Fr. Paul Albera.
Circular letter on Vocations
Turin, May 15,1921
Feast of Pentecost
First Day of the Novena in honor of Mary Help of Christians
Dear Brothers and beloved children:
This past year I have repeatedly exhorted you and spurred you on to raise a real and vital monument to worthily honor our Venerable Father Don Bosco.
I asked you to do this with your conduct; modeled after the splendid examples that Don Bosco has given us.
With those exhortations I meant to urge you on to individually imitate Don Bosco’s fatherly examples, but also to enkindle within every one of you a more lively and ardent love for our dear Congregation.
Our Congregation sprang out of the heart of our Father Don Bosco, but it must draw more life and grow more with the love of Don Bosco’s sons, for it is to them that our Congregation has been bequeathed as a precious legacy.
The love that we have for our Congregation should also spur us on not only to give it our best energies, but also to try our best to increase constantly the number of its members.
We should do this by keenly looking for Salesian vocations, by fostering them, so that our Congregation may be able to carry out in a better way and in a wider way its project, that is giving glory to God by educating poor and abandoned youth.
And so, beloved children, after having urged you with all my limited strength to project with your life the very dear image of Don Bosco, I now would like to remind you about the obligation that we all have to zealously win over for Don Bosco new children, new people willing to imitate him.
Following your example I am sure they will keep Don Bosco alive as they too will project his image to other children to come.
Don’t you hear the anxious cry of our Congregation as I do, as your Major Superiors do?
“Da mihi liberos, alioquin moriar-“Give me children, otherwise I will die.”-(Gen.31: 1).
Our Congregation is begging for children, namely for new religious vocations. The life and apostolic work of our Congregation depend on vocations.
If our Congregation were to be hit by absolute sterility that would mark the death of our Congregation; and nothing would be left of this Mother of our religious perfection but a cold historical remembrance.
It is for this reason that both Don Bosco, first, and then Don Rua, of happy memory, have spoken and insisted on the necessity of fostering vocations.
They did it so often that it looked as though they were exaggerating. I myself have written to you about it in my first circular letter, dated May 31,1913,and later on in chapter 8 of part 2 of the Director’s manual.
This manual has literally reproduced the wise norms of our Fathers in this regard, so that every Director might have them available and might more easily put them into practice, as well as use them as a topic for talks.
This is the reason why I have taken advantage of every opportunity granted to me to urge you on, if only in a passing manner, to get new vocations.
However, I must say with true and deep satisfaction that my warm exhortations did not land on deaf ears and become dead letter, since they produced excellent fruits, for which our Pious Society may now be proud.
2-Prayer and what we next should do for vocations.
Nevertheless, today more than ever before, we have sadly heard how true the Lord’s lament is: “Messis quidem multa, operarii autem pauci.“(Mt.9: 37)
The harvest has grown beyond all measure but, unfortunately, the number of workers who consecrate themselves to picking up the harvest has grown scarce: that is why a great deal of this harvest is sadly lost.
I am sure that this is due, above all, to the terrible social upheaval of these past few years: they have taken away from our Congregation several of its members already formed and made it even more difficult than ever before to have new recruits properly formed.
Fully aware of the seriousness and pressing urgency created by today’s situation, the members of the Superior Council have dedicated several of their work-loaded meetings to study the issue and find out what means might be more effective in raising and fostering good and numerous vocations.
My dear confreres, it is my intention now to share with you some of the many proposals that have been made at those meetings and have been considered more suited to reach the goal.
Every day, after spiritual reading, we appeal to the Sacred Heart of Jesus that good and worthy workers might be sent to our Pious Society and might also persevere in it: “Ut bonos ac dignos operarios Piae Salesianorum Societati mittere et in ea conservare digneris, Te rogamus, audi nos!”
This is a prayer which is, no doubt, pleasing to Our Blessed Lord, and we may be sure that as far as it depends on him, we are going to have all the vocations that we deserve, if we do what we are expected to do.
Now what we are expected to do is exactly that of getting a suitable soil ready for the planting of seeds, and making sure that they are properly cultivated until they reach full maturity.
In other words, the vital question of vocations expects an answer that must be given by everyone of us.
If our Congregation does not have as many vocations as the abundance of the harvest prepared for us by Divine Providence is calling for, then, perhaps we should seriously examine our conscience and confess that the scarcity of evangelical workers is due to our failing to show that prudent, constant and loving concern for vocations that we used to admire in Don Bosco, in Don Rua, who faithfully followed Don Bosco’s footsteps, and in many other Salesian Confreres whose memory will live on in benediction, for years on end.
3-The birth of a vocation.
To make us clearly understand what I have just said, I think, my dear confreres that it is proper for me to remind you, even more clearly and first of all, about the fundamental principles that have to do with the handling of vocations.
I am sure that the knowledge of these principles will help us greatly as we try to overcome the problems we are confronted with, in the recruiting of vocations.
