15 November 2021

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Tags: Educators

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Categories: Reflections, Saints

The teacher is like the candle which lights others in consuming itself.

– Giovanni Ruffini, Italian poet (1807-1881)

 

You have most likely heard of St Thomas Aquinas, the brilliant Dominican friar who wrote the Summa Theologiae, a compendium of all of Catholic theology. But do you know he was taught by St Albertus Magnus – Albert the Great?

As a young member of the Dominicans or Order of Preachers, Albert taught theology throughout Germany. In 1245, he became a Master of Theology and then a full-time professor in the University of Paris, where Aquinas began to study under him.

Albert was the first in medieval Christendom to produce commentaries on all of Aristotle’s writings, introducing Greek and Arabic science and philosophy to Europe. He was also a keen botanist, biologist, mineralogist and astronomer, studying the natural sciences. He is thus recognised as one of the 36 Doctors of the Church, as the Doctor of Science and the Universal Doctor, because of the depth and breadth of his knowledge and teaching. The word “doctor” is Latin for “teacher”. The Doctors of the Church are saints who made significant contributions to theology or doctrine through their research or writing.

Aquinas’ fellow students teased him for being rotund and reticent, calling him “The Dumb Ox”. Albert overheard them and said: “Ox he is, and his bellowing in doctrine will one day resound throughout the world.”

Building on his mentor’s work, Aquinas produced the pinnacle of scholastic philosophy, the Summa Theologiae, systemising Catholic teaching in harmony with Aristotelian principles, a profound marriage of faith and reason, the fruit of three decades of collaboration between Aquinas and Albert.

In 1260, Pope Alexander IV appointed Albert as the Bishop of Regensburg in Germany. Though he occupied an esteemed position, Albert refrained from owning or riding a horse, in accordance with his order’s vow of poverty. He walked all over his considerably large diocese, earning him the affectionate nickname “Boots the Bishop” from his flock. He also founded the University of Cologne, Germany’s oldest university.

Albert passed away on 15 November 1280, six years after his star pupil Aquinas. His body was discovered to be incorrupt upon exhumation three years after his death. Albertus Magnus is a patron saint of scientists, philosophers and students.

Reflecting on Albert’s life, we see how he gave glory to God through his vocation as a teacher, encouraging his students like Thomas Aquinas to reach their full potential and even surpass him. He was not just academically gifted, but also had a pastor’s heart, faithfully tending to the members of his diocese despite the daunting distance on foot. He is a shining example to teachers everywhere, to maintain the virtues of humility and charity while serving God, being a model of Christian discipline and bringing out the best in their students. From Albertus Magnus, we learn to appreciate God’s handiwork throughout all creation, from the tiniest plant or mineral to the glorious stars in the heavens.

 

Prayer to St Albert

Dear Scientist and Doctor of the Church, natural science always led you to the higher science of God. Though you had an encyclopedic knowledge, it never made you proud, for you regarded it as a gift of God. Inspire scientists to use their gifts well in studying the wonders of creation, thus bettering the lot of the human race and rendering greater glory to God. Amen.

22 October 2021

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Tags: Educators, Parents, Students

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Categories: Reflections, Saints

For many who graduate from school, what endures beyond the grades and accolades is friendship. True friends share in each other’s joys and support one another through challenging times; they help each other grow in virtue, knowledge and maturity. St John Bosco, an educator of street urchins and founder of the Salesians, counselled:

“Fly from bad companions as from the bite of a poisonous snake. If you keep good companions, I can assure you that you will one day rejoice with the blessed in Heaven; whereas if you keep with those who are bad, you will become bad yourself, and you will be in danger of losing your soul.”

 

Pope John Paul II, born Karol Józef Wojtyła – whose feast is on 22 October, the day of his papal inauguration – knew the importance of friendship as a young man. The German Nazis and Russian communists invaded Poland during his university days in 1939; the university was shut down and he was forced to work as a manual labourer, quarrying limestone. During that time, he met Jan Tyranowski, assigned by a Salesian priest as a student mentor. Jan introduced Karol to the Living Rosary youth groups, which continued to meet throughout World War II, keeping the faith while their priests were imprisoned.

