My Dear Confreres,
I send you my greetings with greater affection than ever as an expression of gratitude for your filial closeness and the esteem in which you hold the successor of Don Bosco and for your untiring prayers in this time of trial and suffering.
I can tell you that I have learned to hand myself over totally to the Lord so that He may do with me whatever He wills. The great school of suffering especially at the most critical times is what helps us to recognise our fragility and limitations, and therefore to hand over control of our lives to God.
During this time of illness I felt very close to me all of you and also the members of the Salesian Family, the co-workers, friends and the young, and it has moved me to see how the Lord listens and responds to the many requests and in return bestows on me a marvellous grace.
Therefore, if life is always a gift, illness makes us aware of how every day and every moment are a special gift of his and so we have to live it with immense gratitude and ever increasing responsibility.. To Him be glory and honour for ever!
I am writing to you this time on the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary in order to share with you some Salesian reflections of mine on Mary. As a Congregation, with the whole Salesian Family, we are preparing to celebrate the Bicentenary of the birth of our Father and Founder, Saint John Bosco. During this first year we wanted to focus on the historical dimension of his life and work. From this point of view and especially in view of the further consideration of his pedagogy and spirituality, I want to invite you to contemplate the figure of Mary the Immaculate Help of Christians, in everything and always the Mother and Teacher of Don Bosco, so that he could say, towards the end of his life: "All the blessings...were thanks to Our Lady".1
In this way I intend to follow in the footsteps of my Predecessors, especially the more recent Rector Majors and at the same time to reflect further on what our Constitutions say to us about the most Holy Virgin Mary.
To me it seems very significant that the first Letter dear Fr Egidio Vigan wrote as Rector Major was devoted to a reflection on Mary the Immaculate Help of Christians with the title: "Mary is renewing the Salesian Family of Don Bosco".
Referring to the passage in the Gospel of Jn 19,26-27, he made the comment: "I thought instinctively of our Congregation and the whole Salesian Family that today needs to re-examine closely the reality of Mary's spiritual motherhood and live again the attitude and resolve of that disciple. And I thought to myself: We must make the evangelist's affirmation our own programme of renewal - 'make a place for Our Lady in our home!'".2
1 Mary the Immaculate Help of Christians in the life of Saint john Bosco
To speak about the presence of Mary in the life story of our Father means in practice to consider his whole life; that would be impossible in a few lines. A superb summary is offered us in our Constitutions, where in article 8 we find three key words which capture the maternal presence of Mary in the life of the Founder: she showed Don Bosco his field of labour among the young and was the constant guide and support, especially in the foundation of our Society. In addition, right at the beginning of the Constitutions, we find this same conviction: "Through the motherly intervention of May the Holy Spirit raised up St John Bosco" (C. 1).
1.1 The maternal intervention of Mary in the life of Don Bosco
We are told first of all that Mary "showed Don Bosco his field of labour among the young." This undoubtedly constitutes a re-evocation of the dream at nine years of age on which certainly we have all had an opportunity to meditate, particularly this year, having in our hands the Memoirs of the Oratory, the book which is the "route map" for this first stage of preparation for the Bicentenary.
One of the features that has most impressed me in this "account of the foundation" is the close connection between the Lord Jesus and his Mother Mary. When little John asks a two-part question, the first about the identity of the mysterious Personage and the second his name (one cannot but recall the biblical text of Ex 3,13), in both cases he is referred to Mary:
"But who are you, that speaks so?"
"I am the Son of the Woman, whom your mother has taught you to greet three times a day".
"My mother tells me not to mix with people I don"t know unless I have her permission. So tell me your name".
"Ask my mother what my name is".
She is this "lady of stately appearance ...wearing a mantle that sparkled all over as though covered with bright stars". She explains the vision and indicates the mission which God is entrusting to him: "This is the field of your work. Make yourself humble, strong and energetic; and what you will see happening to these animals in a moment is what you must do for my children".
This last expression is extremely significant: receiving his orders from Mary, little John identifies her as the Mother of the young who are poor, abandoned and in danger; those who at the end of the dream are transformed from wild animals into gentle lambs, "which were all jumping and bleating as if to welcome that man and lady."3
He is given not only "information about his field of work and its purpose" but also the method, in other words that "loving kindness" which, together with reason and religion, will constitute the system which later, Don Bosco will call "preventive." "You will have to win these friends of yours not by blows but by gentleness and love. Start right away to teach them the ugliness of sin and the value of virtue".4 "Under the guidance of Mary his teacher, Don Bosco lived with the boys of the first Oratory a spiritual and educational experience which he called the Preventive System'" (C. 20).
In this same perspective, even if twenty years later (1844), we find a similar dream. Mary is once again there, in the form of a beautiful Shepherdess who, while she shows him the field of his mission, suggests to the young priest the method to use in carrying out this mission, in company with other co-workers.
"I then saw that four-fifths of the animals had been changed into lambs and their number greatly increased. Just then several shepherds came along to take care of the flock; but they stayed only a very short time and promptly went away. Then something wonderful happened. Many of the lambs were transformed into shepherds, who as they grew took care of the others. As the number of shepherds became great, they split up and went to other places to gather other strange animals and guide them into other folds".5
In this text, I should like to underline that which constitutes the "typically Salesian method" of vocation promotion, without on that account denying the validity of other proposals or different methods; but, for us, the advice coming from the Mother of God herself is: "change some of the lambs into shepherds."
It is sufficient to recall what I said in one of my previous letters, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Congregation: almost all the young men gathered around the Founder corresponded to that "desciption" which Mary had indicated to Don Bosco 15 years earlier. "One thing is certain: the Salesian Congregation was founded and expanded drawing in young men who were convinced by the apostolic passion of Don Bosco and by his dream of life. We need to tell young people the story of the beginnings of the Congregation, of which the young men were ''co-founders".6 That explains the tenacity (which to some appeared obstinacy) with which Don Bosco used this method, unusual in those days, that is to say gathering future co-workers from among the young themselves, forming them with very special care.
This first aspect of Mary's intervention in the life of Don Bosco continues to be the norm in the life of our Congregation, if we want to live in fidelity to God and to our mission. We were not the ones to choose the field of activity and the goal to be reached: the most profound concept behind a sense of mission is that of being "sent" to collaborate with the Master of the youth harvest. It is not simply a matter of "doing good," since there is so much work to be done for the salvation of the world! Don Bosco, especially as a young priest, had a great variety of apostolic possibilities; nonetheless he was aware of being sent for a specific mission, so much so that he declared that "every concern which draws us from [the care of youth] cannot be good."7
It is a typical feature of the gospel: when the apostles go looking for Jesus who is alone on the mountain living to the full his being the son and praying to the Father, they say to him: "Everybody is looking for you!" He answers: "Let us go elsewhere, to the neighbouring country towns, so that I can preach there too; because that is why I came!" (Mk 1,37-38). The parallel text in Luke says: "I must proclaim the Good News of the kingdom of God to the other towns too; because that is what I was sent to do" (Lk 4,43).
