There is no way I could have known at that young age where I was heading — the reasons I joined religious life in 1967 and the reasons why I am still a Brother are not the same. It has been an exciting journey!
Reflecting on my 47 years as a Christian Brother, I feel blessed to be a follower of St. John Baptist de La Salle. As a shy 17-year-old who had just graduated from St. Raphael Academy in Pawtucket, RI, I was probably joining religious life as a way to escape the world rather than a way in which to embrace it fully.
I do believe that God often invites us to move ahead in life without us fully understanding what is happening, and trusting in the slow work of God. As Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay, hoping to skip the intermediate stages.”
As I stumbled through my early years of being a Christian Brother — from novitiate and college years even to the first years of teaching — I was trying to find my place in life. During that time I really wasn’t sure where I was heading. Perhaps if we did fully understand what God was asking of us (which is usually to let go of something that keeps us unfree) we would either try to take charge or stop the whole process.
As I began to feel like I did have something to contribute, both in community and in ministry, I slowly began to take risks, like moving to New York City, taking on administrative responsibilities, and leading workshops for teachers. I was beginning to realize that it was God leading me to experience new things. To paraphrase De Chardin, I was becoming aware that it was only God who could say what this new spirit moving within me would eventually become. It was also important that I accepted the anxiety of feeling myself in suspense and incomplete.
Gaining in confidence during my first twenty years as an educator led me to look for ways in which the Brothers could teach urban kids who were far from salvation. Seeing a need to help kids from low-income families, I remember accidentally stumbling upon what has become a favorite Old Testament passage from Jeremiah 29:11-14:
I know full well the plans I have for you says the Lord– plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future filled with hope. When you call on me, and come in prayer to me, I will listen to you. When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart I will be there.
These are powerful words which have helped me during difficult times, especially in the early years of The San Miguel School in Providence. Being a Christian Brother gave me a certain freedom to follow my dreams, as well as pay the price to make them come true. The Brothers had my back!
As the journey continued I became so much more aware of the guiding hand of St. La Salle in the entire process of this new creation. In 1993, it was obvious that the previous 25 years had been gradually preparing me for this awesome responsibility without my realizing it. In the Founder’s words, “God did this in an imperceptible way and over a long period of time, so that one commitment led to another in a way that I did not foresee in the beginning.” Something almost every one of us can relate to!
As we enter into what Pope Francis has designated the Year of Consecrated Life it is important to note that upon entering religious life, we join our personal journey with that of a community—for the love of God and service to our neighbor. It is a commitment that springs from baptism and the life of the church. Discovering our humanity, building a relationship with God, finding our gifts among so many gifted men in a community is an adventure in grace that will last a lifetime.
I now enter my senior years, not only grateful for all the experiences in community and ministry which I’ve enjoyed these past 47 years, but also hopeful for the future. I am certain that God is by my side and when I seek him with all my heart he will be there always.
–– Brother Lawrence Goyette, FSC