Karol soon discerned a vocation to the priesthood, and Jan managed to attend his ordination on 1 November 1946 before dying of tuberculosis. As a young priest, Fr Wojtyła formed youth groups as his friend Jan had. These young men and women went hiking, attended retreats, and put on plays, despite being in a war zone. In these groups, the youth found freedom which was denied them by the oppressive regime which had seized control of all institutions, including schools. Through the apostolate of friendship, they were able to cultivate human flourishing in the midst of violent turmoil, helping one another grow holistically.

 


A young John Paul on a hiking trip. Source: voiceofthesouthwest.org

 

The word “friend” comes from a Proto-Indo-European word meaning “to love”. Pope John Paul II wrote in his book Love and Responsibility:

 

“Friendship, as has been said, consists in a full commitment of the will to another person with a view to that person’s good.”

 

This echoes St Thomas Aquinas, who said, “Love is to will the good of another.”

In fact, what Jan and Fr Wojtyła did reflected what Jesus Himself did during His earthly mission. He gathered a group of friends around Him (John 15:15), teaching them about God the Father through His words and actions. These friends of Christ spread the Word of God throughout the world, inviting each of us today to join them in becoming friends of God. The most effective evangelisation is based on a solid foundation of friendship, where one receives the love of God through a friend. How can you share God’s love with your friends today?

21 October 2021

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Tags: Educators, Parents, Students

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Categories: Events, Saints

This evening, the Infant Jesus Sisters invite everyone to join in the celebration of Holy Mass commemorating the 400th anniversary of the birth of Blessed Nicolas Barré, the founder of their order. Mass will be live-streamed online on YouTube, celebrated by Fr Derrick Yap, OFM.

Today’s feast concludes the jubilee year of the fourth centenary of his birth, a celebration which began last October 21. Nicolas was born the eldest of five children to Antoinette and Louis Barré on 21 October 1621 in Amiens, France. He was their only son; they probably expected him to take over the family business.

However, educated by Jesuits from the age of ten, Nicolas witnessed their prayerful life integrated with charitable action; the Jesuits provided free lodging for poor students. The Jesuits were a missionary order sending priests all over the world to share the Gospel. Nicolas was inspired to be a priest.

 

Serving the Poor

Instead of joining the Jesuits, he decided to become a Minim, living among the poorest people in town and serving them throughout the epidemics, famines and wars of mid-seventeenth century France. Their motto, Caritas, later influenced the spirituality of the “Charitable Teachers” assembled by Fr Barré: the Infant Jesus Sisters.

Fr Barré was a noted philosophy and theology lecturer, as well as director of the library at the Minim convent of Place Royale, Paris, France. He witnessed the terrible poverty of the people of Paris. During a period of illness, he prayed and reflected that many social ills were the result of youth lacking education, and hence a sense of purpose and direction in life. Fr Barré decided to invite two young women, twenty-year-old Marguerite Lestocq and eighteen-year-old Françoise Duval, to help teach impoverished girls. Three other ladies soon joined the work, known as “Little Charitable Schools”.

 

Growth of the Mission

After four years of running these small schools, Fr Barré invited the teachers to live as a religious community under the care of Divine Providence: the Charitable Mistresses of the Schools of the Holy Infant Jesus.

He wrote: “We should live in a state of complete dependence on grace, and however great the gifts and effects it produces, we should always focus on God Who is its source. As to our good deeds, we should remember that it is God Who deigns to act through us.”

Summoned back to Paris by the Minims, Fr Barré discovered that news of his schools had spread, and a wealthy woman, Marie de Lorraine, invited him to open more with her financial help. Together, they founded ten schools and a small hospital.

In time, the Infant Jesus Sisters became an institute of pontifical right with communities in five continents, educating children throughout the world. Fr Barré was consulted by St John Baptist de la Salle, who founded the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools to educate boys.

 

Arrival in Singapore

When founding the LaSallian St Joseph’s Institution in Singapore, Fr Jean-Marie Beurel wrote to the Infant Jesus Sisters in France, asking them to send missionaries to start a girls’ school. The sisters arrived in 1854 after an arduous journey by ship, and founded both a school and an orphanage for babies abandoned at their “Gate of Hope”.

The sisters trusted in God’s providence, teaching by day and supporting themselves as embroiderers by night. Their mission expanded to Japan in 1872 and Thailand in 1885. In Malaya and Singapore, they established 83 schools. Today, there are eleven Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ) schools in Singapore.