A vocation, that is, the choice of a particular state in one’s life, comes from God. God is the author of everything that has been created, and God is the one who inspires every single rational being about what call he should respond to, in order to reach the end for which he was created.
However, this divine inspiration is not, generally at least, provided in an extraordinary manner, neither is it joined to signs so certain that there cannot be any doubt about deciding to respond to it.
God only plants the seed of a vocation and he does it by planting it within the natural talents that he has given to a person. This is done to a degree and in a manner that is different for every person.
By this I mean that God does create all human beings to his own image and likeness, that he assigns the same end to everyone, that he endows everyone with different personal qualities just as he wants to, and through these qualities God allows everyone to choose whatever state of life is suited for him.
God is the one who creates around every person an environment suited to every personality and such as to lead them quite early to the attainment of their last end.
This is the ordinary way followed by God in providing a particular calling for every person.
Choosing one state of life rather than another is left to the full choice that has to be made by a particular person, with the help of divine grace, that is never denied to a person doing his best to deserve it, and with the help of other human beings entrusted with the task of developing and educating every single individual.
St. Thomas Aquinas masterfully expresses God’s ways of distributing various abilities and qualities to every person.
“Divine Providence, as a general rule does not impose on any individual a definite state of life, but does prepare all human beings through the mediation of their temperament and inclinations that they are endowed with, to make a free choice, that ordinarily is good enough to help all human beings reach their final end.
“This is the way by which every human career has always a good number of candidates who have freely chosen it (Dupl. 41,a.2 ad 4).
Taking all this for granted, our first task, as far as vocations, is that of finding out who has those qualifications that are required by the various branches of the state of perfection: priesthood, and/or only the religious state or the religious-missionary state.
The qualifications we are looking for to determine if the person is or is not really called to a vocation can be reduced to three, that is: *A sufficient amount of knowledge, *honesty of life and *the right intention.
4-“Si vis perfectus esse-if you want to be perfect.” (Mt.19: 21)…
The state of perfection that a person lives in is due to the free choice that this person has made.
Dear confreres, we might say that for every priestly or religious vocation, the Gospels’ scene of the young man asking Jesus about what he should do to attain eternal life, is mysteriously repeated: the Lord is pleased if his commandments are kept and most people choose to do this: “serva mandata-keep the commandments!”
However, next to this choice which is so to speak the least that can be made to reach our final end, there is an invitation constantly repeated in many and diverse and unexpected ways to generous souls: “si vis perfectus esse…If you want to be perfect…”(Mt.19: 21).
These souls, if properly guided, will never regret having accepted that invitation just like the young man of the Gospel did. On the contrary these souls will forge ahead, along the trail blazed by the Lord himself:
“Exultavit ut gigas ad currendm viam-.” “He exalted like a giant running his course.”(Psalm 18:6).
I said above, if these generous souls ’are properly guided,’ and this exactly is the contribution needed for the development of a vocation.
Jesus does not force anyone to absolutely listen to his loving appeal.
Jesus respects that gift that he himself has granted to a person, namely, the gift of freedom.
It is for this reason that, if we want the seed of a vocation to grow, to reach full maturity and bear fruits, we have to provide for it a suitable environment and surround it with the most attentive care.
As I was telling you in the inspirational circular letter quoted above, God is the author of all vocations, but we should not forget, my dear confreres that God wants to use our cooperative work to have them grow and bear fruit.
Every vocation calls for God’s work and our work as well.
Every call to religious life and apostolic life finds its fertile source right in the heart of God:
God, who loves the church, who loves religious congregations called to serve him, who loves souls and wants their salvation, is the one who constantly and with his hands full, he is the one who scatters the seeds of vocations within the hearts of his children.
But just as the harvest of the field reaches maturity by blending into one the contribution of a man’s labor with God’s blessings from heaven, so it is for vocations: they will never blossom without our work, joined to God’s.
Therefore, we have to work as if a successful vocation depended on us alone, without however losing sight of the fact that all that is good comes from God: “Omne donum perfectum desursum est ,descendens a Patre luminum.”-“Every good gift and perfect gift comes from God the Father of all lights.”(James 1:17).
5-A vocation comes from God, but it is free.
Naturally, every good thing comes from God. Therefore both the seed of a vocation and also our ability and will to have it grow and effectively reach full maturity are from God: “Utraque sunt dona Dei.”(Eccl.1: 13).
Every priestly and religious vocation is of divine origin, both because it is God who plays a direct role in it and because he leaves to us, normally, the ability to work on it, and this is also from God: “Unusquisque proprium donum habet ex Deo.”(1Cor.7: 7).
For a vocation to be considered of divine origin it is not required that God make his own will directly evident to the person being called.
Naturally, God might direct a call to a person by means of a revelation or a direct inspiration; however, this possible extraordinary way of acting by God is not that frequent, neither is it a general rule. God may reserve it for certain people who are called to carry out a special divine mission.