Closely reflecting the action of Mary indicated by the first word, we find in the text of the Constitutions two others: she guided and supported him. This can be understood in relation to the two fundamental dimensions of a person: the intellect and the will. Mary is the Mother and Teacher who enlightens the intellect of little John, so that he is able to understand progressively and each time at a deeper level (intus-legere), what his mission consists in ("In good time you will understand everything"), until the very moving moment comes in which, celebrating Mass in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Rome, he will confess: "Now I understand everything." On the other hand, Mary supports him throughout his life, strengthening his will so that he can become ever more "strong and energetic": otherwise he would not have been able to cope with the burdens and the difficulties of the mission.
1.2 Don Bosco's response to Mary in his life
In addition to what the reflection on these three words offers us we can meditate on the presence of Mary in the life of Don Bosco considering the titles to which he wished to give prominence and which are certainly not accidental: IMMACULATE HELP OF CHRISTIANS. In this regard we find a small "commentary" in our Rule of Life: "Mary Immaculate the Help of Christians leads us to the fullness of our offering to the Lord and gives us courage for the service of our brethren" (C. 92). In the 'ad experimentum' text of 1972, these two aspects were separated, and placed respectively under one or other of the titles. The current text, on the other hand unifies them, since our love for God is inseparable from our love and service of our brothers and sisters, especially of the young to whom the Lord sends us.
As I wrote on another occasion, "On the cupola of the sanctuary of Mary Help of Christians there is a beautiful statue of the Immaculate. The Immaculate on the outside and the Help of Christians on the inside. They are the two titles with which Don Bosco wanted to honour Our Lady, because both of them are part of his charism and his mission: the salvation of the young through an all-round education."8
It is good to recall if only briefly the significance and the importance that the title of the "Immaculate" had for Don Bosco. We know that the dogma was proclaimed during his lifetime, on 8 December 1854, but it is certain that associations with the Immaculate were already present in popular piety, since it was celebrated as a Feast. It was precisely some years before the solemn proclamation that Mary Immaculate was at the start of Salesian Work. Let us recall at least in part Don Bosco's own account: "On the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary (8 December 1841), I was vesting to celebrate holy Mass at the appointed time. Joseph Comotti, the sacristan, seeing a boy in a corner, asked him to come and serve my Mass. 'I don't know how', he answered completely embarrassed.".9 Immediately afterwards we find the important meeting between Don Bosco and Bartholomew Garelli, and the "Hail Mary" with which "everything began."
In addition it is well to recall how in the oratory the extraordinary event of the declaration of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was celebrated. "For Don Bosco the promulgation had been the answer to many prayers and Masses he had said to hasten this long-awaited definition. Now he continued to pray to and thank the Lord for having so glorified the Queen of Angels and of men. The feast of the Immaculate Conception became his favourite feast although of course he continued to observe the feast of the Assumption with great solemnity".10
Fr Egidio Vigan, in the Letter for the presentation of the renewed Constitutions, speaking about 8 December, wrote: "This feast of Our Lady so full of meaning for every Salesian heart, is a date that was very dear to Don Bosco; it was the date that he said marked the offical birth of our charism in the Church. It may be indicative to recall some events associated with this date: in the first place the meeting with Bartholomew Garelli (1841) and the Hail Mary that began that prophetic catechism lesson; the opening of the Oratory of St Aloysius at Porta Nuova; the announcement (in 1859) of the meeting which would launch the Congregation; the consigning (in 1878) of the first printed Rule to the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians; the first appointment of one of our confreres as a Bishop (Bishop Cagliero); and, in 1885, the important announcement of the designation of Don Rua as Vicar of the Founder. On that same 8 December 1885 our Father declared that "we owe everything to Mary" and that "all our greatest enterprises and events began and reached fulfilment on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception"."11
But what underlines the relationship between the title of the "Immaculate Conception" and Don Bosco is not only an historical or dogmatic coincidence. At the foundation of it we find a fundamental aspect of the "Preventive System" which, and we need to remember this once again, is not so much a clever educational insight, as something "inspired by the love of a God who provides in advance for all his creatures, is ever present at their side, and freely gives his life to save them". And so "Don Bosco passes this on to us as a way of living and of handing on the goapel message". It permeates our approach to God, our personal relationships and our manner of living in community, through the exercise of a charity that knows how to make itself loved" (C. 20). In my view, we will never respond sufficiently to the challenge which this way of understanding the "Preventive System" presents us with.
If God "provides in advance for all his creatures " with his providential Love, this is found in its fullest expression in Mary, the one "full of grace". "Grace" as we know well is above all God himself; but this expression can also underline the fullness of the gratuitous nature of the Love of God in Mary. The text of the dogmatic declaration of Blessed Pius IX says so explicitly. Basically it is a question of what St John says: "Not our love for God but God's love for us" (1 Jn 4,10). We can apply this first of all and in a unique manner to Mary. In this sense it is beautiful to be able to contemplate her the Immaculate Conception as "the most perfect fruit of God's anticipatory preventive system."
Clearly that does not exclude the human response: on the contrary, it makes it possible and indeed "demands" it, as Pope Benedict XVI emphasised so well: "The Almighty awaits the "yes" of his creatures as a young bridegroom that of his bride. "On the Cross, it is God himself who begs the love of his creature: He is thirsty for the love of every one of us".12 We can apply this in the very first place to Mary. In this regard the observation of a specialist theologian, Alois Muller is interesting: "From the historical point of view to tell the truth they did not speak at first about the immaculate conception of Mary, but about the absence of sin in her life"13: this means that the Church has always seen in the "full of grace," not only the totally free gift of God, but also Mary's response of love, full and total.
