A couple of months ago, well before we stopped gathering for religious services, a four-year–old girl had a question for her mother during Mass.
Girl: Mom, (not quietly), where is Jesus?
Mom: (whispers a response, which daughter finds unacceptable)
Girl: No, where IS he?
Mom: He’s in heaven.
Girl: When do I get to see him?
Mom: When you go to heaven.
Girl: When is that?
Mom: Hopefully when you are very old.
Girl: Uughhhhhh. That’s going to take forever.
This four-year-old’s instinctual sense of time is more or less on target. A lifetime does indeed feel like “forever.” Lately all of us have been recalibrating our felt sense of time. The familiar markers are not there for one thing, and the ways we work backward from an end point to plan tasks don’t seem to apply. This odyssey we find ourselves on is full of uncertainties; the compass and the clock don’t seem to be in sync with life. The late Irish poet Seamus Heaney hits the bullseye for us when he wrote: “The future [is] a verb in hibernation.”
It’s in the midst of this that we arrive at the annual feast of Saint John Baptist de La Salle, founder of the Christian Schools and the Brothers who associated together to conduct them. Holy man that he was, he was not “otherworldly”—he was very much of the world and in tune with daily life. We can see parallels with Saint Francis, in that he was pulled in two directions: to silence, solitude and separation on the one hand, and to encounter, engagement and experience on the other. Like Francis, John Baptist learned how to find the sacred embedded in the secular, the divine in the human, the heart of humanity in the heart of God. He made his life’s work the fulfillment of the prayer of Jesus: your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.
There are a couple of spiritual practices that De La Salle cultivated in his life to sense the sacred presence in everyday life. They are still relevant for today, even if we find ourselves a bit off balance with anxiety and fear. He paid attention to daily moments of grace. Think of grace as a goodness, consolation or inspiration—De La Salle was convinced that we were always in the holy presence and that if we looked upon life with that conviction we couldn’t miss the signs of that abiding, loving support. This was the first step in the spiritual practice; the second was to respond to that grace. Much as we respond with appreciation, joy and love to someone’s gift or kindness or encouragement, when God’s goodness appears we can sense an invitation to respond in kind. In one meditation he wrote of this as “fidelity to grace”: “You can perform several miracles in regard to you and your work: in your own regard, by an entire fidelity to grace, not letting any movement of grace go by without corresponding with it . . . ” (180.3).
A second practice was interior prayer. Three weeks ago, the man who taught me De La Salle’s method of interior prayer, Brother Ralph Baltz, died at 99 years old. I was a postulant, in my junior year at the College of Santa Fe. Over the years I have learned that refining and integrating this method takes a lifetime, but also that its daily spiritual practice offers daily rewards. What Brother Ralph passed on to me is what De La Salle wanted us to discover, that we have a direct and unmediated relationship with Jesus Christ. We have access, if that is the right way to say it, to the living presence of love within us. Jesus lives in our depths, that is, in our heart and soul.
We tend to think of the ability to sense the embedded reality of the sacred in everyday life as limited to saints and mystics. I don’t think so, Brother Ralph didn’t think so, and De La Salle didn’t think so. These two practices, paying attention to the graced moments in everyday life and paying attention to the sacred stirrings in my depths in moments of silence, offer us portals through which we can meet Jesus well before we are very old!
From the General Councilor’s Reflection Page
By Brother Timothy Coldwell, FSC