Council Resources

Personal plan of life - ongoing formation



The General Councillor for Formation

To Rev Fr Provincials
and Provincial Councils

To the Provincial Formation  Delegates
and Provincial Formation Commissions

Ongoing Formation
A process of creative faithfulness towards holiness


One of the guidelines of the 25th General Chapter was that of asking every “confrere,  as the one primarily responsible for his own formation to give due importance to the “Personal Plan of Salesian Life”, bearing in mind the following elements:
- a continual evaluation of the human, spiritual and salesian maturing process, by means of self-assessment procedures, openness to the Word of God and acceptance of fraternal correction;
- knowledge and practice of the spirituality of the preventive system as the source of new relationships in fraternal life;
- the progressive growth in maturity in salesian charismatic identity;
- an active and wholehearted presence  at the ordinary and extraordinary meetings of the community;
- cultivation of openness to others and availability for sharing” (GC25 14).

The Chapter entrusted to the Provincial and his Council through the Delegate and Provincial Formation Commission the task of suggesting methods and providing helps for the drawing up the plan by the confreres (GC25 16).

The Department for Formation offers Provincials and Provincial Delegates for Formation these notes in the form of: motivations, explanations, and suggestions addressed to the individual confrere, in the hope that they may serve in the animation of the Province.

1. Why make a personal plan of life?
Perhaps you have asked yourself the question: “Why did GC25 ask me to make a plan of life?” I can suggest some reasons; you can look for some others yourself from your own experience. Before beginning to draw up the plan it is necessary to be motivated.

- Life is always in the process of being constructed and of growing; it is a project in process. Only God knows the whole of your life’s journey, because He is the one who drew up your plan: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jer. 1, 5). You were not created by chance. God has always had a plan for your life, a design that includes a salesian vocation and growth in it towards holiness. Through your plan you try to discover the path God has traced out for you; you discover who you are called to be and therefore recognise your identity; you plan your life for the future in the way you think God would want it to be.

- This outline of your future which comes to you through discernment, gives direction to your life for the present and for the future. Try putting together the thousand pieces of a jigsaw puzzle without having seen beforehand a picture of the “final product”! When you know where you are being called to go it is easier to direct all the various elements of your daily  life – attitudes, relationships, experiences and activities -  towards the achievement of the goal. In Don Bosco the gifts of nature and of grace “combined to create a closely-knit life project, the service of the young.” (Con. 21). Don’t let your life become fragmented or dispersed or let yourself just drift along with the current! Holiness needs to be planned.

- By directing everything towards the one aim, your life overcomes fragmentation and becomes unified. You become capable of uniting the past, present and future into a single meaningful whole according to your fundamental choices. Gradually as you grow older and take on positions of responsibility your experiences need to be integrated into a new vital synthesis. For example, becoming the Rector of a community, or the Head of  a school, or in charge of an Oratory is an experience that requires a new way of thinking and a new approach to your life; while carrying out your new responsibilities, you have to find the way to continue to grow in your vocation, in your life of communion, in apostolic interior life, in holiness. The personal plan is precisely such an instrument of unification.

- While you are taking steps to give your life a sense of unity certain things can happen in your life. You begin to see yourself more clearly with your good qualities and your limitations; you see what needs to be changed if you want to achieve that identity or vision of yourself in obedience to God’s call. You become ever more convinced of the need and even the beauty of the new shape you want to give to your life; you feel yourself compelled to make every effort to be converted, to work on yourself, to make difficult decisions precisely in order to ensure the realisation of that identity that attracts you and promises you joy and satisfaction. In this way the plan becomes for you a means of conversion and of renewal (cf. FSDB 277) and leads you to a more genuine and faithful living of your vocation.

- In this way you take your life in hand and assume responsibility for your vocation and for your growth towards holiness. It is easy to see that it is possible to pass a whole life-time caught up in a whole variety of activities and not be aware of the obstacles that are blocking personal development. You can be living your vocation, following the rules, accepting roles, allowing yourself to be carried along by events, following the current fashions, the accepted ideas, other peoples’ values. It is as though you had all the necessary material available to build your house, but not having any plan you haphazardly pile one thing on top of another. On the other hand, with a personal plan, guided by the Spirit of God  and by His grace you take charge of your own growth, using your freedom to assume your identity as a consecrated salesian apostle, priest or brother, and so becoming what God is calling you to be.

