My dear brothers and sisters,
We are concluding this series of Salesian Family Spirituality Days by giving praise and thanks to the Lord who has brought us together, let us hear his voice and is sending us back home, to our communities and works with the mission of pointing out, as did John the Baptist, for young people the Christ who is amongst us. Jesus is the only one who can fill their lives with joy, meaning, commitment, because he is “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”.
Over these days we have reflected on the fundamental element of human life, and more so Christian life, meaning our vocation to holiness through love. This is also the basis for the Salesian vocation and mission: the spirituality, with love at its core, that Don Bosco spelt out as pastoral and educative charity, since its purpose it to lead young people to the fullness of life in Christ. This is a kind of life with a theological characteristic, or better, it is God's life in us through faith, hope and charity, ultimately reproducing in us the image of His Son, as Don Bosco knew how to do at Valdocco.
But we have also seen that the holiness which is our common vocation needs to be lived within the Salesian Family, according to the diversity of our state of life. The beautiful mosaic of Salesian holiness is the most splendid proof that Don Bosco was a great mystic of action, a wise spiritual guide, and his was a school of holiness for himself, his mother, his closest co-workers, his first successors, his boys, Mother Mazzarello, and following them many others have made Salesian spirituality a sure path to holiness.
The word of God that we have listened to insists that life is a vocation and that everyone has a mission to carry out: the Servant of Yahweh has the vocation of being the servant of God and his mission is to be a “light for the peoples” and to bring salvation to all. Paul felt called to be an “apostle of Christ”, with the specific mission of proclaiming Christ crucified. John the Baptist was born to be the precursor of Christ and from his mother's womb received the splendid mission of preparing for his coming, recognising him in the midst of the people and pointing him out to his disciples as “the Lamb of God”, filled with the Holy Spirit, the Son of God recognised by the Father, and of witnessing to him by word, life and death.
We too dear brothers and sisters have a vocation as members of the Salesian Family: to be servants of God, apostles of Christ, his precursors with the beautiful mission of presenting him, identifying him, to the world. The Salesian mission is none other than that of being believers who make the yearning of the Holy Spirit felt wherever there are seeds of life, of good, of truth, of beauty; believers who discover God's traces and provident love in creation, in history; who let young people see the presence of Christ in the Church, the poor, the needy and the marginalised, and point him out as the One who is seeking their hearts, and can satisfy their deepest desires, will not disappoint their expectations, and encourages them to become his missionary disciples, as Pope Francis asks us to be.
Without John's testimony Jesus would have passed through the crowd unrecognised. What happened then also happens today, where God's traces in the world seem to have been lost, where we experience the “silence of God” and there is the illusion of being able to live without his presence by our side, his loving presence, his effort to save us. The Baptist had the grace of living while waiting for the Christ, and being ready to receive him with alert mind and vigilant heart, and then recognising him when he came, amidst the crowd that had come to find him. Because he preached conversion, the Baptist had the courage to be the first to identify Jesus as the conqueror of sin and was brave enough not let what he knew go by in silence. So, recognised by the Baptist, Jesus could begin to manifest himself amongst men.
Nevertheless the Gospel does not only want to remind us of John's merit in awaiting and identifying Jesus as the Lamb of God, but also wants to draw our attention to the need for Christian witness so that Jesus can be recognised and followed in our generation, also in need of redemption. It would have served for little if God had become incarnate as Mary's son if Jesus had not been recognised as the Son of God. We should not forget what is written in the Prologue of John's Gospel: “he came amongst his own, and his own did not accept him”. This happens when we think we have no need of Christ and want to substitute him with progress in science, technology, economy and especially “the culture of wellbeing, which, as Pope Francis said so frankly, leads us to thinking of ourselves, make us insensitive to the cry of others, and makes us live in a bubble, beautiful but counting for nothing, an illusion of what is futile, temporary, leading to indifference to others, and indeed leads to the globalisation of indifference”.
Well then, had Jesus not counted on John the Baptist's availability, he would not have been presented as the Lamb, the man filled with the Spirit, the Son of God. By affirming Jesus' mission, John accepted that he must decrease: by pointing to Jesus as the Lamb who takes away sin, he sent all those who had come to see him in His direction.
Today as yesterday, or rather today more than yesterday, Jesus needs people to make him known. There is a need for people who make God's presence in the world known.
Here is our Salesian mission, dear brothers and sisters: being people who render testimony to Jesus for young people, especially the poorest from a social and economic point of view, also emotionally needy, at risk because they could lose a sense of life's meaning, lose hope and their future. We should not forget that the effort to chase God out of our lives will never turn the earth into paradise. Indeed it makes our work more difficult, our life more fragile, the lives of young people more difficult and our entire earth less of a paradise.
This pedagogical choice of God's is an interesting one - to be preceded by precursors. It is a choice that bears abundant fruit when the people chosen carry out their role fully, identify with God's will. This is what Don Bosco did in history as a believer “as if he could see the Invisible” and channelled all his energies towards a single cause: the salvation of the young, and to realise this mission he set up every kind of initiative and work, amongst them the founding of the Salesian Family, with no other purpose than: “Da mihi animas”.
I am certain that vocations for all our Institutes will multiply, will be strong and bear more fruit if the young – boys and girls – who frequent our works or whom we look after in our many activities find in us a John the Baptist who points out the Lord to them, who lets them know his profound identity and guides them to follow him.
What a beautiful mission the Lord has entrusted us with! Let us carry it out joyfully, convincingly and generously. Christ is everyone's right. Let us point to his presence amongst us and lead young people to encounter him personally.
Rome, Salesianum – 19 January 2014
Fr Pascual Chávez V., sdb
Fr Pascual Chávez Villanueva
We have seen how the ”type” of spiritual person Don Bosco was: profoundly human and totally open to God; in harmony between these two dimension he lived out a plan of life that he had taken up with determination: at the service of the young. As Don Rua says: “He took no step, he said no word, he took up no task that was not directed to the saving of the young.” If one examines his plan for the young one sees that it had a “heart,”, an element that gave it meaning, originality: “Truly the only concern of his heart was for souls”.
There is therefore a further practical explanation for the unity of his life: through his dedication to young people Don Bosco wanted to give them an experience of God. On his part this was not just generosity or philantropy but pastoral charity. This is called the “core and synthesis” of the Salesian spirit.
“Core and synthesis” is a telling and demanding affirmation. It is easier to list the various features, even the basic ones of our spirituality, without committing ourselves to any sort of hierarchical relationship, which would choose one as being the principal one. In this case it is necesary to enter into the spirit of Don Bosco or of the Salesian in order to discover the explanation for his way of doing things.
To understand what is involved in pastoral charity we take three steps: we look first at charity, then at the specification “pastoral”, and finally at the ‘Salesian’ characteristics of pastoral charity.
One of the sayings of St Francis of Sales is this: ““The human being is the perfection of the universe; the spirit is the perfection of the human being; love that of the spirit; and charity that of love”. This is a universal approach that places four modes of existence on an ascending scale: being, human being, love as a form of being superior to any other of its expressions, charity as the highest expression of love.
Love represents the high point, the culmination of the maturing process of any individua Christian or not. The educational process sets out to lead a person to being capable of self-donation, to a selfless generous love.
It is psychologists, and not just Jesus Christ who say that a fully developed, fulfilled and happy individual is capable of generosity and can manage to live a love that is not just concupiscence, in other words for the personal satisfaction of being loved. Various forms of neurosis and personality disorders arise from being self-centred and all the usual treatments tend to open people up and to help them to concentrate on others.
Charity is then the main proposal in every spirituality: it is not just the first and the main commandment, and therefore the main programme for the spiritual journey, but also the source of the strength to make progress. There is an abundance of reflections on this especially in Saint Paul (2 Cor 12, 13-14) and Saint John (1 Jn 4,7-21). Let us take just a few of the main points.
The awakening of charity within us is a mystery and a grace; it is not a human initiative but a participation in the divine life and and the effect of the presence of the Spirit. We could not love God had He not Himself loved us first, making us feel Him and giving us a taste and the intelligence to respond to Him. We could not even love our neighbour and see in him an image of God without having a personal experience of the love of God.
“The love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given us.” (Rm 5,5). On the other hand even human love cannot be explained rationally, and for this reason it is said to be blind. No one can say exactly why one person falls in love with another.
From its nature of being a participation in the divine life and a mysterious communion with God, charity creates in us the capacity to discover and to perceive God: religion without charity distances us from God. Authentic love, even that which is human, takes those who are at a distance towards the faith and a religious setting. The parable of the good Samaritan highlights the relationship between religion and charity to the advantage of the latter.
Saint John in his first letter will sum this up as he writes: “My dear people let us love one another since love comes from God; and everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God, anyone who fails to love can never have known God, because God is love” (1 Jn 4,7-8). In saint John the word “to know” means “to experience”, rather than to have precise ideas: whoever loves experiences God.
Since charity is a gift that allows us to know God by experience, it also enables us to enjoy Him in the beatific vision: “Now we are seeing a dim reflection in a mirror; but then we shall be seeing face to face. The knowledge that I have now is imperfect but then I shall know as fully as I am known” (1 Cor 13,12).
Therefore charity is not only a special virtue but the form and substance of all the virtues and that which constitutes and builds up a person: “If I have all the eloquence of men or of angels...if I have the gift of prophecy... if I give away all that I possess...if I have faith in all its fulness, to move mountains...but am without love it will do me no good whatever” (1 Cor 13,1-3).
For this reason, charity and its fruits are things that last, impervious to time: “Love does not come to an end. But if there are gifts of prophecy the time must come when they must fail, or the gift of languges, it will not continue for ever, and knowledge, for this the time will come when it will fail. But once perfection comes all imperfect things will disappear” (1 Cor 13,8-10). This applies not only to life but to our history. That which is built on love remains and builds up ourselves, our community, our society; whereas that which is based and built on hatred and selfishness destroys itself.
Therefore charity is the greatest and the root of all the charisms, through which the Church is built up and operates. It is after having explained the purpose and the role of the various charisms that Saint Paul introduces his discourse on charity with these words: “Be ambitious for the higher gifts. And I am going to show you a way that is better than any of them” (1 Cor 12,31).
It is the principal charism, even when it is expressed in everyday things and has nothing extraordinary or showy about it: “Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous ; love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish, it does not take offence and is not resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins but delights in the truth. It is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes” (1 Cor 13,4-6).
For Don Bosco and Mother Mazzarello, as for all the saints, charity is central. It is the constant guiding force of their lives. It is right to know this and to say so. Every so often in fact a member of the Salesian Family experiences this and discovers the importance of charity in an ecclesiastical movement after having lived for many years the spirituality of our Salesian charism. It seems as though before this they had never heard anyone speak about it effectively nor been able to live life intensely.