Help of Christians
As far as the title "Help of Christians" is concerned (and which, here it should be remembered, appears in the Vatican Council II, in Lumen Gentium, united to that of "Mother of the Church"), we know how much importance it had for Don Bosco. In the Letter already quoted, Fr Egidio Vigan wrote: "Then there is a reason that derives from a characteristic aspect of devotion to Mary Help of Christians: it is a Marian dimension that is of its very nature for critical times. Don Bosco himself expressed it to Fr Cagliero in his well-known affirmation: "The Madonna wishes us to honour her under the title of "Help of Christians"; the times are so sad that we have real need of the most holy Virgin's assistance in preserving and defending the Christian faith"."14
Continuing his reflection Fr Vigan "brought up-to-date" the difficulties of our times very different from those our Father had to face; but different in many ways also from those pressing on us today: times change at an alarming rate, and likewise youth culture with which we have to deal on a daily basis. One thing however needs to be underlined: by invoking Mary with this title, we do not want her to help and to defend us "against" anyone. If we believe in the Incarnation of the Son of God as the principle which enables us to affirm his union with every man and woman in the world (cf. GS 22), whatever their situation might be, we can say something similar about the universal Motherhood of Mary.
However, this does not lead us to ignore the many negative situations and the many disturbing problems; to face up to these we ask her help and her protection, especially when we set ourselves against evil, against sin, against the "culture of death" so contrary to the life of which Mary as woman and as mother is the shining symbol and the powerful protector. Together with the joy of being able to observe in the different parts of the world the vitality of our charism and its beneficial effects, there emerges the sadness at seeing the devastation caused by those negative forces which through actions, people, structures and institutions all of them expressions of the 'mysterium iniquitatis' undermine the happiness and compromise the salvation of our young people, especially these least protected. It is above all on their behalf that we ask Mary to be Mother and Help, "the motherly face of the Love of God."
I think that we can reflect further on this title trying to find an analogy with that of the Immaculate Conception which we considered previously. If the definition of the Immaculate Conception re-affirms on the dogmatic level everything that the Preventive System means for Don Bosco, would it be an exaggeration to see in the dogma of the Assumption of Mary, proclaimed by Pope Pius XII in 1950, a close connection with the title the "Help of Christians"? It is worth remembering as the liturgical texts emphasise that the Ascension of Jesus does not mean his "detachment" from the world or a lack of care for the Church and for humanity, but the contrary:
"He ascended, not to distance himself from our lowly state
but that we, his members, might be confident of following
where he, our Head and Founder, has gone before."15
Can we not therefore in an analogous manner maintain that the Assumption of Mary marks the beginning of her protection and of her maternal help on behalf of all Christians, indeed of all men and women in the world? This way of thinking about her, in addition to linking our devotion to Mary with the titles of Immaculate-Help of Christians to the Magisterium of the Church, enables us to understand why for Don Bosco, the feast of the Assumption was one of his favourites as the text of the 'Memoirs of the Oratory' previously quoted indicates, and this not only for its coinciding (more symbolically that strictly chronologically) with his birthday, but for its rapport with the title of the "Help of Christians" and the significance of his devotion.
2 Mary the Immaculate Help of Christians in the Salesian Congregation today
Undoubtedly the intervention of Mary at the beginning and in the early development of our Congregation continues, throughout history. Don Rua wrote in 1903: "I have no doubt at all that with an increase among Salesians of devotion to Mary Help of Christians there will also be an increase in esteem and affection for Don Bosco, no less that in the commitment to preserve his spirit and to imitate his virtues".16
I believe we are all convinced of this. But if that is true, then we need to recognise that a generous response of fidelity in carrying out our mission is necessary. We can ask ourselves: are we, nowadays, ready to ensure that Mary Immaculate Help of Christians shows us the field of our mission and continues to guide and support us in carrying it out? In this way we shall give a practical response to her invitation: "Do whatever He tells you" (Jn 2,5) and we shall become servants of the young to ensure for them joy and the fullness of life in God.
It is undeniable, and I have been able to experience it with great joy, that wherever they may be the Saleians are promoting devotion to Mary Help of Christians. In every Province there are Churches and shrines dedicated to Her; and likewise the Christian people identify us with this title of Mary, just as in the times of our Father they called her "Don Bosco's Madonna". However we cannot rest content with what the confreres who have gone before us have done, nor can we limit ourselves to promoting simply in external forms devotion to Mary. In other words: our work of evangelisation and education, especially on behalf of poor young people who are abandoned or in danger must in itself be a practical experience of the Love that is freely given, anticipatory and effective which we contemplate in Mary the Immaculate Help of Christians, in order to make them her children as she asked little John in his dream to do.
2.1 "Mary is present among us" (C. 8).
Recognising that it is impossible to sum up in a few pages what the maternal presence of Mary Help of Christians means for us today, or the various different expressions and manifestations of our devotion to Her, I shall limit myself to presenting what we find about Her in our Constitutions, while trying to fill it out with some references to the Word of God.
Without any doubt fidelity to our charism, or better to God's will in carrying out our mission, consists in the observance of the Constitutions. To the question: "What would Don Bosco do today?" we cannot give subjective or sentimental answers, and even less individualistic ones. It is rather a matter of putting into practice our Rule of life: "If you have loved me in the past, continue to love me in the future by the exact observance of our Constitutions" (SDB Constitutions and Regulations, Foreword). Nor is it out of place to recall what the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata says: "When the Church approves a form of consecrated life or an Institute, she confirms that in its spiritual and apostolic charism are found all the objective requisites for achieving personal and communal perfection according to the Gospel" (VC 93; my emphasis).
Well then, in our Constitutions we can find many references to Mary. In the first place two articles dedicated entirely to Her (art. 8 and art. 92) to which I have already referred several times. Article 92 corresponds, in the main, to the "ad experimentum" text of 1972; on the other hand article 8 is totally new and corresponds to the purpose which the first part of the Constitutions has. This section, which consists in the articles from 1 to 25 ("The Salesians of Don Bosco in the Church"), presents our charismatic identity; before speaking about what "we do" it defines who we are, in the Church and in the world, on behalf of the young especially.
And it is precisely in the first chapter, in which our identity is presented that it was decided to place an article on Mary the Immaculate Help of Christians, to underline that she "forms part" one might say, of the Salesian charismatic patrimony. "We believe that Mary is present among us and continues her 'mission as Mother of the Church and Help of Christians" (quoting Don Bosco). Our filial devotion to Her characterised by 'entrustment' ("We entrust ourselves to her"), contemplates in particular her nature as "the humble servant in whom the Lord has done great things," and is a direct and immediate reference to the nucleus and heart of our mission: "that we may become witnesses to the young of her Son's boundless love" (C. 8).
2.2 We contemplate and imitate (C. 92).
On the other hand, article 92 is to be found in the context of the life of prayer, characterised by an expression which immediately refers to its Christian identity: "in dialogue with the Lord". In this context the fundamental features of Salesian devotion to Mary the Immaculate Help of Christians are presented.