The CHIJ badge, designed by French students in 1894, bears the motto Simple Dans Ma Vertu, Forte Dans Mon Devoir: Simple in My Virtue, Steadfast in My Duty. It is a reminder to persevere in one’s responsibilities despite all challenges.

An IJ education forms students holistically, building their characters for the lifelong love and service of God and others. As the hymn to Father Barré says: “Touch many hearts to follow in your footsteps/To dedicate their lives to youth and poor/… to make Christ known and loved.”

At Blessed Nicolas Barré’s beatification in Rome, on 7 March 1999, Pope John Paul II said: “Nicolas Barré tirelessly sought to lead both the people he directed and the charitable teachers to the prayer of the heart, inspired by contemplation of the inexpressible mystery of God Who out of love became a human being and even a little child.”

Today, we celebrate his legacy of faith and love which has formed so many young Singaporean women throughout the generations. Join the IJ community in praying the Mass at 8pm on YouTube.

23 November 2016

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Tags: Educators, Parents, Students

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Categories: Reflections, Saints

By Bro Nicholas Seet, FSC

Nicolas Leclerq was born in 1745 in the northern coast of France in Boulogne-sur-Mer Boulogne, a major port. His family was well-off and dealt in food and wines. He studied in the same school as his father which was managed by the La Salle Brothers. As a young boy, he was fascinated by the lives of “God’s heroes” which he preferred to adventure stories. He finished school at sixteen and began his work apprenticeship hoping to be in the family business. He had written “I want to be like my teachers, the Brothers, following them in their piety, their austerity and their service to young people.”

So, he joined the Brothers at the age of 21 and took the name Brother Solomon. He started teaching at the age of 23. He sometimes had classes of up to 130 pupils, to whom he taught “reading, writing and calculus” Some of his classes included difficult teenagers, sent to the school for re-education. By the age of 27, he made final vows and later became Director of Novices. At the age of 32, he was in charge of a big educational complex, with around 1,000 students, including 150 “difficult” boys committed by the courts. By then his main work was that of administration.

Later, he was sent to Melun to teach mathematics in the teacher training centre for the Brothers. His good sense, simplicity, discretion and great ability were evident to his students, who appreciated his intelligence and skill in synthesising things and admired his perfect handwriting. In 1787, he was appointed Secretary to the Superior General, Bro Agathon.

With the French Revolution, like many of the Brothers, he refused to take the oath of allegiance to the new state. Religious congregations were abolished, and the Brothers’ schools were closed. They were driven from their houses and reduced to total poverty. In his last letter, dated 15 August 1792, Brother Solomon wrote “We bear with joy and gratitude the crosses and afflictions that come our way. As for me, I do not seem to be worthy to suffer for Him, since up to now nothing bad has happened to me, while there are so many confessors of the faith who are in difficulty.” A few hours later, he was arrested and imprisoned in the Carmelite Convent in Paris. Having been interrogated during the night, he spent his final days without any food.

On 2 September, he together with others refused to take the oath to the Civil Constitution. After that, they were taken out into the garden and were met by their killers who killed them with swords and guns. He was beatified in October 1926 by Pope Pius XI and by Pope Francis on 16 October 2016.

For more, check out the Catholic News’ coverage of the celebration of Brother Solomon’s canonization in Singapore here.

1 September 2016

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Tags: Educators

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Categories: Reflections, Saints

In our valiant efforts to impart knowledge to our students, have we been faithful in reflecting Christ’s love and compassion to them? As we celebrate Teacher’s Day in the Year of Mercy, let us ponder on the ways in which we can become merciful and life-giving educators.

The Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, which began on 8 December last year, will end on 20 November, on the Feast of Christ the King. In an attempt to reawaken the spirit of benevolence in the Church, Pope Francis has repeatedly called for Catholics to openly practise compassion, forgiveness and patience in their lives, emphasising the paramount importance of showing kindness to one another.

What does this call mean for Catholic educators? As teachers, we hold the future of young people in our hands. Year after year, we work towards helping them grow in knowledge, character and spirit. In our bid to push our students to greater heights, have we forgotten that mercy ultimately lies at the heart of the education mission? How then, can we exhibit mercy in our daily work? Here are some ways to make full use of the remaining time in the Year of Mercy.

Be renewed in spirit
We cannot give what we don’t have. To spread God’s love to our students, we must first experience it in our lives. Amidst the busy-ness of our day-to-day schedules, we may fail to notice God knocking on our hearts. Although He is persistent in His desire for us to mend our broken ways and return to Him, we cannot hear Him unless we first quieten ourselves, and set our lives in order.