In the dream of the diamonds – which is a parable of the Salesian spirit – charity is placed in front and precisely over the heart of the personage: “Three of those diamonds he wore on his chest...the third over his heart bore the word Charity”. In this dream what is placed in the front is the fundamental part of our spirit.
In addition, charity is recommended by our founders in a variety of ways: as the basis of our life in community, as a pedagogical principle, source of piety, condition for balance and personal happiness, the practice of particular virtues such as friendship, good manners, the sacrifice of one’s own interests..
Learning how to love is the purpose of consecrated life, which is nothing other than “a way that starts from love and leads to love”. The combination of practices, and discipline, of norms and spiritual teaching is intended to obtain a single objective: to make us capable of welcoming others and putting ourselves at their sevice with generosity.
Charity has many expressions: maternal love, married love, charitable works, compassion, mercy, love for one’s enemies, forgiveness. In the history of holiness such expressions cover all the areas of human life. We Salesians (SDB) and Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (FMA) as in general all the groups of the Salesian Family, speak about a “pastoral” charity.
This expression appears many times in the Constitutions or Statutes of the various groups, in documents and talks. The meaning of pastoral charity is explained very well in the Second Vatican Council when referring to those who devote themselves to education to the faith it says: “They are gifted with sacramental grace enabling them to execise a perfect role of pastoral charity through prayer, sacrifice and preaching...They are enabled to lay down their life for their sheep fearlessly and made a model for their flock can lead the Church to ever-increasing holiness through their own example”.
The word “pastoral” indicates a specific form of charity; it immediately calls to mind the figure of Jesus the Good Shepherd. Not only, however, his way of acting: kindness, seeking the lost one, dialogue, forgiveness; but also and above all the substance of his ministry: to reveal God to every man and every woman. It is more than evident how different this form of charity is to other forms whose preferential focus is on particular needs of people: health, food, work.
The element typical of pastoral charity is the proclamation of the Gospel, education to the faith, the formation of the Christian community, bringing the yeast of the Gospel to the situation. This therefore requires being totally available, devoted to the salvation of humanity, as shown by Jesus: of all men and women, of each and even of a single one. Don Bosco, and our Salesian Family following in his footsteps express this charity with the phrase: Da mihi animas, cetera tolle.
The great Institutes and the major currents of spirituality have summed up the heart of their own charism in a brief phrase: “For the greater glory of God” the Jesuits say; “Peace and good” is the greeting of the Francicans; “Prayer and work” is the programme of the Benedictines; “Contemplate and pass on to others the things contemplated” is the norm of the Dominicans. The witnesses from the early days and the subsequent reflections of the Congregation have led to the conviction that the expression that sums up Salesian spirituality is precisely “Da mihi animas, cetera tolle”.
Certainly the expression is frequently found on Don Bosco’s lips and had an influence on his spiritual attitude. It is the saying that impressed Dominic Savio in the office of Don Bosco still a young priest (34 years of age) and moved him to make a comment that is still famous: “I understand; here you do business not with money but with souls. I hope my soul will have its share in this business.”. For this boy it was clear therefore that Don Bosco was offering him not only education and a home but above all the opportunity for spiritual growth.
The expression has been taken up in the Liturgy: “inspire us with that same apostolic charity to seek the salvation of our neighbour and so serve you the one and only good.” . And this was quite right given that Don Bosco had this intention in mind with the foundation of his institutes: “The purpose of this Society as far as its members are concerned is nothing other than an invitation to come together urged on by a saying of Saint Augustine: divinorum divinissimum est in lucrum animarum operare”.
In Salesian history we read: “On the evening of 26 January 1854, we gathered in Don Bosco’s room and he suggested that with the help of the Lord and St Francis of Sales we should first test ourselves by performing deeds of charity toward our neighbour... From that evening on those who agreed – or would later agree – to this were called Salesians.”
After Don Bosco, each of the Rector Majors, as authoritative witnesses has reaffirmed the same conviction. It is an interesting fact that all of them have been concerned to repeat it with a unanimity that leaves no room for doubt.
Don Michael Rua affirmed at the canonical process for the beatification and canonisation of Don Bosco: “He left it to others to accumulate wealth .....and to chase after honours; Don Bosco really had nothing other at heart than souls: with deeds and not only his words he said: Da mihi animas, cetera tolle”.
Don Paul Albera, who spent many years with Don Bosco and knew him well, declares “The driving force of his whole life was to work for souls to which he devoted himself entirely...The salvation of souls one might say was his only reason for living”.
Even more tellingly also because it highlights Don Bosco’s profoundest motivations, Don Philip Rinaldi saw in the motto “Da mihi animas”, the secret of his love, the power and the ardour of his charity”.
As regards current awareness after the re-thinking of Salesian life in the light of the Council, as the Rector Major Fr Egidio Viganò declares: “It is my conviction that there is no brief expression that sums up better the Salesian spirit than that chosen by Don Bosco himself: Da mihi animas, cetera tolle. It indicates a fervent union with God which enables us to penetrate the mystery of His trinitarian life manifested in history in the missions of the Son and of the Spirit as the infinite Love ad hominum salutem intentus”.
Where does this expression or motto come from, and what precise meaning can it have today? I say ‘today’ because nowadays the word ‘soul’ does not mean nor give the same idea as it did in previous ages.
This motto of Don Bosco is found in Genesis, chapter 14, verse 21. Four kings form an alliance and wage war against five others, among whom is the king of Sodom. When the city was being sacked Lot the nephew of Abram and his family are among those taken prisoner. Abram is told about this and having armed the men he sets out with his tribe. He defeats the invaders, recovers the loot and rescues the people. Then in his gratitude the king of Sodom says to him: “Give me the people the rest is for you.” The presence of Melchisedek, a priest whose origin is unknown, gives a particular religious and messianic significance to the story, especially on account of the blessing he gives to Abram: a situation therefore anything but “spiritual”. However, in the request of the king there is a clear distinction between the “people” and the “rest”, the things.
Don Bosco gave the expression a personal interpretation according to the religious-cultural view of the last century. “Anima” indicates a man’s spiritual quality, the centre of his freedom and the reason for his personal dignity, where he is most open to God When Don Bosco gives the biblical text an accommodated, allegorical, prayerful, liturgical interpretation, the expression from Gen. 14,21 takes on particular characteristics: animas are the men and women of his day, they are the real youngsters he is dealing with; cetera tolle means detachment from things and creatures, a detachment which in him is certainly not equivalent to the annihilation of self, the annihilation in God, as for example the contemplative theologians or mystics understand it. For him detachment is a state of mind that is necessary for the most absolute freedom and availability with regard to the demands of the apostate itself.
The links between these two meanings, that of the Bible and that given by Don Bosco, in our own culture point to very practical choices.
In the first place pastoral charity takes the individual person into consideration, and is concerned with the whole person; first and foremost it is concerned with developing all the person’s potential. Giving “things’ comes later; providing some service is in view of the development of the person’s conscience and sense of his own personal dignity.
In addition, a charity which above all considers the person is guided by a "vision” of that person. who does not live by bread alone: he has immediate needs but also infinite aspirations. He wants material things but also spiritual values. According to the expresion of St Augustine “He is made by God, athirst for Him”. Therefore the salvation that pastoral charity seeks and offers is that which is full and definitive. Everything else in ordered in relation to that: charitable works to education; this to religious initiation; religious initiation to the life of grace and to communion with God.
In other words it could be said that in our education or development we give the first place to the religious dimension: not for the sake of proselyism, but because we are convinced that religion is the deepest resource for a person’s development. In a time of secularism, this approach is not easy to implement.
The saying “da mihi animas” also points to some form of method: in the formation or the re-generation of an individual it is necessary to re-awaken his spiritual powers, his conscience, his openness to God, thoughts about his eternal destiny. Don Bosco’s pedagogy is a pedagogy of the soul, of the supernatural. Once this has been realised the real work of education can begin. The rest is really background or preparatory work.
Don Bosco clearly says this in his biography of Michael Magone. This boy comes in off the streets into the Oratory. He is happy, and from a human point of view a good lad: he is spontaneous and sincere, he plays, studies and makes friends. There is only one thing missing: his understanding of the life of grace, of a relationship with God and how to achieve it. From a religious point of view he is ignorant or inattentive. He breaks into tears when he compares himself with his companions and recognises that this is missing. Then Don Bosco speaks to him. From that moment the educational journey described in the biography begins: the awareness and the adoption of his own religious-Christian dimension.
There is therefore an ascetical process for someone moved by pastoral charity: “Cetera tolle”, “Leave all the rest behind”. One has to give up many things in order to preserve the main objective; many things can be entrusted to others, and many activities can be left to one side so as to have the time and be available to open up the youngsters to God. And this not only in one’s personal life but also in the programmes and the apostolic works themselves.
“Whoever examines the life of Don Bosco, following his thought processes and exploring the results finds a matrix: salvation in the Catholic Church the only repository of the means of salvation. He feels the challenge of abandoned, poor, aimless young people awaken in him the urgent need for education in order to enable these youngsters to take their proper place in the world and in the Church through methods using gentleness and love. Yet with a tension that has its origin in his desire for the eternal salvation of the young person.”
As a summary we can take up again the fundamental ideas of our reflection.
 SDB Constitutions 21
 SDB Constitutions 21
 Cf. SDB Constitutions 10; FMA Constitutions 80
 Cf. Saint Francis of Sales, Treatise on the love of God, Vol II, Book X, c. 1
 BM XV, 148 (The whole of the famous "Dream")
 Cf SDB Constitutions 196
 LG 41
 Cf. Jn 10
 J. Bosco, Life of Dominic Savio, in Dominic Savio ed T O’Brien Guild Publications London, 1969, chap VIII, 10.
 Cf. Prayer for the Liturgy on the Solemnity of Saint John Bosco
 MB VII, 622.
 BM V, 8.
 P. Brocardo, Don Bosco profondamente uomo - profondamente santo, LAS, Roma 1985, 84.
 Ibid, 85.
 P. Stella, Don Bosco nella storia della religiosità cattolica, vol. II, Zurigo, PAS Verlag, Zurigo, 13.
Fr Aldo Giraudo sdb
Don Bosco was a most prolific writer. But just the same, he is not considered to be a “spiritual author” in the specific sense of that term. Amongst the quantity and variety of his works and writings we do not find texts similar to the autobiographical works of Saint Teresa of Avila, St John of the Cross or Saint Therese of Lisieux. Nor did he write treatises or handbooks of spiritual life like the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, the Spiritual Combat by Lorenzo Scupoli, the Introduction to the Devout Life by Francis de Sales, the Exercise of Perfection and Christian Virtues by Alonso Rodriguez or the ascetical works of St Alphonsus Maria Liguori. But it is just as certain that Don Bosco, Christian educator of the young, founder of families of consecrated men and women, was a man of profound inner faith and a true spiritual guide. Those who were formed by him recognise this. It is demonstrated by the broad and keen flourishing of Salesian holiness over time.
