A Lasallian mini-retreat with Mary
Many people find the November brown and gray palette depressing. I find November beautiful. Its muted colors are easy on my senses. Candles softly light the early nightfall. Sweaters and snuggly blankies surround us with coziness.
But most of all, I love November trees.
Obscured by leaves all summer, now I can see a tree skeleton and its enchanting twists and turns of branches. A dendrologist can explain how roots, sap, bark, trunk, and flowers create a healthy, strong, and resilient tree. It bears fruit in due season.
Similarly, Saint John Baptist De La Salle discerned twelve virtues in his Conduct of the Christian Schools. These virtues build the framework for a resilient, fruit-bearing ministry. During the 1700s, Brother Agathon further developed the virtues in his The Twelve Virtues of a Good Teacher. Brother Gerard Rummery, FSC, updated this work in 1998.
A virtue is an excellent trait of character. It is a disposition, well entrenched in its possessor – something that, as we say, goes all the way down, unlike a habit such as being a tea-drinker – to notice, expect, value, feel, desire, choose, act, and react in certain characteristic ways.”Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
The phrase “goes all the way down” stands out in this definition. Virtues create an integrity of mind, spirit, and action. A person does not think one way but acts another. A person does not act this way with this group and that way with that group.
SJBD, our Founder, defined virtue as “Conformity of life and conduct with the principles of morality.” In France during the mid-1600s, De La Salle saw the plight of impoverished children and their inability to receive an education. He thought there must be a better way to educate than to hire private tutors. His revolutionary model of the current classroom emerged as he and other like-minded teachers (eventually called the Brothers of the Christian Schools) brought students together in one classroom, allowing children even in the lowest socioeconomic class to receive an excellent education.
Virtue 1 – Gravity (seriousness)
We never forget our duty of being for the students a continual model of all the virtues.”Brother Gerard Rummery, FSC
In years past, the Brothers avoided smiling at their students until after Christmas and earned respect. Gravity is not about being stuffy or standoffish. Rather, it invites us to be even, peaceful, calm, and untroubled.
Gravity takes seriously the call to be a role model for students at all times. The students are watching.
Virtue 2 – Silence
During a summer a long time ago, I worked at the Del Monte pea pack. I spent long overnight hours standing in one place, running my gloved hands through millions of little green peas, picking out leaves and other non-pea green things. It was boring.
I talked a lot.
The white hats (supervisors) regularly chided me for talking too much. I often saw them laughing as they walked away. They liked me. The goal of quiet in the Del Monte factory was safety. The job did not feel dangerous, but my supervisors wanted me to be safe.
Virtuous silence helps a Lasallian learn to use words for encouragement and lessons, balanced with quietness when necessary. I am still learning when to speak and when to be still.
Virtue 3 – Humility
Humility makes a good teacher treat both his equals [colleagues] and his inferiors [students] with esteem, cordiality, friendliness, and kindness.”The Twelve Virtues of a Good Teacher
Australian minister Philip Yancey wrote, “Grace, like water, flows to the lowest part.” This type of grace can be called humility. Humility is others-centered instead of me-centered. “Servant leadership” is in vogue in the business world. Christians have understood humility for years. Christ gave the ultimate example of humility, and He is the model SJBD emulated.
Virtue 4 – Prudence
Prudence is such an important virtue that I have heard all the other virtues grow out of it. Our Founder divided prudence into eight subcategories. Br. Gerard wrote, “Since the aim of the good teacher is the education of the children, prudence enlightens him about the means he must use to bring them up properly by educating their minds and hearts. Hence, this virtue is highly to be esteemed.” Prudence means
To deliberate carefully
To judge rightly
To order all things properly
If we can teach our students, particularly teens maturing in reason and analytical thinking, to look at something as God looks at it, they will be far along their path to salvation in Christ Jesus.
Virtue 5 – Wisdom
FIVE GOLD RINGS! Wisdom gives knowledge of what is most exalted. What is most exalted? God the Father, Son, and Spirit are exalted above all. The Holy Trinity is the source of all wisdom. De La Salle calls wisdom the “science of salvation,” and wisdom makes the soul delight in the things of heaven.
Additionally, wisdom urges the teacher to continued study of the subjects he teaches. “Hazardous opinions or false prejudices” do not sway the teacher.
Virtue 6 – Patience
The Brother David Darst Center in Chicago presents an outstanding example of patience. Enduring strife and many dead ends, they waited years for a new building to house their social justice ministry. The result is a beautiful building that meets their news better than any other option.
Patience soothes pain and calms the mind. It prevents us from grumbling and helps us submit to the will of God.