Take some time to participate in the Archdiocese-wide or parish-based activities specially organised for the year. Go on a pilgrimage to one of the five Holy Doors in Singapore (at the Churches of the Sacred Heart, St Vincent de Paul, Risen Christ, Divine Mercy, and Holy Cross) and spend some time in prayer. Go for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Participate in charity outreach activities organised by your parish. It is also a good practice to go for Mass daily, so that you can be spiritually prepared for the day ahead.

Get to know fellow Catholic teachers in your school and form a network of mutual support. Colleagues you can trust and confide in serve as a source of courage during trying times, sparing you the agony of facing the pressure alone. Just as Jesus sent out His disciples two-by-two to preach God’s message (Mk 6:7), we too, need somebody to lean on when the going gets tough.

Be understanding mentors
In the Gospel, Jesus reiterates the prevailing role of compassion in God’s plan: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” (Mt 9:13) Indeed, God’s divine will prioritises the emotional growth and spiritual well-being of His children over their academic accomplishments. We are not drill instructors who blindly pummel formulae and technical knowledge into our students. Rather, we are mentors and role models to them, as they discover more about themselves and mature as adults. The call to nurture them as intelligent, responsible and confident persons requires us to journey with them.

Start by examining the social context they live in, the values they grew up with and the information they engage with on a daily basis. What are the latest trends that influence them? What are their career aspirations? Where do they hope to further their studies? Reflecting on these questions will make it easier for us to relate to them. Only by coming to understand their worries, dreams and beliefs can we be better confidants to our young people.

During lessons, we may notice one or two students who seem to be troubled, or are more prone to emotional outbursts than their peers. There are also students who tend to be more rowdy in class, and who periodically disrupt lessons with their mischief. Instead of labelling these students as ‘problems’, make a special effort to reach out to them. Seize opportunities for conversation, and you might learn more about their lives. Establishing rapport with students will go a long way in making lessons more efficient and effective.

Pray for your students
Most importantly, we must not forget that the greatest gift we can bring to our students is the Kingdom of Heaven. Though our profession is to educate them about the wonders of the world, our divine task is to lead them towards the embrace of God. And what better way to begin this calling than to ask God to shower them with His blessings? Just like a caring father who would only give the best to his child, He is ever-ready to give good things to those who ask (Mt 7:7-11).

Before your first lesson every day, dedicate a chaplet of the Divine Mercy or a decade of the rosary for the intentions of your students. Ask God to help these young people focus as they learn more about the world He has created. Ask Him to protect them from all harm and evil influence, and to only pick up values that will mould them into upright persons of integrity. Ask our Lady to intercede for them, that they may open their hearts to Christ.

In praying for our students, we are reminded of our special role as Catholic educators, delivering God’s love and mercy to the next generation. Let us optimise the last months in Year of Mercy to bring our youths closer to God and His Kingdom, and extend His boundless love through our service.

27 August 2016

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Tags: Educators

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Categories: Reflections, Saints

St Monica was born to a Christian family in North Africa in 333 A.D. Married as a young girl to Patritius, a pagan who held an official position in Tagaste, her life was filled with disappointment and trial, for Patritius was a quarrelsome and demanding husband. Faced with daily tensions and difficulties in her unhappy marriage, St Monica continually displayed a profound and dedicated love for God through constant habits of prayer, almsgiving, and acts of charity. These annoyed Patritius, and became, without a doubt, the cause of significant friction in their marriage. Monica refused to ignore her duty toward the words of Christ, “Come, follow me” (Mt 4:19). St Monica is well-regarded because of her son, St Augustine of Hippo, who took after his father. She was responsible for his conversion before her death in 387 AD. So what can educators learn from St Monica?

Have faith in the presence of God despite the environment
St Monica married into a non-Catholic family. Her mother-in-law and her husband were not Christians and were unhappy with her daily devotions to God. Her marital environment would have caused many other women to despair and eventually give up their faith for the sake of peace. But not St Monica. As educators, St Monica is a role model who teaches us that even though teachers work in secular environments, it is possible to continue with our Catholic faith. While teachers may not be allowed to pray publicly and talk about God to students publicly (MOE has clear guidelines on evangelisation in schools), they can exhibit their faith through their daily actions. Catholic educators in non-Catholic schools can display a love of God by doing their work well, caring for the students under their charge and submitting to their supervisors in obedience to God. For Catholic educators in Catholic schools, there is more room to display and grow your faith. Catholic educators can volunteer to teach RCCE, lead prayers at morning assembly, lead catholic activities in schools, and help organise masses for the students.