To be honest he has left us substantial testimony of his spiritual teaching found throughout any number of his writings and documented in recollections or notes collected by his disciples. This is why he can be considered a “teacher of spiritual life” in the specific sense of that word: due to his prolific activity as someone who formed saints, as a spiritual director of communities and individuals, founder of Congregations, someone who initiated a spiritual movement with very distinctive features and one that has become a fruitful school of Christian holiness.
So I believe it is opportune to offer some considerations and six keys of interpretation that can help us understand Don Bosco's spirituality and, in particular, benefit from the anthology of texts prepared for the third year of preparation for the Bicentenary of our Father's birth.
1. In the field of the history of spirituality, if we compare the obvious features of his teaching and practice with other schools of spirituality, we find it is clearly in harmony with the teachings of St Francis de Sales, and we find substantial elements assimilated from St Joseph Cafasso, the moral and ascetical teachings of St Alphonsus Liguori, as well as classical spirituality and Jesuit literature. Then in his apostolate, especially his outstanding family style of charity towards the young, we glimpse a number of contacts with St Philip Neri and other holy educators in the Catholic (counter)Reformation period.
Don Bosco ought not be confused with any of them, though. It is true that through his Introduction to the Devout Life and the Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales passed on, redeveloped the substance of Italian spirituality in a devout form of Humanism, emphasising the beauty of piety as source of spiritual joy; he kept a balance between human will and grace; he loved to keep practices simple so they could be available to ordinary people. The Italian school of spirituality between 1500 and 1600 also had a vigorous approach coming from its awareness of a “double law” in force in the human heart, which is why it encouraged “spiritual combat”, mortification of the senses, prayer and sacramental practice aimed at growth in virtue and happiness (not in the mediaeval sense of contemptus mundi). Like Francis de Sales, Don Bosco looked optimistically at this struggle carried out with the certainty of victory, because of his faith in the power of sanctifying grace, in the effectiveness of the blood of Christ which makes human effort fruitful and makes it possible for everyone to pursue holiness, even children, the least in society.
This is where we discover one of the features of his spirituality: children, teenagers are also called to a virtuous life and holiness. With a thought to their psychological make-up he was concerned with the small details, gave greater importance to inward mortification than mortification of the body; he appealed to joyfulness of heart and emotion in piety; he insisted that a life of prayer and activity be one; he educated to a spirit of adaptation and conciliation but without diminishing our total giving of self to God. And he especially broadened the horizons of meaning, be they earthly or eternal; they became fascinating and stimulating horizons.
2. For Don Bosco, “giving oneself to God”, which he insisted on with his boys, did not coincide simply with the traditional appeal to conversion by the preachers of his day (“Anyone who puts off his conversion is in great risk of not having enough time, grace or willpower” and risks eternal damnation: he had heard this as a boy at Buttigliera). Despite the way things were then, his invitation to conversion had a brighter feel about it: it was an invitation to open oneself generously to the primacy of divine love, offering ones life lovingly and unconditionally to God, overcoming attachments or pulling back, crossing the threshold of a myopic vision and small-mindedness. It was substantially a case of helping each individual to fully and definitively accept his baptismal promises, put them into practice, that is, in their situation as young teenagers, accept their baptism as a life style, follow Christ lovingly, enthusiastically, unconditionally. He encouraged them to put God happily and practically at the centre of their lives, their thinking, their affections and interests and allow themselves to be transfigured by his Spirit.
Our holy founder Don Bosco was convinced that this fundamental step gave rise to a powerful inner energy, the only one that could reawaken the individual's deeper energies, help them grow up properly and tranquilly. He believed that this energy produced daily spiritual results, triggered processes of purification and development in virtue and opened them up to a practical kind of holiness. This could be understood as a wholesome and happy kind of Christian living expressed through the habitual practical exercise of faith and charity in union with God. This individual would be faithful to his commitments and duties proper to his stage in life, fervent, joyful, relating well and fruitfully with others and zealous in looking to the perfect fulfilment in God of "blessed hope".
3. As we have seen in Don Bosco's life, in his sense of humanity and also from the experience of those who were entrusted to him, the consequence of this choice was the gradual maturing of strong, pleasant personalities who also demonstrated a free spirit and were faithful, obedient and happy. They were strong-willed and able to stand up to adversity, were pro-active and had foresight, the ability to look beyond. They were kind and loving, and ready to give of themselves for their neighbour.
This is all the result of accompaniment, of education to awareness including self-awareness (neither scrupulous nor anxious), of formation to self-control through constant effort – both combative and gentle – of self-sacrifice and service of ones neighbour. It was also the result of a balanced mortification of the senses, purification of the heart and the exercise of virtue. It was the result of a spiritual mystagogy which could introduce them to prayer and being inwardly affectionate with God. He would gradually form in them an attitude of joyful obedience to the divine will which then also translated into humble evangelical witness, the desire to be apostolic. And finally it led to vocational commitment and service of Church and society.
From this point of view then we could speak more of Don Bosco's ascetic approach than a mystic one, even though the central dynamic was purely God's love in practice, and even though the style of piety, devotion he fostered featured perfect unity of action and contemplation. It could not be otherwise given the very nature of this active but also contemplative apostle of modernity, given his aim to be salt and light, leaven of the Gospel in the earthly city in view of the heavenly one.
4. Whoever reads the anthology will soon notice certain things he insisted on, a number of recurring themes. They are distinctive features of Don Bosco, such as his “servite Domino in laetitia”; such as his insistence on the centrality of obedience as a way to be perfectly conformed to Christ through self-giving; such as his emphasis on the “beautiful virtue”, the virtue of chastity, pledge of human and Christian maturity and the way to achieve a general balance between emotions and a loving but real intimacy with God who is loved above all else. Then there is the pedagogical value he placed on the sacraments, the way he fostered devotion to Mary as being inseparable from a decisive inner orientation towards virtuous perfection in active correspondence to the work of grace. We can add zeal for the glory of God, a spirit of prayer, the exercising of daily virtues, zeal for the Eucharist and the apostolate, a devotion to Our Lady that could enkindle in a young heart the desire for the highest perfection, as Fr Caviglia wrote.
We can also include here his insistence on frequenting the sacraments and on the role of the confessor-educator, the friend of the soul who, once he has earned the trust and confidence of the youngster, teaches him the art of examining his conscience, educates him to perfect contrition, encourages effective good resolutions, guides him along paths of purification and virtue, introduces him to a taste for prayer and recognition of God's presence, teaches ways to strike up a fruitful communion with Christ in the Eucharist. Frequent Confession and Communion are intimately bound up with Don Bosco's spiritual pedagogy. Consistent and regular Confession fosters a life “in God's grace” and nurtures a potential for virtue which permits the individual to approach frequent communion more worthily. At the same time it creates a situation where God can directly take possession of the heart through Eucharistic communion because grace finds the inner ideal conditions for being effective, transforming and sanctifying.
These are features which permeate all of Don Bosco's spiritual magisterium. The spirituality of the Salesian Religious (male and female) is similarly permeated with this. The decisive giving of self to God which was proposed to young people finds in religious consecration its more radical, total movement, highlighting the absolute primacy of God and the concrete demands of unconditional following of Christ as expressed in the profession of the vows and a desire to conform oneself to the Christ who was both offering and sacrifice. The substance is the same.
Today's reader, tackling Don Bosco's texts, is aware that he was writing for the young people, adults and religious of his time. There is no doubt that it continues to be stimulating for us today too, but we sense the cultural and spiritual gap. The reading challenges our capacity for interpretation, stimulates our active cooperation, appeals to our historical, cultural, theological understanding... So to reduce the complexity, I believe it is convenient to indicate six keys for interpretation which can be of use for entering into Don Bosco's spiritual sensitivity and outlook and for helping today's reader to reformulate the identifying aspects of his spirituality within other cultural contexts and different theological perspectives.
1. First interpretative key: Don Bosco, (we see it in his writings and concrete choices), has a religious notion of history. In his way of seeing things, human history and the heart of each individual are the place for God's salvific action in an ongoing dialectic between time and eternity, grace and weakness, sin and redemption. The God of the Bible, the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, is not a distant God looking down on events from on high: he is close, active, involved in human affairs; his Spirit fills the earth and gives it life, is at work in it, makes it fruitful. Don Bosco is also convinced that the blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ was not poured out in vain for the salvation of mankind. Grace and God's love for man are stronger than any kind of evil, resistance, opposition. Man, no matter how fragile and sinful he is has not been abandoned to his own devices. The Creator, in Jesus our Saviour and Redeemer, bends in our direction not only to save us but to sanctify us, transfigure us, unite us to himself in love. This is why Don Bosco has unconditional trust in God and the power of his grace: in the God who gave himself totally to us, who offers His Only-begotten Son as a sacrifice on the cross so that no one will be lost, and so that all may be his children. Therefore, do not doubt. He writes to a discouraged parish priest in 1878: [You say to me:] “Am I good for nothing? [And I reply:] Omnia possum in eo qui me confortat. … are these difficult times? 'Twas ever thus, but God's assistance has never failed: Christus heri et hodie”.
2. Second interpretative key. From this theological perspective and undoubted faith in God comes his trust in the human being's inner resources, his optimistic outlook on education and pastoral activity, and his outstanding spiritual pedagogy. The weakest, poorest, most difficult, distracted and boisterous lad in Don Bosco's view can keep intact the nature and heart of the God who created him in his image and likeness. Every young person can feel, deep within, a nostalgia for Our Father in heaven, and the need he has to respond to his appeals. As the creature of a God who is love, charity, every young person is ontologically (natively) open to love. The youngster has a huge need to love and be loved, is sensitive to love given freely, to sacrifice, disinterested friendship, kindness, personal attention and individual care, to positive human relationships. As an educator and pastor Don Bosco trusted this inner dynamic. It was on the basis of this certainty that he questioned himself, got down to work, experimented, never took a step back, never despaired, went out to meet, dialogue, propose, showed trust in, encouraged, was patient and also persistent, fought: or to sum it all up, educated, formed, instructed, accompanied, assisted.