Virtue 7 – Reserve (self-control)
Set a watch upon your lips; melt down your gold and silver and make a balance to weigh your words and a firm bridle for your tongue.”Ecclesiastes 28:29
In this picture, students from De La Salle High School in Minneapolis read books, listen to each other, and explore the world. Their Lasallian schooling trains them to regulate their conduct and control their responses. Reserve, more often called self-control, helps us create a safe environment for our students to learn through failure, recognize appropriate manners, and avoid dangerous friendships.
Reserve is a virtue informing our understanding of appropriate touch. It reminds us that students think we – their teachers, other authority figures, or adult friends – are flawless. Thus, we must be careful our actions are full of modesty and discretion.
Virtue 8 – Gentleness
Observe the invitation in this teen’s eyes as she extends her hand to the younger student. She is not pushy. She allows the younger student to decide to enter into the game. This example of gentleness comes from the heart.
Brother Gerard devotes one or two pages to each virtue, but he spreads gentleness out over twelve pages! Our Founder gives many specific instructions on how to teach without being harsh.
Virtue 9 – Zeal
The De La Salle Blackfeet School in Montana exemplifies zeal. The teachers and volunteers live in the tiny town of Browning in poverty with the Blackfeet Nation. They participate in the Blackfeet culture, giving a Christian example of salvation in Jesus while deeply respecting the Blackfeet nation. These Lasallians actively live out the virtue of zeal in educating the poor, as do others throughout the world.
Many of our Lasallian partners in mission live their lives with great zeal by fulfilling their duties well and with strength. I envision zeal as a fire within, giving fuel and growth to our mission.
Virtue 10 – Vigilance
Stories about people who have encountered angels describe them as beings of tremendous strength, size, and light. The virtue of vigilance calls teachers the “guardian angels” of students. Vigilance recognizes our young people are a treasure, and God has entrusted this treasure into our care. Brother Gerard writes:
A good teacher watches over the pupils, generally everywhere that he finds himself among them. Additionally, the good teacher will work to discover and know everything that goes on, not only in class but also in the streets before and after school, using inspectors whom he chooses among the students.”The Twelve Virtues of a Good Teacher
Vigilance seeks protection from evil. Vigilance must build on other virtues, especially prudence, to help the teacher judge rightly while watching over the students.
Virtue 11 – Piety
In this virtue, our Founder reminds Lasallians of the need to protect the graces given to students in Baptism. It issues a challenge: How can we form our students in Christian education if we are not living out personal lives of piety?
Piety defines for us an accurate understanding of Christian and moral virtues of faith, hope, love, justice, goodness, honesty, fortitude, temperance, and modesty lived out in our speech and conduct.
Virtue 12 – Generosity
The virtue of generosity may seem common, but it is not an ordinary way of living. Generosity means sacrificial giving, particularly giving our lives to save our neighbors. It is a noble virtue.
Br. Konrad Diebold showed incredible generosity. He was a retired teacher in Chicago. One morning in October 2022, he worked as a substitute teacher, went to lunch, and died. Br. Konrad served until his last hour on earth. What a beautiful life!
Imagine the generosity and humility of our retired brothers doing dishes at Dunrovin. They worked as teachers, principals, presidents, and administrators. Yet, they cheerfully scrub dishes.
SJBD taught his followers to “Enkindle the love of Jesus in the hearts of the young.” The fruit of salvation in Christ can be born as Lasallian partners allow the twelve virtues to grow. Virtue is our sturdy, healthy tree yielding its fruit in due season.
Spend ten or fifteen minutes praying for a renewed spirit, as you desire to imitate our Lord and Savior.
- What virtue strikes you as very important in your life and ministry?
- Thank God for how you are made in His image, with intelligence to think, a body to act, and a will to choose. Pray to grow in confidence of God’s delight in you.
Lectio Divina – Psalm 51
- Lectio (read): Read the Scripture slowly. Listen to the words and allow them to sink into your mind.
- Meditatio (reflection): Read through the Scripture slowly a second time. Reflect on one word or phrase that catches your heart and meditate on it with your imagination.
- Oratio (response): Read through the Scripture slowly a third time. Respond to God’s Word with your own prayer of thanksgiving, confession, praise, or simply talking to God.
- Contemplatio (rest): There is no right or wrong way to allow God’s Word to capture you; simply let it capture you.
O God, you desire sincerity of heart;
and You endow my innermost being with wisdom.
Sprinkle me with hyssop so I may be cleansed;
wash me until I am whiter than snow.
Let me experience joy and gladness in Your salvation.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a resolute spirit within me.