Pray for conversion
Despite having a difficult husband and son, St Monica saw beauty in her life’s work. Her daily habit of prayer and persistence in living a holy life converted both her husband and son. Educators today sometimes work in hostile environments with demanding parents and uninterested students. Like St Monica, educators can pray for their conversion. Instead of reacting negatively at a parent or a student expressing their unhappiness at the system or at us, teachers can offer up prayers for them. Their conversion may not come about immediately—St Monica prayed for her son for 17 years.

See meaning and beauty in the vocation
Although St Monica had a very difficult time as a wife and mother, she still saw the beauty of her vocation. St Augustine lived a life of laziness and impurity by his own admission. Yet because of his mother’s prayer and labour over 17 years, St Augustine is today one of 33 Doctors of the Catholic Church, the Doctor of Grace and the Doctor of Doctors. It appears that the conversations St Augustine had with his mother in her last years was that they pondered what it might be like “to share the eternal life enjoyed by the saints, ‘which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, which has not even entered into the heart of man'” (1 Cor 2:19). Educators can try to see the beauty of their vocation. Visualising what the students can be when they are fully matured, educators can see past their present behaviours. A student who may be unmotivated and aggressive may become an important influential person in the next decade. Educators can and do impact students’ lives positively. From the lives of St Monica and St Augustine, educators can realise that no student is a lost cause. Educators must know that students can and do change for the better. Keeping your focus on the students’ development will enable all educators to see the beauty in the vocation. Like St Monica, educators are called to be the model of a virtuous parent.

15 August 2016

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Tags: Educators

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Categories: Reflections, Saints

John Vianney was born in 1786 in Dardilly, France, one of Catholic farmers Matthieu and Marie Vianney’s six children. He grew up in the anticlerical ‘Reign of Terror’ during the French Revolution, marked by the infamous mass guillotine executions. Priests were on the run and celebrated Mass stealthily. Young John Vianney regarded these priests as heroes and grew up wanting to become one.

At 20, John was allowed to leave his family to further his education in a school. He had the intention to join the priesthood but struggled in his studies, especially in his learning of Latin (required for all priests). John was many times deemed unfit for Holy Orders. His studies were again interrupted when he was drafted into Napoleon Bonaparte’s army in 1809. It is believed that because of his poor health, John was left behind while the troops continued without him. He then met a man who brought him to a place where deserters stayed. There, he remained for one and a half years before amnesty was granted to deserters in 1810. Finally, John was able to continue his ecclesiastical studies. He was ordained a deacon in 1815 and became the Curé (equivalent of parish priest) of Ars three years later.

The story of St John Vianney’s struggle to fulfil his purpose in life holds some relevant lessons for Catholic educators today.

1. The constant struggle to upgrade and update content and pedagogy
Just as the French priests of the 18th Century were heroes for St Vianney, educators today are heroes to our youth. We work in a difficult environment of high expectations, long hours and face constant pressure to improve ourselves. As educators, we can definitely identify with St Vianney’s difficulty in keeping up with the acquisition of knowledge. Yet, we can take courage in knowing that we are not alone, and that even saints had a hard time learning too.

2. Educating the ignorant and indifferent
As the parish priest of Ars, St Vianney realised that many of the parishioners were not properly informed about the faith, or were indifferent. He spent many hours listening to confessions and giving homilies to educate them. In a span of 30 years, the number of pilgrims who visited Ars to confess to him reached 20,000.

Like St Vianney, we too, face students who lack the will to learn. We spend long hours every week planning lessons to help our students learn effectively. Although our work can be draining and arduous, we can look to St John Vianney for strength and inspiration. Always remember that our work contributes to the spiritual and intellectual well-being of God’s children.

3. Recharge
Even a saint can be tempted to give up at times – St Vianney tried to run away from his priestly duties at Ars four times! But eventually, he learned to accept the task given to him, and devoted the rest of his life to his congregation. Although we may have moments when we feel like giving up on our students and the education mission altogether, it becomes easier to persevere when we are reminded of our duty as educators. Take time to recharge if you must, but don’t let despair derail you from our meaningful vocation.