Cornelius a Lapide writes: “God often leaves to the free choice of an individual his decision to enter a certain state of life. However, even this choice may be said to be from God, since it is God who directs the activity of secondary causes and provides for anything good to happen.”
As a matter of fact, God with his divine providence ordinarily guides every person and uses parents, friends, confessors, teachers, and many occasions and secondary causes to lead every person to either choose the state of married life or a priestly life. But this choice is freely made, since the secondary causes are only directive and not imposing any decision, which is left to the freedom of the individual
Once the choice has been made, God bestows on every person the graces suited to the state that has been freely entered into.
St. Ambrose, says: “Choose whatever state you want to choose and God will provide you with the proper and needed graces to live honestly and in saintly manner.) Cornelius a Lapide in 1 Cor.7: 7).
6-It is the Bishop who approves of a calling to the priesthood; it is the superior who accepts the response made to a religious calling.
Normally, then, a vocation, priestly or religious, follows these steps
1-There is a free choice of a state of life, a choice made for supernatural reasons;
2-the qualities required for the state that has been chosen are present;
3-the bishop gives his assent to the response made by a person to enter priestly life;
4-the superior gives his approval to the response made by a person to enter religious life, and follows the norms set by the church, as he admits this person to the novitiate and religious profession;
5-for the bishop or superior to give their approval to a call, it is enough to acknowledge in the person who has responded to that particular call, both the right intention and the presence of the required fitness for the chosen state, namely the presence of both supernatural and natural talents, the presence of a good amount of knowledge, honesty of life and such as to provide a well-grounded hope that the person is capable to properly fulfill all the assignments and duties related to priestly and religious life.
Prior to an approval and acceptance, no candidate has the right to be ordained a priest or enter into a religious congregation.
There is an authoritative church document published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis on July 15,1922 which upholds what we have just mentioned above, as far as vocations.
The Pope established the creation of a committee made up of cardinals to seriously examine the question of vocations. The committee issued the following principles on priestly vocations and they have been approved by Pope Pius X of happy memory.
1-No one has the right to be ordained prior to the free choice made by the Bishop;
2-The condition to be looked into by the Ordinary, as far as the person to be ordained, is not, at least ordinarily, linked with an inner inspiration or with an invitation by the Holy Spirit to enter the priestly state;
3-For a candidate to be ordained a priest by a Bishop, he must have the right intention and be fittingly gifted with those qualities that are required of the priesthood, to have lived an honest life, to have a decent amount of knowledge and offer a well-grounded hope that the candidate about to be ordained is qualified to carry out his priestly obligations in a right and saintly manner.”
The text refers directly to a priestly vocation, but, naturally, with due proportions, the same principles mentioned in the document can be applied to a vocation to religious life.
7-An answer provided by the Catholic Catechism.
Dear Confreres, the principles quoted above are not new; however, they do clearly and exactly summarize the Church’s doctrine on priestly and religious vocations. The doctrine has been expressed by the Catechism published by order of Pius X: “No one is allowed to have access to Sacred Orders on his own. He has first of all to be called by God and be accepted by his own Bishop, that is, he must have a vocation with all the virtues and qualifications required for sacred ministry. (Part 3, Section1, Ch.7 #403)”.
Even in this catechism we have clearly expressed the following:
a) No one is allowed to have access to Holy Orders or to a religious profession on his own accord;
b) The right thereto is acquired by the one who has been called by God;
c) The calling by God is recognized as such when the bishop or religious superior recognizes it;
d) Whoever is called in this way may be said to have a vocation properly so called, namely, a genuine one, just as St. Paul understood it, when he proclaimed the great law: “Nec quisquam subit sibi honorem, sed qui vocatur a Deo.” (Heb.5: 4)-“No one takes this honor on his own, but only the one who is called by God.”
e) According to the Catechism of Council of Trent: “Only those who are called by the legitimate ministers of the church are considered as being called by God: “Vocari autem a Deo dicuntur qui a legitimis Ecclesiae ministris vocantur.”(C. of Trent. De Ordine).
f) This vocation requires that the one called be endowed with the virtues and qualifications demanded by the priestly ministry and by religious life.
Keep in mind the conclusions drawn from the foregoing statements:
“For a young man to be called to religious life or to the priesthood, once he has been admitted by the necessary authorization of the superior, he only needs the qualifications suited to live in such a state, that is, that amount of natural gifts and grace, knowledge and virtue that may provide us with a well-grounded hope that he will faithfully discharge the duties of his state of life and that he is led to follow this call by the right intention, coupled with the resolution to dedicate himself to the priesthood or religious life.
This resolution, please note, may be prepared, suggested, inspired and strengthened by timely advice and constant exhortations, yet without that moral pressure which might lessen the amount of freedom needed: this can be done by an educator, by a confessor or by other prudent persons.
8-Salesian vocations depend on us!
Let us go back now to the role that all of us are asked to play, as far as vocations.
I repeat: we have to work as though the success of a vocation depended only on us, interiorly convinced that we will get as many vocations as our zeal will know and want to raise within the context of our apostolate.
