interim sacrarum studia non intermittens, optimo cum fructu præstitit, uti exitus comprobavit.

John Baptist de la Salle was born of a noble family at Rheims. When quite a child he showed by his ways and actions that he would be called to follow our Lord and attain great sanctity. He studied literature and philosophy at Rheims, and though his virtues and quick intelligence endeared him to all, he avoided the company of his fellows that he might be free to contemplate God in solitude. He was made a cleric when very young, and was only sixteen when given the rank of a Canon at Rheims. He went to Paris to study theology at the Sorbonne, and was received at the Seminary of St. Sulpice. He was soon forced to return home by the death of his parents, whereupon he undertook the education of his brothers, which he carried on, without interrupting his own studies, to the great advantage of his pupils, as soon became evident.

Sacerdotio demum auctus, qua præstanti fide animisque ardore primum ad aram fecit, eisdem toto vitæ tempore sacris est operatus. Interea salutis animarum studio incensus, totum in earumdem utilitatem sese impendit. Sororum a Jesu Infante, puellis educandis institutarum regimen suscepit, easque non modo prudentissime est moderatus, sed ab excidio vindicavit. Hinc porro animum advertit ad pueros de plebe religione bonisque moribus informandos. Atque in hoc quidem illum suscitaverat Deus, ut scilicet nova in Ecclesia sua religiosorum hominum familia condita puerorum, præsertim pauperum, scholis perenni efficacique ratione consuleret. Demandatum vero a Dei providentia munus, per contradictiones plurimas magnasque ærumnas feliciter implevit, fundata Fratrum sodalitate, quam a scholis christianis nuncupavit.

He was ordained priest, and said his first Mass with the intense faith and love which, throughout his life, he brought to the holy Mysteries; but his zeal for the salvation of souls made him devote himself wholly to the service of his neighbor. He was made superior of the Sisters of the Holy Child, founded for the education of girls, and by his prudent government saved their institute from dissolution. From this he turned his attention to the education of poor boys. God had raised him up for this very end, namely that he should found in the Church a new family of religious men devoted to the training of children, particularly the poor. This work, which had been entrusted to him by divine Providence, was successfully accomplished in spite of many trials and contradictions by the establishment of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools.

Adjunctos igitur sibi homines in gravi opere et arduo, apud se primum suscepit; tum aptiori in sede constitutos disciplina sua optime imbuit iis legibus sapientibusque institutis, quæ postea a Benedicto decimo tertio sunt confirmata. Ex demissione animi ac paupertatis amore primum canonicatu se abdicavit, omniaque sua bona in pauperes erogavit; quin etiam serius, quod frustra sæpius tentaverat, fundati a se instituti regimen sponte deposuit. Nihil tamen interim de Fratrum sollicitudine remittens, deque scholis ab eo, pluribus jam locis, apertis, impensius Deo vacare cœpit. Assidue jejuniis, flagellis, aliisque asperitatibus in se ipsum sæviens, noctes orando ducebat. Donec virtutibus omnibus conspicuus, præsertim voluntatis implendæ, amore ac devotione in Apostolicam Sedem, meritis onistus, sacramentis rite susceptis, obdormivit in Domino, annos natus duo de septuaginta. Eum Leo decimus tertius Pontifex Maximus Beatorum catalogo inseruit; novisque fulgentem signis, anno jubilæi millesimo nongentesimo Sanctorum honoribus decoravit.

His first helpers in this great and arduous work he received into his own house, and then, establishing them in a more suitable dwelling, gave them a careful training in those wise laws and regulations which were afterwards confirmed by Pope Benedict XIII. His humility and love of poverty caused him first of all to resign his canonry and to distribute all his property among the poor; and finally, after many unsuccessful attempts to do so, he spontaneously resigned the government of the Institute which he had founded. His solicitude for the Brethren and for the schools which he had opened in various places suffered no diminution, though he began to give himself more assiduously to the direct service of God in fasting, watching, and other austerities. He spent his nights in prayer. His virtues were conspicuous, especially his obedience, conformity to the will of God, and love of the Holy See. At length, full of merits, and fortified with the Sacraments of the Church, he fell asleep in the Lord in the sixty-eighth year of his age. Pope Leo XIII beatified him and, after fresh miracles had been worked through his intercession, proceeded to his canonization in the year of Jubilee, 1900.

O God, who hast raised up the holy confessor John Baptist to promote the Christian education of the poor and to confirm the young in the way of truth and, through him, hast gathered together a new family within thy Church: mercifully grant through his intercession and example that we may burn with zeal for thy glory in saving souls, and may share his crown in heaven. Through Christ our Lord.

Thus, O father of Christian schools, does Holy Church pray today in thy honor. She is as full of confidence as through the trials of thy mortal life had been sufficient to guard thy sons against similar sufferings; as serene as though the future of thy work were assured. And yet, might we not say that the culminating point of thy glorification on earth seems to have given the signal for the triumph of hell over thy labors? But the Church is strong in her experience of twenty centuries, and she fears no persecution. She knows that if the tree be planted by God, the hurricane will but strengthen its roots, and that a house built upon a rock can brave the wind and the floods. We too, like the Church, are full of hope, trusting in thy merits and thy intercession. Even if ruin seem complete, the divine Head of all who suffer persecution assures us that the tomb itself, though sealed by the powers of this world, cannot guarantee to Death the secure possession of his victim.

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