First of all I should like to pause and to consider the two words with which this devotion is described: we contemplate-imitate. It seems to me it would be of interest to compare this twofold characteristic with the experience of one of the greatest saints of modern times, Saint Teresa of Lisieux. In her use of language which at times could appear sentimental and even somewhat sugary, we find a depth of an extraordinary Christian life and, in particular, what Hans Urs von Balthasar identifies as the fundamental attitude of the little Carmelite saint: her passion for the truth, for the authentic, her instinctive rejection of every falsehood,17 also (and above all) in the religious field. Speaking about devotion to Mary, Saint Teresa of Lisieux, then at the end of her life, declared:
The priests should help us see (in Mary) practical virtues! It is all very well to speak about her privileges, but it is necessary first of all that one can imitate her. She prefers imitation to admiration, and her life was very simple (...). How much I would have liked to be a priest so that I could say everything I think about this! (...) There is no need to say things about her that are not true or that one doesn't know. (...) For a sermon about the Most Holy Virgin to please me and to be profitable for me it should make me see her real life, not an imaginary life: and I am sure that her real life was extremely simple. They make it so remote. It needs to be presented as something to imitate, highlighting her virtues, saying that she lived by faith as we do illustrating it from the Gospel.. We know very well that the Most Holy Virgin is Queen of heaven and of earth, but she is much more Mother than Queen .18
I believe that for us Salesians "men with a gift for synthesis," rather than them being alternatives, it is a question of not seeing them as opposites (as perhaps was necessary at the time and in the environment of Saint Teresina), but of integrating the two in such a way that contemplation enables us to admire in Mary "the marvellous workings of the grace of God" and at the same time encourages us to imitate her. God certainly does not work in us in the "same" way as in Mary, but that does not mean in a completely different way, but rather in a similar way.
In fact, contemplating in the two great Marian dogmas, that of the Immaculate Conception and that of the Assumption, what God in the infinitely free gift of his Love accomplished in Mary, we come to understand in faith what God wants to accomplish also in us, if we on our part live with the attitude of the Mother of God. We only have to think that "He chose us (in Christ) before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before him in love" (Eph 1,4); and that the Assumption of Mary constitutes "a sign of sure hope and solace for the pilgrim people of God" (cf. LG 68): in her is fully fulfilled what God wants to accomplish in us in a similar way. We need to stay for a moment with the idea of "imitation." For some Christians such a word could produce a certain uncomfortable feeling and even rejection, since it would seem to be reduced to an automatic repetition of actions and words. This is not so. Genuine imitation is totally different: it means taking the attitudes and the essential motivations, assimilating them personally and putting them into practice creatively. With regard to our imitation of Christ, we can recall some texts from Paul: it is a question of thinking like Christ (cf. 1 Cor 2,16), feeling like Christ (cf. Phil 2,5), in order to act like Christ. We can say something similar with regard to our contemplation and imitation of Mary the Immaculate Help of Christians.
As well as these reminders we find in the text of the Constitutions another expression describing our Marian devotion: "we develop a strong filial devotion to her" (C. 92): this invites us to to go beyond any purely sentimental and therefore weak devotional approach yet without falling into dry and sterile overfanciful conceits. The commentary on the Constitutions says: that this "not only implies our tenderness to her who is the "Mother most amiable" but also our courage in imitating her in her complete dedication to the will of God".19
Finally in this same clarification of our devotion, article 92 concludes, we: "celebrate her feasts to encourage a more convinced and personal imitation". It sems to me that in the texts of our Constitutions there is a perfect balance between the amazed contemplation of what God accomplished in Mary and the encouragement to imitate her as her children in her great virtues, especially in her fundamental threefold theological attitude of: faith-hope-charity.
2.3 "We recite the rosary each day"20 (C. 92)
Before speaking specifically about Mary as the model for our life of faith-hope-charity, I should like to say a word about our Marian prayer, in particular about the Holy Rosary. During my life as a Salesian, and even more as Rector Major, I have been able to observe with great joy and much admiration, the practice of saying the Holy Rosary on the part of so many confreres, especially the elderly ones, "with holy exaggeration," who with great simplicity and constancy throughout the day express in this way their union with God and their love for Blessed Mary. I would like to invite all the confreres to continue this extraordinary practice of piety, not by routine or because "we have to," but trying to appreciate ever more its significance and the motives behind it
Above all I believe that it is a question of a practice that perfectly combines vocal prayer with the contemplation of the mysteries of the life of Jesus, in company with and in imitation of Mary, who "kept all these things pondering them in her heart" (Lk 2,19; cf. 3,51b).
In his Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus, Paul VI wrote: "There has also been felt with greater urgency the need to point out once more the importance of a further essential element in the Rosary, in addition to the value of the elements of praise and petition, namely the element of contemplation. Without this the Rosary is a body without a soul, and its recitation is in danger of becoming a mechanical repetition of formulas (...) By its nature the recitation of the Rosary calls for a quiet rhythm and a lingering pace, helping the individual to meditate on the mysteries of the Lord's life as seen through the eyes of her who was closest to the Lord. In this way the unfathomable riches of these mysteries are unfolded". (MC, 47).
It is interesting to note that a very important area of current theology, especially in the field of Christology and Mariology, is trying to renew what is at the foundation of the holy Rosary, that is the "theology of the Mysteries". One of its main representatives declares: "Quite rightly in the modern age there has been a demand for the re-establishment of a "place" for the systematic theology of earlier times, that is the inclusion of the mysteria Christi, therefore of a practical Christology in the treatise on Christology which had become more and more abstract".21 And a little further on he states: "The liturgical movement, the renewal of theology in the spirit of the study of the Fathers (H. de Lubac, J. Danielou, H. U. von Balthasar), the rediscovery of dogmatic ecclesiology and its synthesis in Vatican II, of the 'history of salvation' and of a Christology in the context of the history of salvation (O. Cullmann; Constitution Dei Verbum of Vatican II); all of this means the start of a new way of looking at the 'mysteries' of Christ. Nevertheless, it would appear that there is a barrier preventing the Christian of today from meeting the person of Christ in his mysteries. We have to rediscover the mystery and the individual mysteries of Christ, in the heritage of the past, on the basis of newly built foundations".22
We hope that this little encouragement will help us to live with creative fidelity our devotion to Mary through the Holy Rosary, and also to introduce our young people to this kind of simple and practical prayer and meditation.