3. Third interpretative key. Don Bosco was also convinced that he was called and sent by God for the salvation of the young. We can be sure he had received a vocation for a special mission in the church and the world. A vocation that – as he often said when talking to his sons and members of the Salesian Family – is ours too. He felt that he was a humble but necessary and effective instrument of divine grace. And this is why he became Father, brother friend so he could get young people to see God as father, mother, friend. This awareness, this faith in the mission he had received gave him courage and hope, because he knew that the Lord's help would never be lacking: the call and the mission included the charism, the grace he needed to be effective. This awareness also infused in him a strong sense of responsibility. As he had learned from Fr Cafasso, the pastor and everyone who had received a vocation to be educator and evangeliser has to render strict account to God for the sheep entrusted to him or her. These are the reasons that induced Don Bosco to make himself unconditionally available as a tool in God's hands and to throw himself completely into the mission. He wanted to reach out to everyone. His idea was to communicate to each person the fire of faith and love that was in him. He wanted to win everyone over to God, convinced that this way he could cooperate effectively in transforming humanity, in being a Christian leaven in history and thus help “save” society as well as individuals.
4. Fourth interpretative key. Formed in a strongly testimonial style of pastoral and educational activity, Don Bosco knew through experience and taught that we can only communicate to others what we ourselves have. The educator and pastor, his or her faith, charity, hope, spirit of prayer, uprightness, moral example and holiness of life are irresistibly attractive, power channels for communicating an effective formative proposal. This is how he acted and this is what he taught his closest collaborators, adults or young people from the earliest moments of the Oratory.
5. Fifth interpretative key. Of course none of this meant he did not need to have a method, a pastoral strategy , an educational “system”. If Don Bosco insisted with his boys that they “give themselves to God at an early age”, and that it was wonderful to do so then and not wait till they were adults or elderly, he also told his educators and pastors that it is essential to win over the hearts and confidence of young people by using all the resources of the Preventive System. He also taught them that they should not be afraid to immediately invite them, but in a meaningful, fascinating way, to live clearly as Christians, and offer them a substantial youthful spirituality. So things had to be done gradually for sure; it requires a pedagogy of spiritual life. Favourable circumstances have to be created; shaping educational settings that are beautiful, stimulating, calm, full of invitations and good, lively human experiences adapted to making these invitations meaningful. Details, the little things need to be looked after, important moments well-organised, significant experiences offered, structured processes and steps. Planning, organisation, regulation, scheduling, careful and timely evaluation are all important. And it is especially important to focus attention on the young person, put time and effort into personal relationships with the individual, look after the individual, and also look after groups other than the larger youthful community, guarantee effective assistance [as we Salesians understand it] and personalised accompaniment. Here we can understand his care in forming well-structured educative and pastoral communities, his insistence on the personal commitment of the educators and their zeal and hard work.
6. Sixth interpretative key. We also need to keep one other thing in mind, something very important in Don Bosco's time and which is critical today, especially in the West: trust in and openness to the future, an inclination to succeed, and belief in transcendence and our ultimate destiny. These were typical traits of Don Bosco's, his way of living his faith and planning his educational and pastoral activity, but they were also characteristic of the cultural setting and outlook of his boys. There was reliance in his time on the “magnificent and progressive (future)” – as poet Giacomo Leopardi puts it in his La ginestra [The Broom] (1836) – in other words there was belief in the possibilities and ability that man had to progress, improve, the tendency to achieve better social positions, and better circumstances in economic, moral, spiritual and civil life. There was undoubted faith in progress.
Don Bosco also shared this, but from an exquisitely evangelical point of view. He was convinced that every young person, especially if poor, could be educated to look ahead, hope, want to be redeemed morally and spiritually, to win out in the end, improve; each individual needed to be encouraged to be open, to face up to hard work, struggle, nourish hope in powerful ways; each one had to be educated to go looking for what was needed, go beyond self, get out of ones small personal world, limited horizons and head for something beyond, better, aim for tomorrow, a temporal and eternal paradise. But one needed to be especially open to the otherness of the Transcendent, the God who is love, for only he can help us realise our deepest yearnings and achieve salvation. Don Bosco knew very well how to direct them towards this, in terms of their religious leanings and also outright holiness, Christian perfection, as well as in secular terms of responsible and competent citizenship.
I trust that with these coordinates and these main interpretative keys reading Don Bosco's texts, his teachings on spiritual life can be a very stimulating thing for the Salesian Family.
 Saint John Bosco, Teachings on spiritual life. An Anthology, Bangalore, Kristu Jyoti 2013.
We are all Christians so our faith and the meaning of our life are focused on Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God made man. We are heirs to a tradition enriched over 2000 years of history. I would like to invite you to begin putting yourselves in the situation of being Jesus' contemporaries, as if you were just one more member of the people of Israel, faced with this "fringe Jew" called Jesus of Nazareth, an itinerant preacher on the dusty roads of Galilee in the first century. We do this, naturally, following the New Testament approach, also knowing that we do not have a "real life" story of Jesus, and that the Gospels are testimonies of faith that, just the same, are based on the Lord's historical reality.
2. “…Who is this man?”
Jesus of Nazareth is presented as a fascinating individual who attracts the crowds who seem so enthused listening to him that sometimes they even forget to eat. His voice, good and strong as it is (sometimes thousands were able to hear him), passes on a message which, first of all, strikes us for the authority it has: his language is "different from the Scribes and Pharisees" (Mk 1: 27); even the ignorant soldiers understand him: "no one ever spoke like this man" (Jn 7:46): an authority that is not imposed or intransigent but which instils certainty and confidence in whoever is listening because of the certainty he speaks with, including when his words seem to run counter to the conventional thinking of his time.
Along with this authority the practical nature of what he says is fascinating: he is neither complicated nor abstract but speaks simply, in a way that everyone can understand, even the little ones and the unlearned; he prefers a tool that helps people follow what they have heard much better: examples from everyday life – men and women, adults and children: mainly using parables, one of the best-stated approaches in pre-Easter Christology.
This way of speaking, however, does not do away with the effort of reflection: instead it is an invitation to do so and makes it essential, so that many, even though they are listening, do not understand (Cf. Mk 4:12 and ff.); it is necessary to involve the mind (avoiding superficiality) and heart, feelings and therefore lies at the core of conversion. His word is a seed which, should it fall on the road and be trampled by passers-by or eaten by birds, does not produce fruit (cf. Mk 4:4); or if it is misunderstood, it brings rejection including amongst those who follow him. (cf. Jn 6)
This rejection however is not simply caused through misunderstanding but because his teaching does not correspond with what the Jews were used to hearing, or what their leaders were used to proclaiming. His attitude of freedom cannot be detached from the authority with which Jesus speaks; a fascinating freedom, no doubt, but also disconcerting, not bound by family, social or Jewish religious traditions. It is enough to recall the sermon on the mount (cf. Mt 5-7), and the opposites that Jesus establishes between his message and "what was said before": and here he was talking about the Torah, and God's law, no less!
This attitude of Jesus is revealed, for the most part, in his way of living: he goes with anyone. At times we find him eating in the homes of Pharisees or doctors of the law (at least twice: Lk 7: 36-50, and 11:37-54). Nevertheless what causes most scandal is his preference for "bad companions", to the point where they coin an offensive expression to describe this way of behaving: "glutton and drunkard, friend of publicans and sinners" (Mt 11:19), and the Evangelist puts these words in Jesus' mouth! Furthermore: maybe 2000 years later, we are too used to seeing Jesus "dogmatically"... Faced with this attitude of the "fringe Galilean", how would we have reacted? Would we have believed in him? It is certainly easy to criticise his enemies from our perspective; it would be more difficult, without a doubt, to put ourselves in their position...
It is also undeniable that the authority of his language and the novelty of his praxis, new and scandalous as it was, are seen to be supported – and in some way contrasted – by the actions he does in God's name: the miracles (which John the Evangelist, from another theological perspective calls "signs"). Very important, regarding this fact is the encounter of Jesus with John the Baptist's disciples. From prison, where his life is in deadly danger (later verified in fact, cf. Mk 6:17-29 ff.), he sends them to ask him: "Are you the one who is to come, or must we await another?" (Mt 11:3). Jesus replies by letting them see his actions. St Luke says that "at that time (Jesus) healed many of their illnesses, infirmities and evil spirits, and gave sight to the blind" (Lk 7:21). But Jesus especially underscores the sign par excellence of his messianic role: "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are healed, the deaf gain their hearing, the dead arise, and the good news is preached to the poor” (Lk 7:22), and he finishes by linking these "signs " with his preaching and his disconcerting actions: “Blessed is the one who is not scandalised by me!"(v. 23). This relationship between his works and his profound identity culminates in John's Gospel because Jesus indicates the ultimate roots of this way of speaking and acting: his nature as Son. "If I do not do my Father's works,then do not believe me; but if I do them, even if you do not believe me, at least believe in these works, so that you know and understand that the father is in me and I am in the Father" (Jn 10:37-38). All this is summed up in the Salesian Constitutions in a brief sentence with so much in it: "predilection (Jesus) for the little ones and the poor; in preaching, healing and saving because of the urgency of the coming of the kingdom" (C. 11).
Faced with these extraordinary works (miracles/signs), the immediate reaction once again is: "Who can this be? Even the wind and the sea obey him." (Mk 4:41).
As we can understand in the message sent to John via his disciples, the meaning Jesus himself attributes to the signs/miracles leads to the heart of his mission: "the poor are evangelised". Jesus is fully aware of a mission: showing, making visible and "tangible", the love and mercy of a God who is Abba, Father, or even more so "Papa". This love and mercy comes into play through a twofold attitude (they are distinct but not absolutely separate): in first place his solidarity with the most despised amongst the people, those thought of as being furthest from God. Just being amongst them was a "sign" of the Father's love and inevitably also a reason for scandal; but the most disconcerting thing was that this solidarity was meant to show God's gift par excellence in his life, something that could only come from God: grace in the concrete form of freely offered forgiveness. It was not just his going with sinners and eating with them that was causing scandal but especially what this implied and that made them complain: “How can this man talk like that? He is blaspheming. Who can forgive sins but God? "(Mk 2:7). In all these actions Jesus is practically taking God's place, and as always this gives rise to the question: “Who is this man that he even forgives sins?"(Lk 7:49).
When we encounter Jesus of Nazareth we never see him alone; he is always with his friends, the "disciples", of whom Mark says: "He summoned those he wanted. So they came to him and he appointed twelve; they were to be his companions and to be sent out to preach, with power to cast out devils."(Mk 3:13-14). Following Jesus in discipleship is not just a source of and example for Christian spirituality but carries theological weight too, which we need to explore.