Therefore, as you will have noted, the plan is not a simple declaration of intent, nor wishful thinking,  nor is it a plan for becoming qualified  drawn up by yourself and about which you want to speak with the Provincial. The personal plan or project of life is the description of the goal you wish to reach and the steps you intend to take to get there, all aimed at a growth in creative fidelity to your vocation as a consecrated salesian apostle as our Constitutions express it: “sent to the young, in fraternal communities, following Christ, obedient, poor and chaste, in dialogue with the Lord, in continuous formation.” Its ultimate purpose is holiness, that is “the perfect love of God and men” (Con. 25); in fact through religious profession you have begun to walk “on the path to holiness” (Con. 25). Your plan of life is focused on these central aspects of salesian identity; they constitute  the basis for reflection and for a commitment to growing in your vocation.
2. Examples from our spiritual tradition
Talk about a personal plan of life is fairly new in the Church and in the Congregation, but perhaps one can discover some reference to it in our salesian tradition, and more especially in the methodology of our spiritual life. Here we recall some examples.

At the end of the Spiritual Retreat he made in 1841 in preparation for his ordination as a priest, Don Bosco wrote some reflections, allowing us to see the idea of the priest he intended to be and his resolutions in this regard. He said: “The priest does not go to heaven, or to hell alone. If he does God’s work he will go to heaven with the souls he has saved by his good example. If he has been a cause of scandal , he will go to perdition along with the souls that were damned through his scandal. Therefore I pledge myself to keep the following resolutions.” The nine resolutions he makes then follow, as for example: to be rigorous in the use of time; to suffer, work, humble myself in all things whenever it is a question of saving souls; to be guided always by the charity and gentleness of St Francis of Sales; to set aside some time every day for meditation and spiritual reading, and during the day to pay a brief visit to the Blessed Sacrament. etc. (BM I, 385).

            Similarly, the Servant of God Fr Giuseppe Quadrio at the end of the Retreat in 1944, made the following resolutions: “Attentive and loving fidelity to the Holy Spirit without any more  objections, opposition, or resistance to Him, especially in carefully making the daily examination of conscience; in being more generous in carrying out acts of charity; in keeping myself and returning myself as soon as possible totally at His disposal, rejecting temptations to pride. Means:  1. keeping myself, and frequently putting myself again in this frame of mind of trusting dependence: ‘I am sure of obtaining all the particular graces that I need each moment to become a saint as long as I don’t reject them:: Da quod iubes et iube quod vis’; 2. July-August: I shall give special attention to enemy number one of the Holy Spirit, that is my pride, fighting against it: with interior acts of renunciation, acceptance, lowliness; with external acts of self abandonment and   self-humiliation.”

The Salesian Brother Artemides Zatti at the end of an undated Retreat took several resolutions for the New Year. They are recorded in the “positio” for the beatification process: “Carry out the practices of piety well, both community and personal ones, especially Confession and  Communion. Conform my will as far as possible to that of God. Not to be discouraged when there is some problem or things do not go as I would wish them to. ‘Quod aeternum non est, nihil est’. Love the superiors, seeing God in them; love the confreres, making sure to avoid any criticism.”

            Today the language about a plan of life may be new; the way of doing it may also seem new to you; but in these three examples you can see what is the essential, that is the assuming of responsibility by Don Bosco, Fr Quadrio and Brother Zatti for the growth in their vocation and for the direction given to their efforts towards fixed objectives. We need to take up again the methodology of the spiritual life, going more deeply into it and updating it so that we may be able to ensure a “high degree” of ordinary salesian life.. The spiritual life does not develop without a method; the plan of life is a means for the journey of growth, of vocational fidelity, for becoming holy.
3. How to draw up the personal plan of life?
Now we come to point out the way to draw up the personal plan of life. I suggest a three stage process.