3 Mary, model of faith of hope and of love.
Given the wealth and variety of Marian attitudes presented for our contemplation and offered for our imitation (both in article 92 of the Constitution and in some of the others which mention the Mother of God), it would be opportune to gather them together around the three theological virtues, so as then to relate them to the three gospel values: obedience, poverty and chastity; to this end we will have recourse to biblical reflection, since - as Paul VI recalls in his Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus already quoted: "Today it is recognized as a general need of Christian piety that every form of worship should have a biblical imprint (...) Devotion to the Blessed Virgin cannot be exempt from this general orientation of Christian piety; indeed it should draw inspiration in a special way from this orientation in order to gain new vigour and sure help" (MC 30).
First of all a general observation: it is interesting to note the significance that the figure of Mary assumes, as the historical process of the New Testament unfolds. The process starts with the earliest texts - the letters of Saint Paul and Mark's gospel, which make only some passing reference, then moving on to Matthew and Luke who, from independent positions (in this section even more than in others!), both reflect on the human origins of Jesus in close connection with his mother Mary; until one arrives at the figure of the Woman, the new Eve, in John's works: the fourth gospel and the Apocalypse. We could say that to the extent that the Christian community enlightened by the Holy Spirit reflected more deeply on the mystery of Christ, so too was it discovering progressively the importance of Mary.
3.1 "Blessed are you who believed" (Lk 1,45)
"We contemplate and imitate her faith", says the article in the Constitutions we are considering. And in the context of the education in the faith of our young people, we read in article 34: "The Virgin Mary is present in this process as a mother. We make her known and loved as the one who believed" (C. 34). A question this text immediately poses for us is: do we evoke in our boys/girls a devotion to Mary which puts her faith in the foreground?
Faith we know is the fundamental attitude of the believer since as the Letter to the Hebrews says, "Without faith it is impossible to please God" (Heb 11,6). Elizabeth calls Mary "the one who believes" par excellence, congratulating her on this account and proclaiming her "blessed." This greeting takes us back to a moment in the life of Mary that we can call a "watershed," in other words the Annunciation. It is on that occasion that Mary, while becoming aware that God has a marvellous plan for her, the "full of grace" (no translation can do justice to the wealth of the original word in the gospel, kecharitomne!) is invited to collaborate freely with Him. The question put to the angel Gabriel: "How can this be since I have no husband?" is in no way an objection or an indication of doubt but rather an expression of her desire to correspond giving her full consent, as consciously and freely as possible to the divine invitation, In paradoxical terms, Mary freely and joyfully accepts (the optative mood is that of wishing!) to become the 'handmaid' of the Lord: "let it be to me according to your word"
I should like to underline some features to be discovered in this gospel text, located precisely in the fullness of time (cf. Gal 4,4):
Mary's faith is above all, trust in God. As I said on another occasion: "Mary does not entrust herself to God's plan but rather to the God of the plan". Faith is not, in the first place the acceptance of some objective reality that God reveals, but the unconditional assent, typical of love, to Him and to what He wants from us. "Ask me anything and I shall do it" is one of the typical expressions of love even on the human level; even more so in the relationship of a person with God. Something similar happens in our life: we do not entrust ourselves to God because we already know beforehand his plan for us, but for the reason that it is He who invites us to place ourselves in his hands, like a child in its mother's arms.
Mary's faith is expressed and takes practical form in her obedience. The great believers in the history of salvation are genuinely the obedient ones: beginning with our "father in faith" Abraham, right up to Mary. Saint Paul describes his apostolic vocation in this way: "through whom [Jesus] we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith" (Rm 1,5). A faith that does not lead us to seek God's will in order to then put it into practice in life is not genuinely Christian, because it would be reduced to a sterile intellectual exercise or to an inconclusive vague desire.
In Latin there is a significant convergence between three words: fides - fiducia - fidelitas. The faith understood as trust which leads to obeying God, as time passes, leads to and proves itself in fidelity: especially in those moments in which one either "lives by faith" or else everything collapses and breaks down. In this sense, the article in the Constitutions invites us to contemplate in Mary "fidelity at the hour of the cross."
It is precisely this faith-trust that is translated into obedience which marks the path that Mary follows from the Annunciation at Nazareth, to Jerusalem, to Golgotha, to the foot of the Cross. A journey undoubtedly difficult and sorrowful; because, we have to admit, accepting God unconditionally into her life in no way, humanly speaking, made things easy for Mary; on the contrary it complicated things tremendously. I shall underline two typical aspects of Mary's experience of faith:
- All her human expectations (starting from her plan of life with Joseph!) seem to go up in smoke: the birth of her Son in a place where the animals lived because "there was no place for them in the inn" (Lk 2,7); the sorrowful prophecy of Simeon just 40 days after the birth of her Son; the scene at twelve years of age in Jerusalem about which the gospel says:"But they did not understand what he meant" (Lk 2,50). As I wrote in a Letter some years ago, "Precisely because in any relationship with God it is always He who takes the initiative and decides on times and means, the relationship is never always the same. Mary learned this very soon: from the moment she gave birth to her son, she did not understand what was being said of him (Lk 2,18-19); the more she heard of the future of her son, the less did it coincide with what she had been told at the annunciation (Lk 1,30-33.35). The loss of the child Jesus in the Temple was a warning sign of a still more harrowing future (...) she had to live in the same house as a son who knew he was God but was for a time still submissive to her (Lk 2, 49-51). No wonder that Mary, who could not understand it all, "kept all these things, pondering them in her heart" (Lk 2,19)".23
- But above all it is the relationship of Jesus with his Mother that demonstrates Mary's faith journey: it would seem that during his public life the Son is distancing himself from her more and more; and we even find texts which give the impression that Jesus "plays down" this human motherhood: it is sufficient to recall Mk 3,31-35 (progressively "softened" by Mt 12,46ff and Lk 8,19-21) and Lk 11,27-28: "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it". There is certainly no question at all of any disrespect with regard to his Mother, but rather of showing her real greatness as the model of the one who "hears the word of God and puts it into practice," but there is no doubt about the price she had to pay in this process of growth in faith. Precisely because no one, like her, has been so "close" to the Son of God made Man, it was so painful to live this progressive distancing of the "son" so as to be able to grow more and more in faith in the "Son" with a capital letter, the Son of God.
And yet, recalling the words of Elizabeth, faith, of which Mary is the incomparable model, is the source of happiness: of the only real happiness. We find here an interesting inclusion between the first "beatitude" of the Gospel (certainly before those which the gospel gives in the sermon on the mount!) and the last, which appears in Jn 20,29: "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe!". In fact, the beatitude of the faith makes all the others possible: without it it would be absurd to declare that the poor, those who suffer, the despised are happy. There is a precise continuity between the first beatitude, in the singular, and the last one in the plural, as if to say: "blessed are those who are similar to Mary".