As St Vianney entrusted his efforts to God, let us also ask Him to be our strength and fortify us in our work as educators:

“I love You, O my God,
and my only desire is to love You
until the last breath of my life.
I love You, O my infinitely lovable God,
and I would rather die loving You,
than live without loving You.
I love You, Lord,
and the only grace I ask is to love You eternally.
My God, if my tongue cannot say in every moment that I love You,
I want my heart to repeat it to You as often as I draw breath.
Amen.”

29 July 2016

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Tags: Educators

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Categories: Reflections, Saints

Martha was amongst the closest friends of Jesus, and was mentioned in the Gospels several times (Lk 10:38-42, Jn 11:1-53 and 12:1-9). In our first meeting with Martha, we hear her complain about her sister Mary for not helping her with the preparation of food to welcome Jesus. Next, we read about her sorrow over her brother Lazarus’ death and her plea for Jesus to raise him to life. Finally, when we read about Martha again, she was only mentioned in two words: Martha served.

So what can we as educators learn from Martha and how is she relevant in our capacity to serve?

Building a relationship with Jesus
When Jesus first arrived in Martha’s house, Martha was the one who started preparing to welcome Jesus. During Jesus’ time in Judea, women were expected to serve the men at home. Martha, being the responsible host, quickly set about doing her work to serve Jesus. However, in her preparation, she noticed that her sister Mary was not doing her part to help. Instead of confronting her directly, she chose to take her resentment to Jesus. This tells us how close their relationship was as it would be unusual for most of us to complain about our own sibling to a guest. In choosing to voice her frustration to Jesus, she was able to vent her displeasure without causing a strain in her relationship with her sister.

Upon dispensing her complaint, Martha received very good advice from Jesus who informed her that Mary had chosen the ‘better part’. What does this mean? Did it mean that Martha was in the wrong to have gone about her work instead of soaking in Jesus’ presence like Mary? No. We are told that Jesus loved her just the same. But perhaps her responsibility would not have resulted in her feeling resentful if she had spent time with Jesus first.

Our work will always be there but how we feel about it would depend on whether we spend time in prayer first. To be good teachers to our students, we must first spend time in prayer, asking Jesus to direct our daily work and to show us the knowledge He would like to impart to His young people.

Entrust your students to Him
Next, we meet Martha in sorrow. Her brother Lazarus was very ill and in need of Jesus. Word was sent to the latter to come and heal his friend. Oddly enough, Jesus stayed where he was for two more days before proceeding to Bethany. When he finally arrived in Bethany, Martha went out of the house of mourning to meet him.

Here, we see a Martha who had learnt from her earlier experience. Previously, she went about her work but felt resentful and took that resentment to God. Now, she was able to leave her house and seek Jesus. Her ability to listen to God and to put Him first is evident here. In fact, her faith was so strong that she told Jesus “But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask Him (Jn 11:21).” And indeed, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, publicly glorifying God through his miracle. Martha has taken a step further in the development of her faith.

Martha was confident of God’s power over death, like the Centurion who asked for his servant’s recovery: “Speak and he shall be healed” (Mt 8:8). We often worry about how our students would do in exams, or how they well they will do in life. But do we trust God to care for their needs? Being Catholic educators, we are called to have faith in Jesus’ love. We only need to do our best – and entrust our efforts to his prevailing mercy.

Be at peace
After Lazarus was raised from the dead, mourning turned into celebration in their home. Martha, now confident in having her prayer answered, went about her work quietly. She was no longer resentful of her responsibilities, but at peace with them. She embraced her role in serving guests and welcoming them as part of God’s family – one she has always been a part of.

We too, are called to be at peace with our responsibilities. Instead of being excessively stressed out about our duties, or how well we are performing at work, why not take some time to reflect on the good that we do daily? Doing something as simple as comforting a student in need will go a long way in strengthening God’s family.

The key lesson we can learn from St Martha is that we are all loved by God. Like the brother of the prodigal son, we may be upset that our obedience to God has gone unnoticed. But St Martha’s walk with Christ has shown otherwise: when the faithful prays, their prayers are answered. Knowing that, we can all go about our work quietly in full confidence that whatever we ask for, God will answer.

