Today we celebrated the Feast of our Founder, St. John Baptist de La Salle. In the regular liturgical calendar, it would have been the Sunday readings and prayers. But in the Lasallian world, this day has become the day when we commemorate St. La Salle, because it was on May 15, 1950, that he was proclaimed as the Special Patron for Teachers of Youth by the Church. So today was a day when we would have no meetings (Yes!!) and could appreciate our vocation and Founder.
The first thing was the Mass in the Sanctuary of De La Salle at 8:00 am. It had originally been scheduled for 11:30 am, followed by a social and dinner, but the canonization of 15 saints at Saint Peter’s square that morning made it necessary to change our Mass, since Cardinal Tagle from the Philippines would be our main celebrant and also would be at the canonization ceremonies. But the Brothers are accustomed to schedule changes, and by 8:00 am, most of them – not including the 5 or 6 who were going to the canonization and had to leave at 7:00 am to get good seats – were in the sanctuary in robes or similar formal dress. Since I was part of the choir, I came early and enjoyed some welcome quiet time there.
Cardinal Tagle, who is from the Philippines and has a very positive relationship with the Brothers, arrived about 15 minutes before Mass, having been greeted at the entrance by Br. Ricky and Br. Armin, who are both Filipino. The Mass included various musical components, all of which proceeded with the expected circumstantial adjustments familiar to any high school teacher. The opening song was Honneur a Toi, accompanied by Br. Rodolfi Meoli on the grand pipe organ, and the “Lord Have Mercy” was a Spanish version led by Br. Alberto on the guitar, a natural and gifted guitar player and singer. The readings, etc., were in Italian, English, Spanish, and French. When cardinal Tagle started the homily, our expectations were jarred by his first words: “You look tired!” Then he spoke about the challenges that most General Chapter delegates experienced and proceeded to apply to the day’s readings to our work and experiences. It was unique for me to listen to a homilist with full attention, both because he was speaking without notes and from the heart, and because he had genuine insights into how to apply the day’s scripture to our present experience. “God says in this reading ‘I make all things new!’ So it’s not you, it’s not your challenges and goals; it’s God who makes all things new.” And at the end of his homily he reminded us that we are sharing not only the “Love one another” from the gospel, but rather “Love one another as I have loved you” which is an entirely different thing.
Being here in Rome during the Chapter has already been a blessing. But I must say that listening to Cardinal Tagle, and briefly speaking with him after Mass, was an unexpected grace. It’s rare that I listen to an entire homily attentively, but his homily was the kind that you couldn’t ignore. During the rest of the Mass, there was music in Latin (the San Lorenzo Sancus and Agnus Dei in a Byzantine style), English – “Take Our Bread” at the offering and “We Remember” at Communion – and Spanish, ending the Mass with a song dedicated to St. La Salle (but unknown to me, although others sang it lustilly).
After the Mass, folks congratulated one another on the traditional feastday of De La Salle. Groups jostled to take photos in front of his reliquary on the back wall, and Cardinal Tagle took time to write a short message in the visitor’s book in front of the Founder’s relics. One Brother who was waiting the turn of his group to take a photo in front of the relics of the Founder seemed impatient, and I told him; “Don’t worry. He’s not going anywhere.” In time, everyone had their chance. As for myself, I took the occasion to take a photo with two women whom I greatly admire, Heather Ruple Gilson and Alisa Macksey, both of whom are “Consultors” to the General Chapter.
Since the time for Mass had changed, there really wasn’t much to do afterwards I did some internal business and ended up working on a project in my room until around noon. Then I went to the Den since there would likely be folks who would show up to a pre-Sunday-Dinner social, as proved to be the case. It turned out to be a nice get-together with Brothers who had been long-time Visitors in different places.
Lunch was a very special event, of course. Not only were we celebrating the feast of the Founder, but it was also Br. Alvimar’s birthdy. He is the Director of the Brothers’ community here and is from Brazil. So besides the special dinner and a wine from a “De La Salle” winery in Spain, we sang Happy Birthday and once again had a cake to celebrate a birthday.
My table group ended up being the last table to leave, mostly because we had some really good conversations about the Institute and its current realities. Br. Fahdi from Proche Orient (Lebanon, the Holy Land, Egypt, etc.) was particularly vocal about his own realities and the fact that we should be talking about the growing influences of extremism and fanaticism instead of “intentional communities” since those are the real issues in his life today. Nothing was resolved, of course, but it was good to get another perspective. I told him to make a public statement about all of this in the assembly and say that he was a “voice from the peripheries” (an emerging theme from the chapter).
After lunch, I went to my room for a brief siesta. It lasted longer than I’d suspected, waking up some 3.5 hours later. I suppose that the sleep deprivation from the past two weeks was catching up, enhanced by the liquid supplements of the main meal. Once awake, I went to the roof to take a bit of a quiet walk and found that they were setting up for a RELAL (Central and South America) and RELAF (Africa) social prior to their combined dinner at a local restaurant. I was invited to stay and did so, having a really fine conversation with the Visitor of north Mexico and Junior, the young Brother from Brazil who is involved in vocation ministry.
With the rather heavy meal at noon, there was no need to go to dinner. Therefore, after RELAL and RELAF left for dinner elsewhere, I went to the Den to prepare the place for the likely post-dinner visitors who would arrive. As expected, about ten people eventually showed up to relax after dinner, including the Visitor of France, who was much more amiable and funny than his visage and observed disposition tended to indicate (Is that sufficiently tactful?). Previously, I would have said that he was a good example of the description that the Founder gave to one Brother in a letter, telling him that his Brothers said that he bore a visage “like a prison door.” Actually, this French Visitor was very gracious, fraternal, and engaging … once he relaxed with an adult beverage. It was a fine end to a fine day.