There is a small nuance that I should like to note. The translation of the words of Elizabeth fluctuate between two meanings, apparently similar, but in reality very different: "Blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled." or "Blessed is she who believed because the promise made her by the Lord will be fulfilled." The version which undoubtedly corresponds better to the real situation in Mary's life and also in ours, is the second: we are happy because we believe that what we believe in by faith will be fulfilled. But even here we have to add: not according to our expectations but according to God's plan, fully accepted in the "obedience of faith," the foundation of our consecrated obedience.
3.2 "The one who believed, who helps and who infuses hope" (C. 34).
Significantly, in the text of the Constitutions, in Mary as in the life of every Christian faith and hope although they are in themselves distinct are intimately connected, in that faith is based on the historical reality of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God made man, whereas hope looks towards the future: "For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope". (Rm 8,24).
This distinction can lead us to separate the two attitudes, producing that nostalgia for the past which paralyses us as regards the future. In the Letter convoking the GC26, I wrote: "A challenge, often felt as a threat, concerns the uncertainty of the future of consecrated life, especially with regard to the questions raised about its survival in certain parts of the world. The drop in numbers, lack of vocations and increasing age of the members create in the Congregations a lack of future prospects, the need for large-scale reshaping, and the search for a new cultural stability. To all this must sometimes be added a lack of vitality, vocational frailty, and painful desertions. It all leads to a lack of motivation, discouragement and paralysis. In such conditions it is difficult to discern a strategy of hope that will open up horizons, provide new paths to follow and ensure the necessary leadership"24
As the programme of the GC26 indicated, "to reawaken the heart of every Salesian" was a question of "living our faith" (cf. Heb 2,4; Rm 1,17; Gal 3,11) so as to nourish hope and make pastoral charity possible. The great danger in these days is not so much the loss of faith as rather a weakening of hope, the inability 'to dream' a promising future in the carrying out of our mission with the young. What happened to Gideon may happen to us. He certainly believed in everything that was the faith of the people in the past, but in no way did that give him courage for the future, rather the reverse:
"The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him: "The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valour." And Gideon said to him: "Pray sir, if the Lord is with us why has all this befallen us? And where are all his wonderful deeds which our fathers recounted to us, saying: 'Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?'. But now the Lord has cast us off and given us into the hand of Madian". (Judges 6,12-13).
It is precisely when we are living in difficult times that Mary Help of Christians, "Our Lady of difficult times," shows herself a Mother who "infuses hope." When we trace Mary's faith journey we discover that, in fact, it is precisely hope that is involved. She could have felt tempted to think: "Was it not all a dream, beautiful certainly but one that has vanished in the face to the hard reality of the present time?" In his Encyclical on hope Benedict XVI writes addressing Mary:
Then, when Jesus began his public ministry, you had to step aside, so that a new family could grow, the family which it was his mission to establish and which would be made up of those who heard his word and kept it (cf. Lk 11:27f). In this way you saw the growing power of hostility and rejection which built up around Jesus until the hour of the Cross, when you had to look upon the Saviour of the world, the heir of David, the Son of God dying like a failure, exposed to mockery, between criminals. The sword of sorrow pierced your heart. Did hope die? In this faith, which even in the darkness of Holy Saturday bore the certitude of hope, you made your way towards Easter morning. Thus you remain in the midst of the disciples as their Mother, as the Mother of hope. Holy Mary, Mother of God, our Mother, teach us to believe, to hope, to love with you.25
If at first we used to speak about a "blessing of faith." now we can speak about a "blessing of hope," which Mary also makes her own: "Happy is the man who does not lose faith in me!" (Mt 11,6). The description St Paul gives of Abraham, declaring that "in hope he believed against hope" (Rm 4,18), could be applied with greater reason to Mary: on the one hand, because the whole passage speaks about faith in the risen Jesus Christ (cf. Rm 4,24-25) and, on the other because, even more than in the case of Abraham, Mary in facing a situation before which humanly speaking" there is no room for hope, in other words death.
There is a very beautiful passage, in the form of a prayer which Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini offered his Archdiocese on the occasion of the year 2000. It is worth reading and meditating on; here I quote some of the more significant paragraphs.
You, O Mary learned to wait and to hope. With trust you awaited the birth of your Son announced by the angel, you continued to believe in the word of Gabriel even during the long time when you understood nothing, you hoped against all hope under the cross and finally at the tomb, you spent Holy Saturday infusing hope in the disciples feeling lost and disappointed. You obtain for them and for us the consolation of hope, that which could be called 'consolation of the heart'. You, O Mother of hope, waited patiently in peace on Holy Saturday and you teach us to look with patience and perseverance at what we are living through in the Saturday of history when many, even Christians, are tempted to no longer hope in eternal life or in the return of the Lord. The little faith we have in reading the Signs of God's presence in our history becomes impatience and flight, just as it did for the two disciples of Emmaus who in the face of some signals of the Risen Lord did not have the strength to wait to see how things turned out but left Jerusalem (cf. Lk 24,13ff). We pray to you O Mother of hope and of patience: like your Son to have mercy on us and to come to us and to seek us out on the path of our flights and impatience, as he did with the disciples of Emmaus. Ask that once again his word may warm our hearts (cf. Lk 24,32)".26
If faith is closely connected with and is expressed in obedience, can we not perhaps find an equally close connection between hope and poverty? In fact, only someone who does not feel satisfied can "hope"; and only someone who knows that "the best is yet to come" can really hope.
Significantly all the beatitudes reach out to a future of promises; at the same time they become serious pieces of advice (not really threats) for someone who having everything closes himself off from the future as indicated by hope (cf. Lk 6,24-26). In other words, only someone who recognises his own poverty and cultivates in himself the heart of a poor man can nurture hope! But this interior attitude does not arise from the awareness of the scarcity of his own possessions but from the greatness of those that we are waiting for. It is God awaited as the Supreme Good who makes us poor and therefore full of hope.
I think that here can be found an extremely rich seam to be mined contemplating our Father Don Bosco, whose unwavering faith in the providence of God and in the maternal protection of Mary is demonstrated in an extraordinary ability to hope: not in the passive sense of "waiting" for things to happen, but in the sense of getting down to work because " things happen,", an unequivocal proof of his pastoral love (of which we shall speak later). In Don Bosco we find an extraordinary ability to change difficulties and obstacles into challenges and reasons to continue to go ahead. As an authentic son of Don Bosco, the Salesian "does not give way to discouragement in face of difficulties and does not bewail his own times" (C. 17) and, as an apostle and educator, "proclaims to the young "new heavens and a new earth", awakening in them hope and the dedication and joy to which it gives rise" (C. 63).