Some years ago the Rector Major wrote in the Salesian Bulletin: “Recalling that line from Mark, discipleship implies, essentially two aspects: living with Jesus, growing familiarity and friendship with him, and being part of his mission: proclaiming the Kingdom of God, accompanied by ‘signs’ which authenticate it.” He went on:
It is a relatively new issue, given that traditionally we thought of the sequela Christi in moral and spiritual terms for the most part. But today it has recovered all of its biblical and theological value to the point where it is considered one of the basic elements allowing us to understand the mystery of Jesus, the Son of God, during his mortal life.
At first sight it would seem that Jesus is behaving like a Rabbi, a teacher like the others. But there are considerable differences. Nobody, for example, can ask Jesus to be listed amongst his disciples: ‘You did not choose me, no I chose you.’ (Jn 15:16). besides, following Jesus means leaving everything: ones goods, profession, family too: what Jesus is asking is more than Elijah did when he called Elisha to succeed him in his prophetic mission (Lk 9:59-62 and Mt 8:21-22 compared with 1 Kg 19:19-21). It touches on not only occasions for teaching but covers all of life, sharing with Jesus the precarious nature of his itinerant existence, its difficulties and dangers including the threat of persecution and death.
Only Someone who is more than just a man can demand this; only God can ask us to go beyond sacred human bonds: ‘Anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me. Anyone who prefers son or daughter to me is not worthy of me. Anyone who does not take his cross and follow in my footsteps is not worthy of me’ (Mt 10:37-38)”.
Again the question arises: "Who is this person who can change my entire life?” Once again it is Jesus himself who puts the question at a decisive moment in his ministry: the three Synoptic Gospels present this turn in the Lord's life, beginning from the moment he begins to talk about his passion and death. "Jesus and his disciples left for the villages around Ceasarea Philippi. On the way he put this question to his disciples, 'Who do people say I am?' And they told him. 'John the Baptist,” they said 'others Elijah; others again one of the prophets.'. 'But you,' he asked 'who do you say I am?' Peter spoke up and said to him: 'You are the Christ' "(Mk 8 :27-30, cf. And with some details that are different, Mt 16:13-20, Lk 9:18-21 ). The first replies, inexact as they were, pointed to a typical figure of the Old Testament: the prophet, characterised not as someone proclaiming the future or denouncing unjust or sinful situations, but in first place someone who speaks and acts on God's behalf.
The question of Jesus' identity appears, as we have seen, as the first dimension of all the ones we see in Jesus' ministry: his word, his actions, his miracles, his solidarity with sinners, his claim to forgive offences committed against God: sin.
But it also appears in an extraordinary way in the men and women Jesus meets up with personally. We need to understand this, since it is central to Jesus' life… and our lives, since it is a paradigm of our personal encounter with the Lord.
Jesus meets up with all kinds of people , and for everyone he is a 'very special' person, beginning with children who approach him because he caresses them and blesses them (cf. Mt 19:13-15 and pars.) causing his disciples to be surprised and the Lord to be indignant about their attitude. Those who approach him hoping to be cured of their illnesses receive much more: they feel personally loved by God, receiving not only their physical health but also their salvation (cf. Lk 17:11-19: the ten lepers; St Augustine comments: everyone was healed, only one – a foreigner – received salvation ...). In one of his first miracles when they presented him with a paralytic, Jesus told him tenderly: "Courage my son, have faith,your sins are forgiven you " (Mt 9:2 , Mk 2:5); to a woman who had been sick for many years- and certainly someone older than him whose faith produced a "psychosomatic" reaction in Jesus, he also says: “Courage my daughter, your faith has saved you: go in peace and be free from your complaint." (Mk 5:25-34 , Mt 9:22).
We could go on talking about his compassion for the people who feel abandoned, "like sheep without a shepherd" (cf. Mt 15:32), including where it brought him to tears: outside Jerusalem, thinking of its destruction: (cf. Lk 19:41 ff.), or when his friend Lazarus died and seeing the sorrow of his sisters, Martha and Mary (cf. Jn 11:35); or when he sees the closed attitude of the leaders of the people, he feels a mixture of anger and sorrow (cf. Mk 3:5), and when the Pharisees ask for signs, Jesus replies "with a sigh that came straight from his heart" (Mk 8:12). The tenderness with which he treats the Widow of Naim, suffering because of the recent death of her son, made him suffer too: “When the Lord saw her he felt sorry for her. 'Do not cry' he said. Then he went up and put his hand on the bier and the bearers stood still and he said, 'Young man I tell you to get up'. And the dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him to his mother."(Lk 7:13-15).
The Letter to the Hebrews puts it in this impressive way: "For it is not as if we had a high priest who is incapable of feeling our weaknesses with us; but we have one who has been tempted in every way that we are, though he is without sin." (Heb 4:15).
It is John the Evangelist who presents these encounters with Jesus in the profoundest way: already from the beginning, with the rather disdainful Nathaniel, he has words of appreciation (and maybe a touch of humour), and the brief encounter brings about a radical change in the one who hears him say "An Israelite... incapable of deceit" (cf. Jn 1:47ff.). Further on, the dialogue with Nicodemus brings about a "new birth" for the Pharisee, member of the Sanhedrin: from his visit one night (possibly out of fear of his colleagues), until his courageous attitude when faced with Jesus' death (cf. Jn 19:39). The healing of the man born blind shows an extraordinary journey of faith which begins with the miraculous gift of physical sight butt hen contemplation of the Lord through the eyes of faith: " 'Lord, I believe’. And he worshipped him."(Jn 9:38).
Especially with people who feel their life is in ruins, not only because of others' contempt but because they are alienated from God through sin, Jesus shows his deep compassion and at the same time his more intimate "demand": offering them God's love and forgiveness, since in practice he represents him. With the Samaritan woman who had practically everything going against her, at least in the Jewish mindset, when Jesus spoke to her the Lord was revealing himself with touching kindness and mercy but without ignoring her past: he invited her to change her life and she forgets her pitcher of water and "runs into the town" (Jn 4:28) thus becoming the first "evangeliser": "Many Samaritans of that town had believed in him on the strength of the woman's testimony "(Jn 4:39).
We see another moving episode in Luke's Gospel: Jesus, a guest in a Pharisee's house, receives the homage of love and gratitude from a public sinner, causing a "just" Pharisee, Simon, to be scandalised. It is important to underscore, by contrast with superficial or mistaken interpretations, that the root of this woman's conversion was faith. I think this is an extraordinary detail: it is the only time, other than the miracle accounts, where Jesus tells someone: "Your faith has saved you. Go in peace" (Lk 7:50): The encounter with Jesus provoked in this unknown woman an experience of faith – she felt loved and forgiven by God, and she meets this with "greater love" (v. 47).This shows what also occurred in the healing of the paralytic: that forgiveness of sins by God is a greater marvel still than the miraculous healing from a physical illness. It is a pity that the Pharisee takes refuge in the law, thus closing himself off from the gratitude of God's love; he does not feel "in debt" and therefore has no need of God's forgiveness!
Doubtless this reminds us of what Joseph Ratzinger calls "maybe the most beautiful" of Jesus' parables: the parable of the two brothers and the merciful father (cf. Lk 15:11-32). St Luke tells us of the encounter between Jesus and the chief of the Publicans in Jericho, Zaccheus: when Jesus called him by name he felt loved in a completely gratuitous way by God himself; and this brings about a radical change in him, to the point where we can apply Paul's words to him: "Because of Christ I have come to consider all these advantages that I had as disadvantages" (Phil 3:7). The scene ends with Jesus' words: "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham, for the Son of Man has come to seek out and save what was lost." (Lk 19:10).
We cannot but mention what is perhaps the most beautiful and 'scandalous' encounter with Jesus, one that St Augustine speaks of so powerfully: "Great poverty and great mercy met face to face": this is the encounter with the adulterous woman in John 8. It is important to note that once Jesus has "cleared the ground", he does not minimise the woman's sinfulness, neither in itself nor in her relationships with others; he does not say, for example, "See? Others are more sinful than you"; on the contrary, only then does she become aware of her unique and personal situation faced with the great and undeserved love of God shown in Jesus, whom she calls "Lord": he has opened up for her a new way full of hope after she was, just a moment before, looking ignominious death in the face, "Neither do I condemn you. Go away and don't sin any more."(Jn 8:3-11).
John also gives us the final encounter of the Risen Lord with Peter: Jesus does not want to remind him of his shameful betrayal: what he is interested in doing is offering him his love and renewing his fidelity once more: "Lord, you know everything: You know that I love you."(Jn 21:17).
We can conclude this part of our reflection by emphasising: everywhere, his way of speaking 'with authority' and the content of his message, focused on the Kingdom of God who is "Abba", Father; his miraculous actions, most of which are about forgiveness of sins; his personal encounters give rise to the question: "Who is this man?", a question always heading in the direction of God. Jesus is the "place" where God manifests his love, forgiveness and salvation. We are not far from the sentence that John puts in Jesus' mouth at the Last Supper : "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? To have seen me is to have seen the Father" (Jn 14:9). This is reflected in an extraordinary way in 1 John: "Something which has existed since the beginning, that we have heard, and we have seen with our own eyes; that we have watched and touched with our hands: the Word who is life – this is our subject. That life was made visible: we saw it and we are giving our testimony, telling you of the eternal life which was with the Father and has been made visible to us. What we have seen and heard we are telling you so that you too may be in union with us, as we are in union with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ" (1 Jn 1:1-3).
3. “…we ourselves have known and put our faith in God's love towards us...” (1 Jn 4:16)
We cannot stop here, of course, either with regard to the story of Jesus or the identity of our Christian faith. Without a doubt his violent death on the cross as a blasphemer and criminal, discredited by the leaders of the people and apparently by God himself, brought on a radical crisis in those who believed in him, beginning with the disciples themselves: "We hoped that he would be the one to free Israel ... "(Lk 24:21).
With regard to this the Rector Major writes:
To better understand what the resurrection of Jesus means we need – paradoxically – to take his death seriously … I do not refer only to the completely real fact of the Lord's passion and death, but also to what it mean for the Jewish way of thinking.
For the People of Israel, God shows himself through the events of their history and the history of the world. In the concrete case of Jesus, his death on the cross meant for a Jew that God was not with him: that his messianic claim was worthless and even more so his claim to be Son of God. Until we take this into account we have not taken the death of Jesus on the cross seriously from a theological point of view. As a consequence, the disciples of Jesus expected nothing more to happen after his death: some speak of ‘hallucination’ or some simply say ‘they saw what they hoped to see’, but other than ignoring the concreteness of individuals amongst the people, this minimises or even ignores this fundamental feature of the Israelite.