- Since the personal plan of life is a process of discernment, it is clear that you need a period of silence and recollection to do it, for example during the Day of Recollection at the beginning of the year or during the Retreat. In a moment of prayer, place yourself in the presence of God and speak to Him in the words of Samuel: “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” Ask Him what He wants from you in the place where you are at present and with your present responsibilities..
In the first stage it is a question of identifying God’s call. You already know what the Lord wants from you from the Constitutions and the Ratio, which provide an outline of the consecrated Salesian priest of brother; there will also be some indications in the Provincial Formation Plan   which describes the implementation of this in the context of your province; finally, the community plan will give you a more precise frame of reference of what God wants from you and from the confreres living with you in order to carry out your mission among the young. All these suggestions should  be made more concrete in your personal situation hic et nunc.
God speaks to your heart through the Spirit. If you remain open you will recognise where in the context of your life there is most need to grow. God also makes use of people, such as a friend, a spiritual director, a confessor who can help you to discern your situation. Open your heart to them and speak about your relationships, your fears, your discoveries.  Listen to the movements of the Spirit within you. I suggest that you take a look at different aspects of the salesian vocation to discover what you feel God is asking from you as a commitment for the new year.
You are now thinking not of the things you intend to do but at the goals that God is inspiring in you and you want to achieve, that promise you a sense of joy and represent a step forward along the path of your fidelity to your vocation. You are creating for yourself a vision of what God is calling you to be. It is important that this vision for the future is not described as something intellectual or cold, but as something you are enthusiastic about that is attractive and encouraging, that corresponds with your desires and expectations, that shows the possibilities that can result from the efforts you make. The more the goal attracts you and fills you with enthusiasm the more determined you will be to take the necessary steps to reach it..

- Having identified what it is that God is calling you to, now is the time to consider the point at which you find yourself, that is your present  situation: what are the strengths and weaknesses, capacities and possibilities, limitations and negative factors. For example: “I’m dedicated to my work in school and spare no pains to ensure good results, but I notice that I am rather hard in dealing with the pupils: I often correct them but rarely say anything to show appreciation or understanding and give encouragement. I see that I am more concerned about results than about their progress.”
Generally there is a tendency to talk immediately about weaknesses or negative aspects; it would seem a better idea, on the other hand, to consider the “successes” and the positive elements with regard to the future one hopes to achieve. This way of proceeding creates a positive atmosphere for the whole process and serves as an encouragement, in that we see what we have already achieved or are capable of achieving. Then we can move on to identify the difficulties or weaknesses, those aspects that need to be  improved in order to reach the goals set.
You might be able to express your situation better in prayer drawing inspiration from the threefold confession of praise, of sin and of faith, that the Rector Major also made use of in his letter on holiness (AGC 379, 35-37). The confession of praise helps you to recognise as God’s gift all the positive things you find in  your life; the confession of sin makes you aware of hesitations, reservations, resistance and faults on your journey; the  confession of faith helps you to have confidence in God and in His Spirit in order to make progress in your development.
In this context it is good to remember that an interminable list of detailed points positive and negative does not serve. A good planning process presupposes the ability to identify those two or three points that are decisive and which practically determine all the rest; it is a matter of focusing on the main points that need attention. Be convinced that the success of your planning process lies not so much in the application of techniques as in the readiness to face up to yourself honestly and in depth, and to open yourself to the Spirit with trust and patience.

- Finally you have reached the third stage, in which you try to hear the message coming to you from God in reply to your question: “Lord, what do you want me to do?” In the light of your knowledge about yourself, reached in the second stage, you decide on the lines of action that you intend to follow in the course of the year in order to arrive at the goals you set your self in the first stage. Decide realistically where you ought to be going and what the Spirit is saying to you. It is to be hoped that your lines of action are reasonable and capable of being achieved during the year; they should be few and essential; they should apply to important aspects of the salesian identity as  it is expressed in the Constitutions.
It would also help if the plan of action were made up of progressive steps to be realised month by month, week by week. Implementing these steps one after the other creates a certain self confidence and you become more courageous and optimistic, seeing the progress you are making. If you like, these steps can take into account motivations, attitudes and behaviour; they can be made concrete with objectives, procedures and interventions. While remaining on a practical level, this stage too can be expressed in the same prayerful atmosphere as the previous ones.

4. Point of reference for the personal journey
The personal plan of life is an instrument that assists your development process; it is a practical means in the methodology of the spiritual life. You do not make progress if there is no serious method in the journey. Here are some of the elements in this method; they come from spiritual tradition, but it is interesting to see how they come into play in reference to the plan and how they can take on a new meaning.

- It is useful to use the method that you have always used from the beginning of initial formation, that practical pedagogical method of meditating and writing, taking notes, writing down what in the Spirit you have seen as the plan of your life. It is a methodology of the spiritual life that our salesian tradition has always had recourse to and that is effective in the unfolding of the journey. You can refer to what you have written at any time in order to check progress. Writing is a means to prevent you being superficial, to help you with your reflection and prayer, to reach the depth of your life. 