7 April 2016

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Tags: Educators

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Categories: Reflections, Saints

The achievements of the Lasallian schools in Singapore today can be traced back to the efforts laid down by the Brothers of the Christian Schools. The Lasallian Brothers are a religious order first established by the 17th century French priest John Baptist de la Salle. Now widely regarded as a pioneer in modern education, St De La Salle devoted a large part of his 40-year priesthood to teaching underprivileged young men. His contributions to the elementary education scene in France eventually influenced the rest of the world, through the Brothers who continue his work today.

As a Christian teacher who approached the task of education passionately and methodically, St De La Salle sets a perfect example for educators today. We look at the lessons we can draw from his work and mission.

1. Knowing what matters
John Baptist was born into a wealthy family in Reims, France. His father held a high-ranking position in the royal court, while his mother came from a prominent influential family of wine brewers. After their death, he sold his considerable inheritance and gave the money to the poor in Champagne province, who were suffering from a famine.

St De La Salle’s willingness to give up his earthly possessions echoed the Lord’s exhortation in the Gospel: “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mk 10:21) In an environment where academic success and career progression trumps many other worries, it is our mission as educators to remind students of what matters more in life. Rather than put pressure on them to do well in exams, why not discuss ways in which they can contribute back to society after their studies?

2. Recognising the poor
St De La Salle was aware of the many peasants who lived in the country or in town slums, and did not have the means to send their children to school. Because they were illiterate, they could neither move up the social ladder nor learn of God’s word. He became deeply concerned by the children’s financial and spiritual poverty, and pledged to bring up these young people.

As educators, let’s also keep in mind that our students come from many different backgrounds. The differentials in aptitude and attitudes amongst them are largely due to the wide spectrum of family, health and financial situations. Regardless of their circumstance, the young people are calling out for our attention, care and guidance in order to overcome the barriers they face to attain their fullest potential in life.

3. Taking action one step at a time
John Baptist did not change things overnight. Through his first pastoral post as the spiritual director of the Sisters of the Holy Infant Jesus (who ran an orphanage for young girls), he was encouraged to set up a similar institution for boys. Thus, with the help of a lay teacher Adrien Nyel, he founded a school. Following its success, more were spawned in the diocese, and John recruited more teachers to his cause. The Brothers for the Christian Schools was born from this fraternity, and today they number 5,000 across 80 countries and 1,000 institutions.

Upon seeing the severity of the problem, St De La Salle did not allow himself to become deterred or overwhelmed. Instead, he took small steps towards a larger goal. At times, it may be easy to become intimidated by our responsibilities as educators. St De La Salle’s example reminds us to take things one step at a time, address issues systemically, tap on resources made available to us, and leave the seemingly impossible to God.

4. Persistence in learning
Being the eldest child of a well-to-do family, John had the privilege of a quality education. His parents groomed him academically, sending him to study at the College des Bons Enfant, where he received his Master of Arts in 1669. Thereafter, he entered the Seminary of St Sulpice and read theology at the College of Sorbonne. His learning continued even after his priestly ordination in 1678, where he earned a doctorate in theology two years later.

Despite his impressive academic achievements, John remained humble and persisted in his learning journey. When he embarked on his priesthood and education mission, he needed to learn several things previously unfamiliar to him: how to run a school, how to connect to street youth, and how to recruit and manage teachers. Like John, we cannot be complacent with our knowledge. To improve ourselves as effective mentors to students, we must constantly be on the lookout for opportunities to pick up new skills and perspectives.

5. Meeting students where they are
St De La Salle wanted to ensure that students truly understood what they were learning. Against the norm of the times, St De La Salle decided that his institutions would teach subjects in the more widely-spoken French, instead of Latin. The Brothers also grouped students according to their maturity and aptitude, so as to facilitate the process of teaching.

Instead of purely regurgitating information to his students, John Baptist analysed their academic potential and capabilities and refrained from imposing unrealistic demands on them. He met them where they were and taught in a language they could understand. To be effective educators, let us adopt patience and empathic understanding. How can we meet our students at a level where we can better connect with them and make learning more productive and enhanced?

As educators, we may feel jaded and overworked after years in the service. We may lose sight of why we became educators in the first place. But as we celebrate the life and legacy of St De Le Salle, let us relive the joy of our vocation and remember that our words and actions, mundane as they may seem at times, have the potential of touching our students in more ways than one.