In his letter on "Salesian Christology", Fr Pascual quotes a beautiful homily by Gerhard von Rad, commenting on the encounter between Mary Magdalene and the Risen Jesus. With regard to the expression: "Mary stood outside near the sepulchre and wept ...", the great German biblical scholar wrote:
Mary, dear brethren, had reason to be sad; yes, we could say that there is no other reason in the world more than this to be so desperately sad: she has lost her Lord, the Christ. She had heard his call, had lived with him, found peace in his presence and it had all finished with a great catastrophe. Her hope and consolation were destroyed along with the meaning of her existence, as we like to say today. It had just been a game, a nice illusion ... No other disappointment that the human being could experience in life could be compared to the terrible loneliness and disappointment of Jesus' disciples after his death.
Only by taking the Lord's death seriously can we base our Christian faith on his resurrection, the Trinitarian activity par excellence. God raised up Jesus through the power of His Spirit. We cannot, obviously, spend time to go into this central Mystery of our faith, of which St Paul says: "If Christ is not risen, our faith is in vain: you are still in your sins" (1 Cor 15:17).
Instead, in relation to our topic, we can underline that the resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate key to interpreting and fully understanding, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, all Jesus' life and activity during his public ("pre-Easter") life.
The answer to the question "Who is this man?" we emphasis clearly, lies in the resurrection. And so, two great directions emerge which in some way come together:
- the Holy Spirit of God “dwelt” in fullness in Jesus, even during his earthly life. Peter says this in the house of the centurion, Cornelius: “You must have heard about the recent happenings in Judaea, about Jesus of Nazareth and how he began in Galilee, after John had been preaching baptism. God had anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and because God was with him Jesus went about doing good and curing all who had fallen into the power of the devil.” (Acts 10:37-38).
- At the same time, and not only as a continuation of the way of understanding the mystery of Jesus, the belief that Jesus is the one sent by the Father was taking shape: a belief of the primitive community which was already mature by the time of John's Gospel, but which appeared quite early in the piece (contrary to what some exegetes and theologians today claim). Regarding the most impressive New Testament hymn, the one St Paul gives us in the Letter to the Philippians (Phil 2:5-11), Martin Hengel (whom Joseph Ratzinger quotes often in his work on Jesus of Nazareth) writes:
On the occasion of the Pascal feast in the year 30 a Jew from Galilee is crucified in Jerusalem accused of having made claims to be the Messiah. Around 25 years later, Paul, once a Pharisee, in a letter addressed to members of the messianic community he founded in the Roman colony of Philippi quoted a hymn about this crucified one … The discrepancy between the infamous death of a Jewish political delinquent and the profession of faith presenting this condemned man with the features and nature of a pre-existing God who becomes man and is humiliated by his death as a servant throws light on the enigma on the genesis of Christology in the primitive church. As far as I can see, also for the ancient world this was a previously unheard of discrepancy, … Hence we are tempted to say that after not even two decades the Christological phenomenon was caught up in a process whose proportions are greater than any for the following seven centuries, until the dogma of the ancient Church was complete.
The process Hengel was alluding to, which led to the great dogmatic proclamations by the Councils in the early centuries of the Church, is too complex to sum up in a few words. What we can say Is that the question of the mystery of the true God and the deepest identity of Jesus go fully together: furthermore, they are interdependent from the moment that, as St John says in his first Letter, “We ourselves have known and put out faith in God's love towards ourselves. God is love and anyone who lives in love lives in God " ( 1 Jn 4:16). This is not an abstract philosophical definition of God but, as Eberhard Jüngel says, 'it is the most perfect synthesis of the Christ event’. On the one hand there is the growing conviction that "Jesus cannot be God", if we take seriously that he revealed to us, definitively, the face of the true God, the love of a God who is Abba, Father. But precisely because of this, it is not possible to ignore the fact that the most profound secret of his existence is that of being Son (therefore "different" from God): "If you loved me you would have been glad to know I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I "(Jn 14:28). On the other hand, the "protagonist" of the primitive Church is the Holy Spirit, whom the Risen Jesus sent on the Father's behalf; and as the great Fathers of the Greek Church used say, "how could the Holy Spirit sanctify/divinise us unless He himself were God?" Certainly, not even the Holy Spirit is the Father. This apparent impasse was the source of much heretical speculation until the dogmatic definitions at the Council of Nicea ( 325 ) and Constantinople (381).
The central truth of our faith, the Mystery of God who is One and Three, who is Love in the perfect unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, has its deepest roots in the Mystery of Christ, the Son of God made man. I conclude this part with a beautiful text by a great Belgian Catholic theologian, the Dominican Edward Schillebeeckx:
Is the living God, then, not the Infinite, the incomprehensible one? Could we ever point him out in this world and say: God is there?
When the children come to the Crib and say joyfully: ‘look at the donkey’, ‘and the star’, ‘oh, the Magi and the gifts’, ‘the camels’, ‘the baby Jesus”…, the believer bows his head: ‘…God is there’. He, the living God, knows that his infinite presence, which comprises everything and shines forth in everything, is deeply obscure for man, who because of this wants to find him in some place at his own level, point to him, be able to suggest in some way to those seeking him: ‘warm!’, ‘cold!’, like children do when they play, when they are getting close or further away from the hidden object. God knows the human heart. The infinite became finite in Christ Jesus. Now God is in our midst under a finite form, under a form that we can truly encounter: in the home of the Publican, Zaccheus, or at Jacob's well or on the peak of a mountain; yesterday he came, today he left for Jerusalem. He is in the Temple or the garden, to the south of the city. He is there… on the cross. We cannot full conceive of the immeasurable presence of God when it is ‘brought into time’ according to our limitations, when it is established beside us, takes a face and talks to us, when it comes to live beside us so we can note it is a man, but a man like we have never seen before.
In truth, none of that eliminates the mystery of God. Not even the Christ has let us see God as he is in himself, suppressing the mystery. Certainly he has shown us God, but he has especially shown what is a man who is totally consecrated to God, to the invisible Father.
4. “…as long as we love one another, God will live in us” (1 Jn 4:12)
Going back over where we have come in our reflection, we have tried to follow the Church on its journey from the first encounter with Jesus of Nazareth, the wandering preacher of Galilee, putting ourselves in the shoes of his contemporaries. Now we need to return to where we really are, enriched I hope by this journey in space and time, to ask ourselves: how can we be disciples and witnesses of ‘the God of Jesus Christ’ today? And more specifically: How can we do this as a Salesian Family?
The Church today invites us to experience a path of “new evangelisation”. Often, and wrongly, this “novelty” is understood as a rejection of the past, while in reality it is renewal, that is a return to our roots to take up once more the task of being witnesses and apostles: sent to bear witness through our life and words, of the love of God manifested through Jesus. It seems to me – this is a very personal opinion – that the times we live in, certainly very different from a past era, paradoxically present us with the same challenge as the primitive community: to offer a “credible” God, beginning with the radical humanity of the Lord. Regarding this we have a clever line from St Augustine to guide us: Per hominem Christum tendis ad Deum Christum: “It is through the Christ Man that we lean towards the Christ God”. This seems to me to coincide with the programme of the Holy Father, Francis, as the direction of his pontificate. I consider that amongst us Christians too, especially where young people are concerned, we can apply what Steiner says about Dostoevsky, commenting on the Augustinian line: “differently from Tolstoy, Dostoevsky was keenly convinced of the divinity of Christ However this divinity moved his soul and attracted his intelligence powerfully through the human aspect”. It is not a case of “lowering” the Christian demand, adapting things by accepting (often more out of sentiment than reason) a Jesus who is “perfect Man”, but rather one of indicating the likely point of departure, especially for those who are estranged from the Church and God perhaps because they reject – with good reason – an inadequate image of the God of Jesus Christ: they are the first to say that being Christian is believing in Jesus Christ, Son of God incarnate.
If we answer that this point of departure seems too “secular”, we need to recall the Lord's words: “By this love that you have for one another, everyone will know that you are my disciples” (Jn 13:35): it does not point to any “religious” or dogmatic aspect but to what Christians are to do in concrete.
The human and historical reality of Jesus, inasmuch as he is Son of God made Man, implies also that he is in space and time. From the Ascension on, his real presence amongst us is an object of faith (including his Eucharistic presence): now we do not see him, hear him, do not touch him as did his contemporaries in Palestine. So how then is God's plan of salvation to continue in the world? Does God once more become an inaccessible God, the “unfathomable Abyss” of whom the Gnostics spoke?
On two occasions St John used a frightening sentence: “No one has ever seen God” (Jn 1:18; 1 Jn 4:12). Certainly, in both cases the power of this expression accentuated the contrast that follows. The first time he says: “…it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Father's heart, who has made him known” (Jn 1:18). Instead the second time he adds: “as long as we love one another, God will live in us and his love will be complete in us” (1 Jn 4:12). What a wonderful thing it is to recognise that this very mission of Jesus is the Church's mission, the mission of all of us who call ourselves Christians; and, in the Church, in a specific way and with our preferential target group, it is the mission of the Salesian Family, which St John Bosco left us as our precious inheritance.
In a certain sense we should also be able to say, with Jesus and like him: “Whoever sees us as a community living in love and fostering fellowship in building up the Kingdom, sees God”. This is the deepest meaning of what the Rector Major has given us this year, 2014, as a Strenna: “the glory of God and the salvation of souls.”
The "glory of God" has nothing to do with obsolete triumphalism, and still less with divine "narcissism". Beginning with the etymology of the word, both in Hebrew and Greek (kabod-doxa), it indicates the desire that God be felt in our world, show himself in a visible, palpable way and be heard. He did so already, once for all, in Jesus Christ; and he invites us to continue this fascinating mission. Perhaps we have heard more than once from somebody's lips: "I cannot believe in God because I have never seen him, nor have I ever met him"; instead of chiding such a person, or giving them a theology lesson on the visibility and inaccessibility of God, should we not consider that deep down it is we they are chiding for not carrying out the mission God has given us?
Saint Ireneus said very clearly: "the glory of God is man alive". Translated in Salesian terms it might be put this way: "The glory of God is that our young people, especially the poorest and most abandoned, may have life, and have it to the full (= salvation of souls)".
The contemplation of Jesus in his radical humanity, in which the love of God is shown to its maximum through his sharing everything about our life, can only but culminate in contemplating Her who made the Incarnation possible, by the work of the Holy Spirit: the Blessed Virgin Mary. If St John was able to say: "What we have seen, what we have heard, what we have touched ...": she could say in a unique way, she who gave flesh of her flesh and blood of her blood.
