(Prayer offered on the Public Address system for the entire La Salle Academy educational community on Thursday, 10 January 2019—4th day of the “Hands Out for Haiti” Campaign)
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.
Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God.
It is the winter of 1683-1684 and the high price of food and the harshness of winter turned the city of Reims, France into a huge poor house of starving people. To the three newly-started schools of the Brothers and to the Brothers’ House on Rue Neuve the poor came in droves, adults and children alike, many of them close to starvation. None of them went away unprovided for. John Baptist de La Salle, the wealthy priest and reluctant founder of schools for poor boys, now lived with the handful of new Brothers. He had decided after much prayer and spiritual direction, to hand over his wealth so that he too would be poor like his Brothers. So the daily distribution of food went on until there was nothing left; and then, De La Salle himself had to beg for the bread he could no longer afford to buy.
Flash forward to the winter of 2010, January 12th, and the devastating earthquake that flattened much of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, killing an estimated 316,000 people, leaving 2.0 million people homeless, and making orphans of hundreds of thousands of children. Like its Founder, Saint John Baptist de La Salle, the Lasallian World could not just stand-by and watch the suffering of people that they had so long served in Haiti. Through world-wide donations, including a substantial gift from the faculty, staff and students of this school, the educational and health needs of hundreds of young people and their families is being met by our brother school, the St. Jean Baptiste de La Salle School in Cazeau, a small town on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. Each January, since that initial gift, our community has donated about $10,000.00 annually through our Hands Out to Haiti Campaign—to help build the Health Center, to build additional classroom space, to build athletic fields and provide athletic equipment, to purchase uniforms and books, to buy a van for transportation, and to provide tuition help to the now 700 youngsters being educated in Grades pre-K to 10.
Unlike John Baptist de La Salle, we are not being asked today (for the De La Salle Middle School) or tomorrow (for the high school) to give away all our wealth and to go out to beg for food. We put in our $5.00, get a chance to dress-down for the day, and go home tonight or tomorrow night to a good meal and a warm house—with all our toys (cars, I-pads, I-phones, X-boxes, etc.) to keep us occupied.
However, I ask you to find a few minutes during the rest of this day and tonight to be quiet and to reflect. What if the earthquake or another natural or man-made disaster happened here in Rhode Island? How would we feel if we were deprived of everything we take so much for granted? Well, that is how De La Salle and the starving of Reims felt during that bitterly cold winter and that is how the students of the St. Jean Baptiste de La Salle School felt following the earthquake! I would never wish that feeling or those disasters on anyone, but it is good from time to time to ask ourselves: what really counts, what is really important, and when it comes down to it, what do I truly need?
Maybe, after some moments of reflection, you might decide today or tomorrow to forego that Dunkin Donuts flavored coffee and bagel or those extra fries; maybe you might decide to skip the movie you are planning to go to over the weekend or to not buy the CD or DVD or Apple I-tunes you saved for with your Christmas money. Are those things REALLY necessary? Making a sacrifice is not something we hear about often. However, today I ask you to consider making a sacrifice, making a sacrifice like John Baptist de La Salle, making a sacrifice that hurts a little bit—making a sacrifice this morning or tomorrow morning when the envelope is passed in your classroom, as you sit comfortably in your dress-down clothes in a warm building. And as you consider this request, think about the young people of Cazeau, Haiti who are being clothed in uniforms, and given medicine, and being taught because of the extra dollars that you contribute.
They will not be able to thank you in person; but, believe me, your reward will be great when our loving and merciful Father welcomes you into his Kingdom, there to share eternal blessings with so many other generous Lasallians, like Saint John Baptist de La Salle. Jesus will say to you and me, as he did to his disciples on the Mount: “Come to me, you blessed of my Father—for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was without clothes and you gave me school uniforms, I was sick and you provided medication, I had no opportunity for education and you provided a school and books and teachers and taught me.”
As we continue our celebration of the 300th Anniversary of the Death of our Founder, Saint John Baptist de La Salle, let us honor him not just by words or by pictures with 300th Anniversary signs but by imitating his generous heart, his self-less life of giving, and his commitment to be of service to the least, the last, and the lost.
Let us pray,
Jesus, our Lord and our brother, open our hearts today and tomorrow so that we might generously respond to the young people of Haiti who really are the least, the last and the lost of your brothers and sisters. Remind us that whatever we do for them, we do for you. Amen.
Saint John Baptist de La Salle…pray for us.
Live Jesus in our hearts…forever.
Brother Frederick Mueller, FSC