3.3 Mary,"model of pastoral love" (C. 92).
If of the three theological virtues "the greatest of these is charity" (1 Cor 13,13), it is undoubtedly to charity that faith and hope lead, and certainly Mary is an eminent example and model of love. Taking up the words of Hans Urs von Balthasar in the title of his famous book, Only Love is worthy of faith", we can apply them in the first place to the Most Holy Virgin: only the Love of God gives meaning to her faith and nourishes her hope.
The words of our Constitutions in this regard, although brief, are particularly significant. Above all in relation to God: "Mary Immaculate Help of Christians leads us to the fullness of our offering to the Lord" (C. 92). This theological attitude however is inseparable from the love of our neighbour: "we contemplate and imitate her concern for the needy,"she "gives us courage for the service of our brethren", "model of prayer and pastoral love" (C. 92).
The gospel references are well-known: in the first place the intimate rapport (not only because in the text of Luke it immediately follows) between the experience of God in the Annunciation and the journey which "in haste" Mary makes to visit and be of service to her cousin Elizabeth. Rather: the "sign" which the angel Gabriel gives the Virgin is not so much a convincing theoretical confirmation such as to minimise her confidence in God, as rather an invitation to the mission, "to set out" to take to Elizabeth and her family (including the child not yet born, John the Baptist) the One who is the Bearer of Joy, Jesus.27
Contemplating Mary's "concern for those in need" we spontaneously think of the account in St John's gospel of the wedding feast at Cana. Without taking anything away from the symbolic and theological significance of the first "sign" worked by Jesus according to the fourth gospel (already highlighted by the first Fathers of the Church down to the latest exegetes and scholars), we should not fail to recognise its more simple and immediate significance. In it we can discover not only the solicitude and concern for the needs of others, but also Mary's sensitivity as much in regard to those responsible for the situation, as to Jesus himself. And it is not out of place to emphasise the "Salesian" aspect of this miracle: the first "sign" of Jesus is dedicated to the joy of the festivities.
But above all, regarding this central aspect of the life of Mary and of every Christian, we cannot limit ourselves to isolated quotations or incomplete aspects. "For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men". (Tit 2,11); "The kindness and love of God our saviour for mankind were revealed (filantropia, in the Greek text)"(Tit 3,4). If we take seriously the fact that God's plan of salvation is nothing other than the definitive and full manifestation of his Love, and if Mary collaborated in a singular manner in our salvation, we need to examine further this collaboration from the perspective of Love.
Quite rightly present day theology starting from the unanimous testimony of the New Testament, insists in placing the origin of our salvation in the loving Will of the Father, who by the work of the Holy Spirit has sent us His Son born of Mary; and it gives great emphasis to the Trinitarian nature of the Paschal Mystery. With wonder and joy the Easter Proclamation addressing the Father declares (evoking Rm 8,32):
Father how wonderful your care for us! How boundless your merciful love! To ransom a slave you gave away your Son!
From this point of view, to the "knosis" of the Son, who "strips" himself of his divine condition, assuming the human condition, making himself obedient unto death, death on the cross (cf. Phil 2,5-8), corresponds the "knosis" of the Father, who gives us everything in Him (cf. Rm 8,32).
At the crucial moment of Jesus' life when "having loved his own who were in the world he loved them to the end" (Jn 13,1), given that "A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends" (Jn 15,13), we find Mary at the foot of the cross: we have three verses with a surprising force (Jn 19,25-27).
We are accustomed - rightly so - to consider this text as the "testament" of Jesus, who entrusts to the beloved disciple the symbol of all the men and women who believe in Him, his own Mother: "Behold your Mother!" and this fills us with extraordinary joy. But what is not always taken sufficiently into consideration is what it means saying to his Mother: "Woman, behold your son!", inviting her to share to the full his own renunciation ("knosis"), the total emptying of himself. In fact, the hardest sacrifice that can be asked of a mother is that she accept another in the place of her own son. Here we find the most radical expression of the Holy Virgin Mary's faith, hope (against all hope) and love. I make so bold as to refer to the Mother of the Lord the expression in John's gospel (Jn 3,16) regarding God the Father: "Mary loved the world so much that she gave her only Son".
In a way similar to the other two theological virtues, here we find the most profound and enriching significance of our consecrated chastity. Speaking about chastity does not mean, in the first place, speaking about "renunciation"; but rather - as article 63 of our Constitutions says - of "love that becomes a gift," following the example of our Father: "Don Bosco lived chastity as a love for God and for the young which has no limits" (C. 81). I should like to conclude this section with one of the most beautiful expressions in our Rule of Life: the Salesian "turns with filial trust to Mary the Immaculate Help of Christians, who helps him to love as Don Bosco did" (C. 84).
4 "Through the motherly intervention of mary the holy Spirit raised up saint John Bosco" (C. 1).
In the Salesian "Credo" in which are reflected our deepest convictions, the relationship between the Holy Spirit and Mary is inseparable. This fully corresponds with the biblical revelation in the New Testament in which, in the first place we find a very significant "pneumatological inclusion". In fact, the first of the texts in which Mary appears (Lk 1,35; At 1,14), has as "protagonist," in a certain sense the Holy Spirit. In the first it is said that it is the Spirit who makes possible the incarnation of the Son of God: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you"; for this reason in the profession of faith of the Church, we proclaim: "By the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary and became man." In the last - the Acts - it is said that after the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, the apostolic community and "Jesus' brethren" (Acts 1,14; cf. Ap 12,17) were waiting for the Paraclete, gathered around Mary.
One of the illustrious founding teachers of our University in Rome, Fr Domenico Bertetto, writes:
In her life [Mary's ] we can note three epiphanies of the Spirit, with particular sanctifying effectiveness: the Immaculate Conception, which, from the first moment of her earthly life makes the Person of the future Mother of God, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, Who dwells in Her in order to prepare her for her future mission; the Annunciation, in which Mary Most Holy is overshadowed, as the new Ark of the Covenant, by the Holy Spirit in view of the human conception of the Son of God; Pentecost, in which Mary implores and enjoys the visible effusion of the Holy Spirit the soul of the Mystical Body.28
This is an interpretation that goes back to the Fathers of the Church, in reference to the text of Jn 19, according to which "the Church comes to birth at the foot of the cross". Jesus dying, "consigned the Spirit" (paredoke to pneuma), uniting in this way Easter and Pentecost; here we find once again, Mary the Mother of Jesus and the Mother of the Church represented by the "beloved disciple."