- Having drawn up the plan according to the three steps indicated above, it is necessary to determine specific times or dates when you will assess the progress you are making. You need to give sufficient time for evaluation, for example during days of recollection or retreats. The assessment has the purpose of seeing how faithful you have been to all that you set yourself in the plan: whether you have carried out the chosen activities and whether you have done them well, badly or moderately. If you haven’t carried them out you should see why. Check also to see whether you have reached the goals set and to what extent. In the event of little success an examination of the reasons could indicate that you have not been constant in the commitments assumed and that you have not made progress after the initial enthusiasm; or perhaps you have not judged the problems very well and have been superficial; or you have not paid attention to the different aspects of the problem; or perhaps your lines of action were too generic. Whatever the explanation, through the assessment you can see whether you are on the right road or not and you can discover useful elements to improve your plan. The assessment of the plan requires that you have a different approach to carrying out the monthly or quarterly days of recollection, so that you have more time for prayer and personal reflection.

- There are also particular occasions when you can keep an eye on the daily steps being taken. Without an attentive conscience, without keeping awake there is no progress; instead there is    laziness, weakness, superficiality. It is appropriate to remember that the methodology of the spiritual life has always proposed to us a daily examination of conscience, not merely routine and hasty, but serious and in depth. You have also the daily meditation as an opportunity to “make some good resolution and consider how to put it into practice,” in this way re-enforcing the steps being taken. But above all you have frequent reception of the sacrament of Reconciliation, which in addition to an examination of your life, to repentance, to God’s pardon, offers sacramental grace for healing and renewal.

- Finally, it is useful to reflect on how to harmonize your personal plan with the community’s (cf. GC25 74). In fact there is an interdependent relationship between the two: they re-enforce and help each other. On the one hand, when you draw up your personal plan you take into consideration the commitments of the community plan, since it is a discernment carried out by you and the other confreres into God’s designs for your community; it therefore includes those expressions of God’s will that also concern you. On the other hand the community plan is enriched when each member of the community, having drawn up his own personal plan, has reached a mature understanding of what he is proposing. While respecting the right to privacy you can share with other confreres those aspects of your own plan that you wish to; in this way people get to know each other better in the community, stronger links are forged in the sense of belonging and you help the community to reach a deeper level in its own planning process.

The plan of life therefore is of little use without reference to all the other aspects of the spiritual life; it would be a mere formalty that has little impact on the process of growth. It is my hope that in your personal life and in the life of our Congregation there may be felt again the need for a serious method for the journey of holiness.


In conclusion, with the personal plan of life you have in your hands an instrument that helps you to grow in creative fidelity to the gift of a vocation. I invite you to value it and to accept it joyfully. It is meant to help you fulfil the gift of yourself and your response to God’s call. The journey that the plan offers you is the result of your free choice and the gratuitous action  of God, who has called you to this life. Accept the invitation to live the plan as an opportunity to walk the way of holiness!

Fr Francesco Cereda

Rome, 21 June 2003



Scheme for drawing it up



What does God want from me in the circumstances in which I find myself?
1. Find a time for being quiet and recollected, for example during the monthly day of recollection or the annual retreat, and open your heart to the Lord asking for light and strength.
2. In the presence of the Lord ask yourself what He wants of you. To make it practical, examine different aspects of your life as a consecrated salesian apostle as they are described in the Constitutions:
- “sent to the young” – the mission to youth: for example. Your knowledge and practice of the Preventive System;
- “in fraternal communities” – the life of communion with confreres in the community: for example. Your active and wholehearted presence at community meetings; your readiness to share;
- “following Christ obedient, poor and chaste” – the  practice of the evangelical counsels of obedience, poverty, chastity;
- “in dialogue with the Lord” – community and personal prayer, union with God;
- “in continual formation” – personal commitment to ongoing formation: your human, spiritual, pastoral and cultural  maturity.
3. Identify the two or three main aspects of your life where you feel called by the Lord: what does the Lord wants from you in each of these areas? These are to be your goals.


Where are you in relation to God’s call?
1. Taking one thing after the other, identify the two or three significant points of “success” or favourable aspects of your life.
2. In a similar way, in each of the areas indicated above identify two or three significant points that need attention, improvement or change in your life.
3. It is possible to make use of the Confession of praise, sin and faith for each of the aspects indicated by the Constitutions.


What steps do you intend to take? In what direction by what ways, with what means?
1. In the light of what has emerged in the previous stages select the lines for action most appropriate to reach your goals, with the necessary objectives, procedures and activities.
2. Determine when and how you intend to assess the progress made or lack of it in carrying out the lines of action and in the achievement of your goals.