There is an Instruction issued by the Sacred Congregation of the faith, dated March 19,1893 and addressed to the Bishops of Eastern Indies.
It expressly deals with the duty that the bishops have to look for and form the greatest possible amount of subjects worthy to be promoted, at the proper time, to Sacred Orders: “Ut ad sacros ordines quam plurimos et quam aptissimos adducerent, instituerent et suo tempore promoverent”
“It is the duty of the shepherds entrusted with the role of taking care of the sheepfold of Jesus Christ to look for candidates to the priesthood, form them and, at the proper time, promote them to Sacred Orders.
“If they really are true shepherds, they will not wait for the Lord to send them candidates for Sacred Orders, but they will look for them with the same loving concern displayed by that woman referred in the Gospel, that woman who had lost her silver coin and was looking for it (Lk.15: 8-9).
*Adducerent: this verb connotes all of the above.
The verb* Instituerent simply means that once the candidates are found, they do not have to wait for God to form them by bestowing on them extraordinary graces, but it is the task of the Shepherds to dedicate themselves to their formation.
Only after they have been properly formed they may be promoted to receive the Sacred Orders: *suo tempore promoverent. With persistent supplications let us pressure the Lord to send us many laborers for his vineyard.
Nevertheless, we should never forget that the Lord’s words: “Ite in vineam meam”(Mt.20”7) can and must be directed to those youngsters that we feel is qualified to join in and work for such a high mission.
It is St. Thomas Aquinas who reassures us that God does not abandon his church, to the point that the church either will be without suitable ministers or will not have a number of ministers good enough to meet the needs of the Christian people, (Supp. pq.36, art.4 ad 1).
And therefore, we will always find people who will be willing to enter the ecclesiastical state.
Let the Shepherds put themselves to work and play their role: “Id potius curandum est, ut quae Deus humane promisit industriae, fideliter exequatur”-“and then the Lord will not fail to provide vocations for the Church.
Pope Benedict XIV in his encyclical Ubi Primum made this remark: “Bishops usually complain that the harvest is great and the laborers are few. But perhaps we should complain that the Bishops do not really use all the available means to form suitable laborers and get whatever number of laborers is needed to gather the harvest! Good and effective laborers are not born as such but they are made. And the primary concern to make them so, goes back to the intelligent action and inventiveness of the Bishops: “Boni namque et strenui non nascuntur sed fiunt. Ut autem fiant ad episcoporum solertiam industriamque maxime pertinet.”
Now if the Holy Church thinks that having many vocations depends on the action of the Bishops, it also follows that religious vocations depend ordinarily on the action of every member of the congregation.
Therefore, just as the bishops are the main tools to promote, form and call suitable subjects for the priesthood, likewise we, my dear confreres, should be the main tools to get Salesian vocations!
We all have the duty to promote and form, as much as we can, vocations to religious life. But, the right to call them definitively and admit them to religious profession falls within the competence of the Major Superiors alone.
It is quite true that the Bishops have received from God the right to admit to the priesthood and in his name, those candidates whom they consider worthy, while the Superiors who accept and admit candidates to a religious profession receive their authority directly from the Church and only indirectly from God. Nevertheless, God also calls those whom they admit to religious profession: “Vocari a Deo dicuntur qui a legitimis ecclesiae ministris vocantur.”
9-What a vocation is, according to Don Bosco.
My dear confreres and sons, we have a great task and a serious responsibility to deal with!
Our Venerable Don Bosco used to say that the very fact of accepting any youngster in one of our houses and particularly into the Oratory was a precious sign of a vocation.
This does not mean that all the youngsters of our houses are called to embrace the state of perfection, that is, religious life, but certainly very many of them, who, inspired by a healthy environment, an environment that surrounds them and has an influence on them, will come to know that they have gifts and qualifications to aim at entering such a state and gradually be disposed to embrace it.
As far as vocations, our good father Don Bosco had fully grasped the church’s doctrine that I have summarily presented to you.
Therefore, Don Bosco made sure that his youngsters were absolutely free to choose their state of life and avoided using any word that might have sounded like some kind of an imposition or coercion on them, as coming either from God or other circumstances, like from some individual, from the family or others in society.
Don Bosco’s main concern was the salvation of one’s soul and this per se may be attained in every state of life, so long as it has been chosen and entered into after a mature stock-taking of one’s natural gifts and personal qualifications, in the light of eternity, as well as following the guide provided by a person experienced in the ways of the Lord.
It is a fact that no one without a special revelation can be absolutely sure of God’s plans concerning him.
For this reason, Don Bosco was convinced that his task and therefore also ours, as far as vocations, consisted not so much in looking for and guessing God’s plans but in helping youngsters choose a state of life more suited to their natural talents and particular inclinations.
Don Bosco was sure that his way of acting was good enough to have the boys more easily reach their eternal salvation.
In the preface to our Salesian Constitutions, Don Bosco outlines St. Alphonus de’Liguori’s views on a religious vocation.