There is a moving though little known text that describes this unique closeness between Mary and Jesus: no less than by Jean-Paul Sartre, in a theatrical work written in a concentration camp in Treviri, in 1940, where René Laurentin says: "Sartre, a declared atheist, let me see better than anyone else, except for the Gospels, the mystery of Christmas".
What we would need to show in her face is a marvellous anxiety that appears only once in a human figure because the Christ is her son, flesh of her flesh and fruit of her womb. She carried him for nine months, gave him her womb and her milk was to become God's blood. The temptation is strong enough to make her forget that he is God : cradling him in her arms , she calls him 'my little one!' But at other times she thinks: 'He is God'... But I think that there are other fleeting moments when she feels that Christ is her son, her little one, and that he is also God, both together. She looks at him and thinks, 'This is my God-child, this divine flesh is my flesh, is made up of myself, has my eyes, and this shape of his mouth is the shape of my mouth. He looks like me'. No woman has received her God all for herself, like this: a God so small that she can pick him up in her arms and cover him with kisses; a warm God who smiles and breathes, a God she can touch and who laughs. It is in one of these ways I would paint Mary if I were an artist. I would try to render the air of tender, shy courage with which she would hold out a finger to touch the soft skin of the little Child - God, feeling his warm foot on her knees and seeing him smile at her.
We need to go beyond this though. Here begins a journey of faith so deep, so radical and - let's not deny it – so painful, like no other believer has experienced. This unique closeness between Mary and Jesus does not substitute for faith; on the contrary it demands it, an ever more unconditional faith to the extent that it seems to demolish the human, maternal, Jewish expectations Mary has, finally arriving at the culminating moment of the cross. The Rector Major writes: "At this crucial moment in Jesus' life ... we find Mary at the foot of the cross: three verses of amazing density (Jn 19:25-27). ... I dare to apply to the Mother of the Lord the expression of John's Gospel (Jn 3:16) speaking of God the Father: “Mary so loved the world she gave her son for it”.
The Most Holy and Immaculate Virgin the Help of Christians is our model for carrying out our Salesian mission: bringing Jesus to so many boys and girls, to so many of our brothers and sisters, everywhere in the world, and they are begging us: We want to see Jesus! (Jn 12:21).
 All the Salesian Bulletin messages (in their different languages) have been brought together and published in a book: PASCUAL CHÁVEZ V., Vogliamo vedere Gesù, Torino, ELLEDICI, 2011. The quoted part is from p. 22
 Ibid. p. 22-23.
 We should remember that the prophets did not only carry out their mission verbally, but also through symbolic actions: especially in in Jeremiah and Ezekiel.
 Fr. PASCUAL CHÁVEZ, Vogliamo vedere Gesù, p. 51.
 Fr PASCUAL CHÁVEZ, Looking at Christ through the eyes of Don Bosco, Rome, AGC 384 (2004), p. 27. Von Rad's text quoted here is not found in this Letter.
 GERHARD VON RAD, Sermones, Salamanca, Ed. Sígueme, 1972, p. 23-24
 Cfr. WOLFHART PANNENBERG, Esquisse d’une Christologie, Paris, Les Éditions du Cerf, 1971, p. 74-76: “If Jesus is Risen, for a Jew this can only mean that God himself had approved Jesus' pre-pasch attitude … If Jesus, risen from the dead, has ascended to God, and thus has inaugurated the end of the world, God has been definitively revealed in Jesus”.
 MARTIN HENGEL, Il Figlio di Dio, Brescia, Paideia, 1984, pp. 17-18.
 EBERHARD JÜNGEL, Dio Mistero del Mondo, Brescia, Queriniana, 2004, 3rd Ed., p. 410 ff.
 EDWARD SCHILLEBEECKX, Dio e l’Uomo, Roma, Ed. Paoline, 1967, pp. 21-23.
 Quoted in: GEORGE STEINER, Tolstói o Dostoievski, Madrid, Ed. Siruela, 2002, p. 296.
 Ibid. p. 296-297.
 Quoted in Presentación, by JOSÉ ANGEL AGEJAS, of: JEAN-PAUL SARTRE, Barioná, el Hijo del Trueno, Madrid, Vozdepapel, 2006, p. 15.
 The quotation (in Italian) is taken from: ANTONIO MARIA SICLARI, Ci ha chiamati amici, Milano, Jaca Book, 2001, p. 45.
 Fr PASCUAL CHÁVEZ, ‘This is your Mother!’ (Jn 19:27). Mary Immaculate Help of Christians, Mother and Teacher of Don Bosco, in: AGC 414 (2012), p. 32 (cf., in more detail, 22-33).
Roberto Lorenzini SS CC
I would like to reflect with you on the gift Don Bosco has given so many non-consecrated lay people in the Salesian Family. They have taken him up and his spirituality is their point of reference in their lives: they include Salesian Cooperators, members of the Mary Help of Christians Association, Past Pupils, friends of Don Bosco and anyone who, whatever title they come under, is part of the broad Salesian Movement.
I like to think of these lay people as good Christians and upright citizens who become so by following the model of the human being which Don Bosco dreamt of.
In this talk I will refer to the presentation of the 2014 Strenna of the Rector Major's, the Youth Ministry dossier in June 2013 which explores some of its aspects (especially contributions by Bissoli, Séïde, Garcia and Errico), the pamphlet “Educatori di santi” (Educators of Saints) by Fr Giuseppe Casti, World Delegate for the Salesian Cooperators, and “Suoi testimoni” (His Witnesses) by Salesian Cooperator Nino Sammartano, and finally the brief work “Testimoni dell’alleanza”,(Witnesses to the Covenant) by Fr Joseph Aubry, Vittoria and Roberto Lorenzini.
They all draw on Don Bosco's inner energy
Responding to the love of a God who loves us so much is a way to holiness which is possible for everyone. Allowing this love to penetrate us to the point where we can no longer hold on to him as our own but want to share him with everyone - such is the dynamic of pastoral charity which urges us to leaven wherever we live with the Gospel, beginning with our families extending ourselves to the young and our less fortunate neighbours. We see the image of Jesus himself in all these (cf, Strenna No. 2).
In presenting Strenna 2014 the Rector Major states that “Salesian spirituality is not something different from Christian spirituality.” Why not? Because it stems from the same root which is charity, meaning God's very life, which Don Bosco drew on through Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
It certainly strikes us when we realise how natural it was for Don Bosco to live in a supernatural way. Contemplating God's loving presence amidst the mixed events of daily life, his being united with his Lord was transformed into energy for life, all of it spent for his youngsters, the poor, the least. Activity permeated by prayer, prayer permeated by activity.
What does it mean for us lay people to experience this inner energy? It is Don Bosco himself who shows us how we might answer that: “You can make yourself worthy of the Society through work… and do good for your soul especially if you offer all your daily work to God” (OE XXIX 68-69). In other words he is inviting us to see God's presence in our ordinary daily activities and everyday tasks, making Christ the criteria for all our activity.1
Branches united to the one vine
“Christifideles laici” (1988) speaks magnificently of lay spirituality, but a reflection beginning from Don Bosco helps us to be part of that in such a way that it makes every context for our life fruitful in a Salesian way: amongst young people, family, in the church, in society... (cf. Strenna No. 3). This spirituality draws on a heart-to-heart relationship with God; it involves us in giving of ourselves fully to life for his glory, in the primary belief that “the glory of God is man alive” (cf. Strenna no 4).
For us lay people union with God the Father is a condition for our apostolic commitment: branches united to the one vine. The energy that comes from the Spirit leads us in a single direction, to agape, taking up the Father's salvific plan as the unifying project of our lives.2
Prayer, meditating on the Word, sacramental life becomes resources for the strength which nurtures our desire to cooperate in building up the Kingdom of God, transforming life into prayer and prayer into life so that, as Martha Séïde puts it, “everything can become prayer for someone who has a careful, habitual and intense life of prayer” (NPG no 6-2013 p. 47).
Living in God's presence is a cornerstone of Don Bosco's spirituality.3 Thus our encounter with the Risen Lord transforms us to the point where we no longer believe that evil is stronger than good and this gives us the strength to get ourselves involved, struggle, so that hope is the lay virtue par excellence, knowing that the spirit of the Risen One always goes before us and is present and active in history.4
Called to holiness
Strengthened by this awareness and inner power, what is it that lay people whose point of reference is Don Bosco are called to do?
They are called to embody God's love, which “has been poured into our hearts” (Rom. 5:5) meaning that we recognise Christ's charity overwhelming us and urging us to be a leaven in our daily context, giving ourselves in a generous and disinterested way. In other words this is equivalent to our directing ourselves decisively towards holiness.5
In such a demanding task as this we do not hide our limitations, fragility, difficulties, failures, but it is precisely here that Jesus, the Risen Lord encourages us: “I am with you all days“ (Mt 28:20) or, as Paul said, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor 12:9),wherein Paul exclaimed: “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10). Even difficulties have meaning when Paul assures us that in Christ “sufferings bring patience, patience brings perseverance and perseverance brings hope” (Rom. 5:3-4).
For each one of us every moment of life can be a point of encounter with God. This is the mysticism of daily life experienced in an extraordinary way by recognising God's footprints as he walks beside us. According to Martha Séïde “We need to educate ourselves and educate others to be attentive to each moment in life so that we can make it an eternal moment: of love for God and humankind” (NPG no 6-2013 p. 49). We are called to be disciples of Mary for whom contemplation and service were one. Someone who lives this “grace of unity” so typical of Salesian spirituality has set out on a sure path to holiness.
On the other hand the temptation of thinking that results depend on our ability to act and plan things is overcome by following Jesus' words: “Whoever remains in me with me in him bars fruit in plenty; for cut off from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). Trusting in this bond with Jesus, as kingly, priestly, prophetic people through the gift of Baptism, we offer him all our efforts and our work.6 There is little doubt that this asks us to step back from the way the world thinks, and this is where renunciation comes in for us.7
Spirituality that aims to have an impact on society
Spirituality understood this way calls us to unite faith in God with fidelity to our human condition and become hope for the world…8 It involves us in the common good by having an impact on society and political life… because everything that is human is a place for experiencing and encountering the Lord of life.9
This spirituality according to Don Bosco sees that the “good Christian” also takes up the responsibilities of the “upright citizen” dedicated to looking for ways and new approaches to transplant Don Bosco's shrewd approach to public life, culture, politics, social life.10 It is the lay person dedicated to saving his or her soul by being a responsible citizen11 convinced, as the Salesian Bulletin put it in 1883, that “working for the education of abandoned youth is giving glory to God and cooperating for the good of civil society” (cf BS in its 7th year, 1883, no 7. p. 104).
