(Prayer offered on the Public Address system for the entire La Salle Academy educational community on Wednesday morning, 7 September 2016)
Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God.
Let me invite you to take a trip back in time with me (224 years ago). The date is September 2nd 1792 in Paris at the time of the French Revolution. A middle-aged Brother, Brother Solomon Leclerq, an ordinary man, who assisted the head of the Brothers of the Christian Schools (the group to which we Brothers at La Salle belong), was murdered in the garden of a former Carmelite convent that had been transformed into a prison. Brother Solomon had been taken from his workplace by a gang of citizen soldiers. He was imprisoned because he refused to renounce his beliefs—he refused to take an oath that would have made him deny his Catholic faith. So he was guillotined—his head was chopped off. An ordinary man doing an ordinary job but called to make an extraordinary decision. Brother Solomon was the first Christian Brother martyr and, in a little more than a month on October 16th in Rome, will be canonized by the Catholic Church as Saint Brother Solomon.
Five more Brothers ranging in age from 50 to 75 years old were also arrested and imprisoned over the two year period of 1792 -1794. Three of them were jailed in an old prison ship, the Rochefort, and after spending months of captivity, enduring suffering and oppression, they died of mistreatment and starvation. Another was guillotined before a cheering crowd that shouted insults and blasphemies, his guillotined head raised by its hair like a trophy for the jubilant crowd. The fifth Brother, an older man sick in his bedroom cell, was beaten in bed and his body thrown out the window. Ordinary men—doing ordinary things—most of them teaching poor kids in elementary schools—called to make an extraordinary decision.
Fast forward in time to us. Ordinary people—doing ordinary things. We go to school to learn or to teach; we play sports and we coach; we spend time with friends; we work. Ordinary things. However, each of us, in the course of his or her day, is called upon to make decisions: Do I cheat on homework by copying my friends’ work or on a test by having cheat notes or information on my phone or Ipad? Do I join the group of my friends who are spreading rumors about another or speaking ill of another or bullying another—Twitter or Snapchat or whatever at its worst? Or maybe I just stand quietly there and do nothing, a silent accomplice? Do I reach out to a classmate that seems down and out, maybe lost, maybe a new student or a transfer student, or do I rush by? Do I prejudge a classmate or a teacher on how he or she looks or talks or dresses? Do I manipulate my friends, use my girlfriend or boyfriend for my own purposes and pleasures? Do I ignore others because of their color, or racial or ethnic background, or economic status, or sexual orientation (I just don’t mix with that kind of kid)? Each of us, in the course of his or her day, is called upon to make decisions—decisions that are extraordinary.
O, we are not standing before a judge or an angry crowd; we are not facing imprisonment or beheading. However, we are facing the judgments of others; we are facing the pressure of the crowd of our friends or the pressure of our culture to conform—to deny what we really believe is right—and to go along with the mob. To do what is right and good and honorable and just and caring—in the face of adversity—is truly extraordinary.
So, as we begin this school year—ordinary people doing ordinary things, let’s think about soon-to-be Saint Brother Solomon and those other Brothers 224 years ago who themselves were ordinary people doing ordinary things. Let us be reminded that each day offers challenges for us—and the choice is ours. To follow the crowd or to follow our consciences—to do the extraordinary. Ordinary people doing ordinary things in a truly extraordinary way.
Let us pray: Good and gracious God, be with us today as we face whatever challenges may come our way, be they large or small. Give us the courage to respond in an extraordinary way. AMEN.
Saint John Baptist de La Salle…pray for us.
Live, Jesus, in our hearts…forever.
Brother Frederick Mueller, FSC