At first it looks as though Don Bosco was advocating a teaching which was prevalent during St. Alphonsus’ days, namely that every person is absolutely predestined to follow a certain state of life. And if a person had not followed that state of life, he would have run the risk of failing to receive the graces needed for his eternal salvation.
But I would like to remark that Don Bosco wrote those pages, not for those who still had to choose their vocation, but for those who had already chosen it.
Those pages are not meant to indicate what state of life to follow but to help those who have already chosen it to stay on the course.
Those pages are practically a commentary to the words uttered by the Lord himself: “No one who has put his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.” “Nemo mittens manum suam ad aratrum et respiciens retro aptus est regno Dei.”(Lk.9: 62).
It is evident that a person who opts out of the state of perfection that he has freely chosen as his most sure way to be saved, is going to be without the greatest amount of those graces that he would have received, had he persevered in his choice and he is also going to be confronted with a greater amount of difficulties.
With those pages, Don Bosco meant to warn us about persevering in our vocation and not really to set for us norms to follow in choosing our state of life.
This is proven by the way Don Bosco behaved towards those people who after a short try, had abandoned the vocation they had chosen, either because they did not have enough will to persevere in it, or for other reasons.
Don Bosco always showed compassion or empathy towards them; he also helped them in every way possible, that they might regain courage and do their best to save their souls, within the lower state of life that they had gone into.
The greater the number of those who left their vocation, the greater was the help provided for them, because Don Bosco knew from experience the very serious difficulties that most of the time there must be to overcome to persevere within a life of perfection.
Even in his dream visions Don Bosco was the spectator who saw the struggles that his boys had to confront, in order to become apostles…
10-Don Bosco’s Fatherly vision of a vocation.
The following is a dream that Don Bosco reported to the boys, on May 9,l879 (Cfr. B.M. vol.14, p.88): “ I saw a hard-fought, long-drawn-out battle between youngsters and a varied array of warriors who were armed with strange weapons.
Survivors were few. “A second fiercer and more terrifying battle was being waged by gigantic monsters fully armed, well-trained tall men who unfurled a huge banner, the center of which bore an inscription Maria Auxilium Christanorum.
“The combat was long and bloody, but the soldiers fighting under the banner were protected against any hurt and conquered a vast plain. The boys who had survived the previous battle linked forces with them, each combatant holding a crucifix in his right hand and a miniature of the banner in his left.
“After engaging together in several sallies over that vast plain, they split, some heading eastward, a few to the north and many to the south.
“ Once they all left, the same skirmishes, maneuvers and leave-taking was repeated by others.
“I recognized some boys who fought in the first skirmishes, but none of the others, who nevertheless seemed to know me and asked me many questions.”
These lines, so it seems to me, give us, first a perfect description of the early life at the Oratory of Valdocco, and then a description of the life of our Congregation, our beloved Congregation privileged to be viewed as the vineyard that was planted with unheard-of hard labor by our Venerable Don Bosco, within the garden which is the church, constantly in need of fresh waves of good laborers.
Don Bosco followed the example of the owner of the vineyard in the Gospel parable: as long as he lived, he never tired to roam the cities, the small towns and boroughs, looking for laborers, and he repeatedly said to the great and to the small, to the rich and to the poor, the Gospel’s words: “Ite et vos in vineam meam.” “You too go and work in my vineyard (Mt. 20: 7). And Don Bosco always found someone who was willing to respond to his invitation.
But the vineyard did not only need to be worked on, it also needed to be guarded, day and night, against its enemies. And this explains why at the early stage of the Oratory only a few persevered, while they had to confront the fierce battles and tiring hard labor; others instead turned back.
Nevertheless, the few survivors became well trained and strong enough to successfully resist the attacks of the enemy.
Little by little, those survivors became a real army, and after many maneuvers and scrimmages on the plain, they scattered just as it is pointed out in the dream-vision, some to the east, others to the west, still others to the south and the north of that vineyard.
And besides, they either cultivated it or defended it in a better way, or looked for new recruits needed to fill the gasps created by those who had disappeared.
Don Bosco’s fatherly eye fixedly gazed into the future and witnessed the renewed battles, the maneuvers and the constant departures of many people he did not know, but they did know him and persistently asked him many questions.”
Don Bosco witnessed both those people who valiantly fought and fell as well as the crowds who pulled back and gradually left the battlefield-and I cannot tell you about the bitter feeling that Don Bosco must have felt witnessing all this. But at the same time, Don Bosco did see with great joy that new and valiant recruits were taking their places, powerfully enriched with energy.
11-Don Bosco’s secret to get many vocations.
Don Bosco’s dream of 1879 gets a wider range.
“Shortly afterwards, I witness a shower of flashing, fiery tongues of many colors, followed by thunder and then clear skies. Then I found myself in a charming garden. A man who looked like Saint Francis de Sales silently handed me a booklet. I asked him who he was. “Read the book”, was his reply.