I like to consider this rapport between the Holy Spirit and Mary in the light of another text from our Constitutions, article 98. It is the mention of the Holy Virgin Mary in the context of formation; and this it is worth recalling once again does not refer to a stage in life ("initial formation") nor does it deal with a "dimension" parallel to others, but embraces them all: it is a matter of understanding the whole life of the Salesian, in all its dimensions, in the key of formation, that is to say: being conformed to Christ Pastor-Educator, in the way our Father was: "[every Salesian] enlightened by the person of Christ and by his gospel lived according to Don Bosco's spirit".
It is important to note that article 98 presents the two principal characteristics of our charism: pastor and educator of the young, before mentioning the two forms of living the same consecrated Salesian vocation: the lay and the priestly. Sometimes there can be an unfortunate misunderstanding in this regard as if only the Salesian priest were a pastor, and the Salesian brother on the other hand only an educator: this is a direct undermining of the very identity of being a Salesian!
In this context, this reference to Mary, precisely as Mother and Teacher, not only reminds us of the dream at nine years of age and her presence in the life of Don Bosco, but goes much further: it refers to the fundamental mission of Mary as Mother and Teacher of Jesus, the Son of God made man. The text seems to allude to the "gestation" of the Salesian ("tends to becomes") as such: in the way in which as Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit brought to the light the Saviour, so also she brings to the light each one of us by the power of the same Spirit, as educators and pastors of the young.
I should like to conclude this letter inviting the Congregation, and each confrere in particular, to meditate and to "incarnate" in his life the prayer that we address every day to the most Holy Virgin Mary. It is a valuable text, a veritable plan of life, which helps us each day to renew the meaning of our Salesian life in "a Marian key". It is a prayer which is at the same time simple and profound, in which, while we profess our love "filial and strong" for her, we commit ourselves to putting into practice the "programme" of our vocation: the Salesian mission.
Sharing the insistence (theologically based) of my beloved predecessor Fr Egidio Vigan about the meaning of consecration as a work exclusively of God and not as a human act, not even in relation to Him (cf. C. 24: "You consecrated me to yourself ... I offer myself totally to you"), I recall that here we are not dealing with a prayer of consecration to Mary, but of affectionate entrustment, like a small child who abandons himself to the loving arms of his Mother.
Invoking Mary Immaculate Help of Christians (C. 92), we recall the title with which the Vatican Council II presents her: "Mother of the Church" (cf. Ap 12; LG 62ss). In the Church the Holy Spirit raised up, "through the motherly intervention of Mary" (C. 1), Don Bosco, and through him the Congregation and the Salesian Family. As she was for our Father, Mary continues to be for us "inspiration and support" (in article 8 of the Constitutions we read: showed Don Bosco his field of labour was the constant guide and support). Therefore it is not a question merely of an attitude of personal devotion without doubt, laudable and to be recommended but of the contemplation of Mary in God's plan of salvation, and in particular in the putting into practice of our mission. Therefore we are promising Mary "faithful to our Salesian vocation - to work always."
The mission does not consist in "doing things," it cannot be reduced to spending oneself in a general sort of way for the benefit of the young, especially the poorest, in reality it is a matter of cultivating genuine "all-round development," from the perspective of the apostolic mission, which determines as its ultimate purpose their salvation (cf. C. 12). "For the greater glory of God and the salvation of the world": is what I recalled in the Letter convoking the GC26 as the secret (of Don Bosco) regarding the purpose of his activity: "When I dedicated myself to this part of the sacred ministry I intended to consecrate all my labours to the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls; to work to produce good citizens for this earth so that one day they might be worthy inhabitants of heaven."29 Evidently, "promising" Mary this, and through her intercession the Lord of the harvest, is at the same time a humble request: "without me you can do nothing", the Lord Jesus tells us. Playing with the words somewhat, it is not a 'promethean promise' since in truth we know - as we say at the end of the prayer - that by serving God, we become useful to Him, not just servants: As He himself wanted (cf. Jn 15,15).
Since the Salesian mission is a process that comes into being from faith and from obedience to God, it is expressed in prayer and as prayer. Having recourse to the motherly intercession of Mary we implore her aid for all that we "carry in out hearts" with our particular charismatic sensitivity (cf. C. 11): the Church, the Congregation and the Salesian Family, in particular the young and among these in a special way the poor, those to whom the Salesian mission is primarily addressed. Finally we invoke her for the whole of the human race. This "priority of prayer" reminds us of the example of Jesus: before giving his life for everyone, he begs the Father for everyone and makes the simplest and most profound request that can flow from a Heart at the same time divine and human: "Father I want those you have given me to be with me where I am " (Jn17,24). No one is excluded from the salvation of Christ, nor from his prayer. And therefore neither from our apostolic prayer.
As we continue, so we invoke Mary as Mother and Teacher (cf. C. 98): we ask Her that as she was for Don Bosco so she might be for each of us. I believe that we can reflect on this part of the prayer in the light of the dream of the ten diamonds, which constitutes an 'icon' for the next 27th General Chapter: the front part of the cloak ("kindness and wholehearted service of others") is supported by the back part which probably is not noticed at first sight: "union with God, his purity, humility and poverty." This makes it possible to put into practice our mission, understood precisely as "loving kindness" and "total dedication," and not simply as a strategy or educative-pastoral tactic aimed at achieving our aims.
Both parts of the cloak are held together by the two diamonds of work and temperance: and this immediately reminds us of the next General Chapter, focused on a Salesian radical approach to the gospel.
Concluding these fundamental attitudes in which Don Bosco is our model, we cannot possibly forget the ecclesial dimension: "loyalty to the Pope and to the Bishops of the Church," nowadays more than ever necessary.
The conclusion of our prayer takes us back to the beginning and clearly rounds it off. If the mission has as it purpose the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls, and our work is the service of God "with fidelity and generosity until death," its ultimate aim cannot be limited to a human or earthly satisfation: we can find it only "in our Father's home." And here too we find our special Salesian touch with two key words: joy and life together, which can be found to the full only in God and in eternal life. My dear confreres, I offer you this letter which I have had in my heart for quite some time trusting that it will be a strong stimulus for a renewal that is spiritual and profound, personal, and at community and congregational level, to which the Lord is calling us through the celebration of the Bicentenary of the birth of our beloved Don Bosco and that of the 27th General Chapter. Like the beloved disciple let us take Mary the Lord's gift from the cross, and take her home. May she be as she was for Don Bosco, Mother and Teacher.
To Her Mary the Immaculate Help of Christians, to her motherly care and guidance I entrust each and everyone of you..
Fr Pascual Chvez Villanueva, SDB