There have been appeals to us as lay people to get involved in society: the Rector Major, at the 2012 Cooperators World Congress, asked us to “leave our sacristies” and Pope Francis echoed the same thing recently asking us to “get out from our Upper Rooms”.
What Don Bosco meant by “helping civil society” is, finally, our aim in helping to build a better world and more human world in a Christian and Salesian (as in St Francis de Sales) way, through fully realised human beings.
Involved in the world as Christians and citizens
If Don Bosco's spirituality is the precious legacy that enlivens us, this does not mean that the upright citizen in the Third Millennium is the same as the one in the 19th century, when the role was reduced mostly to obeying the law, not causing problems for the legal system… basically aimed at “what we should do right.”13
Today, thanks to the development in the Church's social teaching since “Rerum Novarum” by Leo XIII in 1891 until “Caritas in veritate” by Benedict XVI in 2009 (a development nurtured by the 2nd Vatican Council), building a just social order has become a task for the Christian based on the primacy of conscience, corroborated by study, prayer, dedication, collaboration, effort constancy… and sometimes accepting that we are blocked by something.14
Lumen Gentium entrusts lay people with the priority task of giving a soul to temporal realities as Christians: “seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God” (LG 31).15 Don Bosco is not far from this view of the laity when he urges us to “work for the Kingdom by doing good for civil society!” (Reg. Coop. DB 1876). The viewpoint is that of the common good, what is good for society. We could say that this is translating the spirituality, not just the pastoral side, of the “da mihi animas”. This is the task for the Salesian brand of lay person, through social, civil institutional involvement, via volunteer groups... looking to human beings, looking to their good: the good of every human being and all humanity, in a variety of needs: material, emotional, cultural and spiritual. Because mankind, as John Paul II taught us, is “the way of the Church”; Man, each individual, all of mankind, is “a common good: the common good of the family and humanity, individual groups and many social structures” (John Paul II, Letter to families, 11).
Christian, lay and Salesian values are harmoniously founded on and fully experienced in “spreading the energy of charity” (MB XVIII 161).16 From statements like this it is clear that the involvement of Christian laity in secular settings is an effective and valuable kind of evangelisation.17
Action areas for lay people of a Salesian bent
So what are the fields of activity, the most relevant ones at least, for the Salesian lay person? I would say we can take for granted that the educational dimension is the common denominator for Salesian presence in all social contexts, with that characteristic feature of Don Bosco's, the ability to “love and make oneself loved”.
So I will not spend time on this dimension which is so central and special and typical for the oratory and school, but rather I will spend some time on one area that deserves our reflection as lay people: the family.
Spouses are called to witness to the beauty of faithful, fruitful love, given and received as an expression of total self-giving.18 It is wonderful to see this expression of the agape of God the Father in the love between spouses. Why is this? Because God is a communion of Persons. The Covenant between God and his people is often expressed in the Old Testament as one of nuptial love and while it expresses God's love for humanity it also says something important about the marriage relationship; meaning it is not a simple contract but a covenant involving life, being faithful whatever the cost, because this is what God the Father's love for mankind is like.
Jesus draws on the experience of conjugal love to express how much he loves the Church. He is the guarantor of love in marriage and the spouses are testimony to this covenant because their love is fully part of his redeeming work.
Lay people who are married in the Lord strongly sense this need to welcome the Lord Jesus' presence as the one who was invited first to the wedding feast, and is responsible for their happiness. This presence of the Lord is something they recognise in one another and feel responsibility for the other's growth in faith. This mutual love then becomes a sign and bearer of Christ's love, and thus opens up a direct path to holiness. (cf J. Aubry, Testimoni dell’alleanza, pp. 81-91).
This love, which builds up the domestic church is open to fruitfulness, the gift of life, accepting children. And it is with regard to children that Don Bosco has something great to tell us about their education.
Have we ever thought of the positive results the Salesian system of education can have in the family when the two parents are looking after their children especially during the growing up phase? The answer can be taken for granted: the Preventive System gives a truly phenomenal contribution!
Don Bosco himself wanted life in his houses to be permeated by “family spirit”. We recall the splendid, and at times disconcerting, “Letter from Rome” in 1884 which reminds us of the fatherliness of the educator, of confidence and familiarity with the one being educated, of the atmosphere of joy, festivity, prayer, duty and responsibility: these are all things that refer not only to the Oratory but also to the family understood as an educating community.
This family spirit, instead, is often at risk today, especially in families. Here we Salesian lay people are called to embody it in our family relationships with the spirituality of the “it is not enough to love”.
What comes to mind is the experience and extensive documentation of the Hogares Don Bosco movement, a gift from Spain, but not only there, on couples' lives, education of children and the family's involvement in church and society.
I am also thinking of the www.ilgrandeeducatore.com website (and who is the great educator, if not Don Bosco himself!), where a group of lay people with other friends in the Salesian Family offer parents (and it includes a magazine) how to be “educators to life”, making Don Bosco's encouragement and promptings available along with extensive Salesian material right up to the most recent. This is an enormous mine of good material to draw from and reveals the wealth of Salesian pedagogy for lay people who want to educate in the family context, including in Don Bosco's style.
We should keep in mind the hidden dangers attacking the family today. The task of the lay person formed in a Salesian way is aimed at truth: through a view of love and human sexuality, (think of the purity Don Bosco asked of his educators and boys), marriage between a man and a woman according to a view that unites love and self-giving, fidelity, stability, being open to life. Without forgetting the rights of children, beginning with the complete human dignity of the embryo and the right to be born given that the embryo is already ONE OF US! “One of us!” as it says in the European campaign for the right of every embryo to be born. Not only believers back this campaign. And we also think of the scientific development of genetically oriented biotechnologies which need bioethical truth if they are to avoid the risk that it all ends up to the detriment of the human being.19
Our task of being “upright citizens because we are good Christians” then, broadens out to all of society. This is the field of the laity.
The famous “letter to Diognetus”, on John's Gospel, chap. 17 (15-17), reminds us that Christians are in this world but not of it. They carry out the same function as the soul does for the body: they are light, salt, yeast… a leaven. This twofold attention helps the lay person avoid two equally distorted approaches: a disembodied spiritualism and a secularism which is too skewed towards the earthly dimension.20
How should the lay person who takes Don Bosco as a reference point be guided in social and political life at a time of profound tensions, globalisation and economic and financial crisis?
There is a criterion which can guide us in today's crisis which is also leading the world into a profound anthropological crisis, especially in 'advanced' cultures. Saint Augustine, at an equally dramatic historical time towards the end of the Roman Empire, invited people to hold to veritas in every area of civil involvement; to hold to profound values rather than to vanitas, the ephemeral, appearances, what is superficial. This is the primacy of conscience in social activity.21
Following the criterion of truth today in the political sphere, in institutions, means for us lay people that we are animated by a strong ethical approach which respects participation by everyone decision-making processes and which is aimed at serving them. We need to distinguish, as Simone Weil carefully noted, between “those who live off politics and those who live for politics.” Thus the importance of offering courses, formation opportunities for social and political involvement which follows the Church's social teaching, especially for young people who wish to get seriously involved in administrative, political service, especially in a political party.
Being truthful in the area of the economy means aiming for an economy geared to the social order, an integrated economy, one of communion… attentive not only to what is of most use, but also to seeing that everyone can enjoy its benefits, that those who are weakest are not left out, that the cause of young people, women, the elderly, minorities is advanced.22 An economy that seeks reinvestment with social ends, which respects nature, is responsible for future generations.
We lay people, looking at Don Bosco getting young people ready for work, a profession, drawing up dignified contracts for his boys, will consider work, including our own, as an integral part of human dignity, self-fulfilment. We will look upon it as service of the community, as relationship with other people, as being united to the sacrifice of Christ: this is a primary good to be safeguarded at all costs.
On the cultural and spiritual resources level, the triumph of veritas leads us to consider education of the young, school, to be central… as also the development of their/our cultural, artistic, religious heritage.
Our vigilance and commitment to truth is to focus in particular on social communications media, the traditional as well as the most recent developments so we can unmask negative models which shape the minds of the young and the people. There is a very high risk of manipulation: not only in listening! We also need to spread values in an intelligent way.23
Our concern for the environment as something given to us that we must pass on to future generations should be joined with a constant attention to fostering a “human ecology” which means trying to achieve the spiritual and physical well-being of all mankind, with special attention to emerging and developing nations.24
By taking as our criterion an ethics of truth, finally, means assigning priority to the weakest, be they individuals or groups, peoples or entire countries. We focus attention on globalising solidarity, sharing, gratuity. Against all structures of sin and death.25
We can be consoled by the number of people in the Salesian Family who are networking to achieve this ethic of truth.
If the lay person truly wants to be a sign of the Kingdom of God amongst people, then there is a vocation to be found in self-giving, in service so that the common good leads to the Absolute Good who is God.26
I believe that if Don Bosco were amongst us today he would encourage us to try out new approaches to evangelisation including through social and political activity which Paul VI called the highest form of charity.
Thus while we are involved in seeing that all human beings can share the “penultimate” goods such as justice, peace, freedom, well-being, solidarity… we are aware that we are also working for the “ultimate” goods the Lord directed us to: goods which belong to the Kingdom.27
I would like to conclude by proposing for us all a concrete example of what I have been describing: Salesian Cooperator Attilio Giordani from Milan, recently declared Venerable.
Attilio used every ploy he could to get youngsters involved and lead them to God. “Our faith should be life” he used say; so before heading off to work at Pirelli he would always be at the 6.30 a.m. mass. He was cheerful and exact at work, also cheerful in the playground, loving and optimistic at home with the family: these were some of the features that distinguished a man who once write to his future wife, Noemi: “May the Lord help us not to be good to those who are good, but to live in the world without being of the world, to go against the flow...”.
When his three sons became volunteers in Brazil as part of Operation Mato Grosso, he and his wife also went to share in this mission as catechists and leaders. On 18 December 1972 at a meeting while he was speaking enthusiastically about giving our lives for others he said: “For me it is enough for you to make choices in life, not remain passive when faced with situations”, then suddenly he felt ill and barely had time to tell his son: "Pier Giorgio, you continue on for me." This is the appeal we all feel is addressed to us today as lay people in the Salesian Family We admire an all-round Salesian lay person in Attilio: husband, father, someone who really put the preventive system into action, a missionary: this is the simple but powerful outline of the Christian who trusts in, entrusts everything to the love of Christ.
It is my profound belief that the new heaven and the new earth will belong to those who, like Attilio, are involved here and now in building them up “for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.”
in Note di pastorale giovanile, 06 Estate 2013. LDC.
Notes are by way of comparison (cf.) not literal quotation.
For practical purposes I simply indicate the author with reference to the bibliography indicated above.