I opened it but had trouble reading, managing only to make out these precise words: “For the Novices: Obedience in all things. Through obedience they will deserve God’s blessing and the good will of men. Through diligence they will fight and overcome the snares set by the enemies of their souls.”
“For the Confreres: jealously safeguard the virtue of chastity. Love your confreres’ good name promote the honor of the Congregation.
“For the Directors: take every care, make every effort to observe and promote the observance of the rules through which everyone’s life is consecrated to God.
“For the Superior: Total self-sacrifice, so as to draw himself and his charges to God”
At this point Don Bosco, all taken up by the thought of vocations, asked the mysterious person: ”How can I foster vocations? This is the answer that he was given:
“The Salesians will harvest many vocations by their good example, by being endlessly kind toward their pupils and by urging them constantly to receive Holy Communion often.”
“What should I bear in mind when admitting novices’?”
“Reject idlers and gluttons.”
“And when admitting to vows?”
“Make sure that they are well-grounded in chastity.”
“How are we to maintain the right spirit in our houses?”
“Let the superiors often write to, visit and welcome the confreres, and deal kindly with them.”
“What of our foreign missions?”
“Send men of sound morality and recall any of those who give you serious reasons to doubt; look and foster native vocations.”
From these simple words, which we should well impress within our memory, it clearly appears that much of the formation to be given to vocations depends on us, and with our good behavior and with charity we can have as many vocations as we want.
Why is it then that vocations are so scarce and not enough to meet the needs of the Congregation?
My dear confreres, please, forgive me, but the reason for this situation keeps on being the same reason that I have complained about in my exhortations in a former letter written to you. Allow me to once again use the words that I have some time ago written to you.
“I am convinced that not a few Salesians allow more than one vocation to get lost every year. I often pick up the directory of our Pious Society.
I go over again and again the reports made by provincials and directors.
I compare them with past ones and I am overwhelmed by a feeling of sadness when I realize that several boarding schools and hospices, which in the past were the source of abundant and excellent vocations, now give us only very few or none at all.
I am aware of the difficulties created by the times we are in. However I also think that if we were all enkindled with that same sacred fire and love of souls which was burning in Don Bosco’s heart, we would be able to find so many and so various enterprising initiatives to overcome these difficulties or at least to render them less noticeable.”
From the time of that letter, the scarcity of vocations seems to have worsened and God only knows how much!
To lighten the weight of our responsibilities, we have tried to blame this situation on the horrible war that, as a matter of fact, has rendered our family quite desolate, deprived of so many precious lives, and has paralyzed our vitality and spirit of initiative.
But, if we attentively listen to the voice of our conscience, it should not turn out to be difficult to convince ourselves that had we worked harder, we would have gotten a greater number of vocations!
Perhaps it has slipped out of our perspective what Don Bosco had wanted us to do: namely, to cultivate the human sciences, but mainly for the reason of being able to teach the divine sciences, which form true Christians and above all promote, with God’s help, a goodly number of vocations among the youth entrusted to our care.
Perhaps we have forgotten that this was one of the main features of our Salesian vocation and we felt satisfied for being outstanding and indefatigable teachers and professors, and never worried about anything else but having the boys study and study and keep on studying, just as any lay teacher would have done.
We only wanted our students to get the best marks in their final exams and be awarded the best professional diplomas and then enter the work-force contest and land the best and moneymaking jobs!
The festive oratories have perhaps stressed the pre-eminent importance of games and sports and theater performances and music and other external activities, while the study and practice of religion were given the least amount of importance.
12-Don Bosco was a wonderful fisherman!
My dear and good confreres, if our oratories, boarding schools, hospices, boarding institutions had given, as Don Bosco wanted, first honors to the study and practice of religion, we would have created the best kind of terrain wherein to plant and cause the blossoming of an abundance of priestly and religious vocations!
May I appeal to your own experience? I am sure that you have noticed that the houses where piety holds a pole position have actually become hotbeds of vocations.
On the other hand, the houses where piety is waning, vocations are few or none at all. Why do you think that the First Oratory of Valdocco, the first boarding schools have given to our Society, to many dioceses in Italy and abroad, in such a short time, so many and so splendid vocations?
Why is it that Bishops were looking for clergy recruits among them?
This is the answer: The very first concern of those first houses was what pertained souls. Everybody kept on recalling the apostle’s words: “Non habemus hic manentem civitatem sed futuram inquirimu.” “There is no eternal city for us in this life, but we look for one in the life to come.”(Jer. B. Trans. Hebrews 13:14).
These words contained the whole program of Christian life and everybody was spurred on by them to correct their defects, to be engaged in practicing the best of virtues and vying with one another to achieve this program.
This is the way that Don Bosco had in mind to follow and did follow. And while doing this, he was enlightened by an ardent love of God and love of souls!
This is the way by which Don Bosco kept on preparing, imperceptibly, the most suitable terrain for the blossoming of priestly and religious vocations.
Don Bosco repeated, quite often for his boys to hear, the Lord’s words: “Si vis perfectus esse. “-“If you want to be perfect!”
This was the Lord’s invitation to keep the evangelical counsels and be involved in apostolic work; and many, really many youngsters, full of saintly enthusiasm responded by saying: “Here I am! I’m ready! Take me!”
Oh! how many unforgettable scenes I have witnessed and so many times during the most beautiful years that I have spent close to our Venerable father Don Bosco! We were all convinced that Don Bosco had received from the Lord absolutely special gifts, and first of all the gift of going right into our consciences and have good knowledge of them.
But even if we let go of these wonderful charisms, Don Bosco with his natural qualities was able to prepare so well the terrain for the growth of vocations, that when only a hint was made about it, it looked as though that was the most natural thing to do, and we felt almost bad for not having given it a thought beforehand and for not having decided earlier about it.
The playground recreations, especially those that were more boisterous, were the area where Don Bosco had become a most marvelous fisherman.
Don Bosco took his time to study the natural abilities, inclinations and characters of every boy. And he did this with more love than a mother, who looks after the good of her children.
When he saw that a boy was showing more than others, vivaciousness and self-control in the games, Don Bosco would then endeavor to prepare him with his glance, with a kindly little word whispered into his ear that never contained any vocation hint, by entrusting him with some job to do, by using the fascinating power of his love.
And when the right moment had popped up, Don Bosco would whisper into the boy’s ear those simple words: “Wouldn’t you like to dedicate your life to the Lord and save souls?”
That lucky boy would then see with splendid clarity the vocation he was going to decide upon. And the boy’s enthusiasm shown in his response was never simply a passing one.
Now, are we not going to see in those quick transformations and decisions something extraordinary and, so to speak, something miraculous?
There is no doubt that some of these transformations and decisions were truly extraordinary and miraculous. But, ordinarily, these transformations and decisions were the final result of several inventive devices used, of hard work done, of precious prayers said, that Don Bosco had relied upon to prepare the ground for the seed of a vocation to be planted and cared for until it fully developed.
13-“Just as the gardener deals with his plants…”
Dear confreres, I can assure you that we will not fail to get every year an abundant number of vocations, if we will not spare enterprising initiatives, hard work and prayers for them.
Don Bosco has done the groundwork: the only thing we have to do is following Don Bosco’s footsteps.
Don Bosco’s mission was that of founding festive oratories hospices and boarding schools or boarding institutions, wherein to gather the sons of the lower classes of society and train them to live as Christians,
We have been called to continue Don Bosco’s mission and so we must act as our model Don Bosco acted, namely, we need to study our youngsters, to pass a timely appraisal on their physical, intellectual and moral qualities and then act much like the gardener when he deals with the plants of his nursery. Some plants are planted in a plain terrain, others on the hillside.
If this youngster does not have either a “head” or memory for anything, then be satisfied if you can put into his head what he needs to know how to be healthy.
Another youngster has neither will nor aptitude for studies or books get him to learn a trade or a profession.
You may find another youngster who gives the impression of being a simple guy, with outgoing character, good memory, bright intelligence and good morals that is the youngster you should put your eyes on and consider him like a chosen fruit; pay greater attention to him that he may grow up soundly, get stronger and aim higher in what he does.
The latter youngster should take a regular course of studies; give him a solid foundation in the ABC of learning and have him take the rhetoric course; get him to study the Latin grammar and even more.
Let me tell you if this is the way you act towards that youngster, I bet you that as he grows older and gets to the proper age, he will become a cleric, and the Master of the harvest will have him chosen to work and till his vineyard” (B. M. vol. 5, p.266).
As the result of this diligent and attentive sifting done by Don Bosco, during his life time among the boys, over 2,500 youngsters became priests; they all came out of his houses, as he himself acknowledged, and went to work in the dioceses.
And if you take into account the other vocations that have been planted and carefully tended and then scattered here and there, we can reasonably accept a higher number of priests and religious than the one we just mentioned.
We should not forget, my dear confreres, that to have this apostolic miracle happen, Don Bosco had first of all to look for all the ingredients needed for vocations to grow, namely a house where to locate them, people to staff this house, means to support them and have them grow.
In our case instead, and I am referring to the superiors whose task it is to look for a house, staff and means-ordinarily we have nothing else to do but foster the seeds of a vocation within the youngsters entrusted to our care.
14-Let us all be vocations recruiters!
I said that, “we ordinarily have nothing else to do but.” because in a wider sense we too are expected to have to “go-a begging-for-vocations” at their raw stage, among our relatives, friends, and acquaintances, by relying either on our own good example or on our words, and also on letter-writing.
St. Francis of Assisi, the “poverello,” in order to wrest the hearts of his contemporaries from the riches and pleasures into which they were steeped, had asked his followers to live in a most rigid poverty, both in spirit and in deed and to go out begging every day, to respond to the most essential needs of their existence. It is for this reason that they were called ‘The Food Mendicant Friars-The food begging Friars!”
And to a certain extent we should also be proud to be called, after Don Bosco’s example, “The Vocations Mendicants or Beggars for Vocations!”
Our begging not for food-related -stuff but for generous hearts willing to do priestly and religious apostolic work, will turn out to be a sermon as effective as the one preached by the Friars of Assisi in their days.
The Friars of Assisi by being detached of everything had people despise riches and love that poverty which directly leads towards Jesus Christ.
We, by having the Lord’s inviting words: si vis perfectus esse (if you want to be perfect) ring in our youngsters ears, will awake in many of them the desire to be perfect. We will be giving the un-believing world a sermon on how to get back to the world of the supernatural, on how to get back to the practice of Christian life, which is nothing else, but the life of Jesus Christ evidenced by individuals, families and the whole society.
15-A feature of the Salesian spirit.
Dear confreres, I thought it was proper to have you focus your attention on this particular type of apostolate carried out not only within the range of our relationships with family members, but also among friends and simple acquaintances, because this is one of the most outstanding features of that genuine spirit, that Don Bosco had breathed into his initiatives.
The more we study Don Bosco’s life, the more are we going to see emerge the genial character of his entirely new creation.
Don Bosco was aware of the fierce hatred that was raging during his days against our religion and in particular against religious Orders and Congregations. He saw religious Orders and Congregations being gradually suppressed by the Italian revolution, by means of unjust laws, even in States that had been considered Catholic up to that time.
Don Bosco had an intuition, namely that a new religious family would not have been able to survive, had he modeled it after the religious families already suppressed.
And so Don Bosco got rid of what was purely the external form of a Congregation and began to form a society which kept only what was strictly necessary for religious perfection.
Don Bosco dropped the old terminology applied to religious Congregations of times gone by, and created a new terminology with common names, names less attention- getters: Don Bosco’s society was expected to be only a PIOUS SOCIETY, a society made up of people who dedicated themselves to the education of poor and abandoned boys.
The members of this society were expected to keep, next to their civil rights, also the right to own their goods, even though they were bound to practice the evangelical counsels, and so, to be practically poor, since they could not use their goods without the permission of their superior.
The members of this new society were expected to join their personal initiative to the submission due to a superior.
It is exactly from this spirit that our society draws that genial modernity that allows it to perform those good deeds that are urgently requested by the present times and locations.
And finally, the members of this new society, even though they have said good-bye to their relatives and friends and to the world, only in order to follow Jesus Christ, were not asked to sever their natural ties with them and with any relationship they might have had in the world, as though it were an imposition.
They knew that they could have perfectly detached themselves from any ties at all, yet they did not have to bring about a violent physical separation from them.
Don Bosco’s entire educative system boils down to this: help the young form their will so that they may be able to discharge their duties and practice to a heroic degree the evangelical counsels, not out of human respect, not out of coercion from outside, but freely and out of love.
Don Bosco’s institution is a family made up only of brothers who have accepted to share the same duties and rights out of a perfect freedom of choice and out of a genuine love for their type of life.
This is the reason why Don Bosco wanted in an absolute way kept out of his houses any ordinances or dispositions, which might have somehow curtailed the freedom to be enjoyed by children within a family.
Every one was expected to follow the schedule and rules not out of coercion from outside, but spontaneously, out of a free choice, something freely decided on by everyone.16-The ground that is most suited for vocations to grow in.
Now it is exactly this family spirit that stands as the most fertile ground for vocations and we must keep it and improve upon it.
This family spirit entails that the superiors exercise their authority not with commands that may sound like army commands, but with that kind of love that leads the dependents to even anticipate doing what they wish.
When we talk with friends, acquaintances and outsiders we should display this family spirit of ours and in all its splendor, both by showing a jovial and cheerful attitude, and by showing that we are proud for the happiness which springs out of our state of life, whenever we have the chance to do it.
With this way of acting, even though we may not be aware of it, we are actually extending the ground for vocations to grow, and several youngsters will imperceptibly be drawn to get rid of their prejudices about religious life, occasionally praise our way of life and even suggest it to someone who might still be doubtful about choosing his own state of life.
Isn’t this an indirect way to apostolically search for vocations?
My dear confreres, this family spirit should especially be kept alive within our festive oratories, in our houses, boarding schools or boarding institutions, wherever we carry on our work. And remember :only where this family spirit reigns supreme, there vocations will blossom!
Let us then keep this family spirit alive. This is the kind of spirit described by Don Bosco in his letter from Rome, dated May 10,1884. Don Bosco warmly insisted on it .The letter is considered like the most authentic commentary to his Preventive System of education.
You can read that letter in the Acts of the Superior Council (pp.40-48).
It is my warm wish that our novices and students in formation should study this letter as well as the Preventive System, with true filial love and impress it upon their minds and hearts.
To make this study possible I will shortly have the letter published in a separate booklet.
17-The true apostles of vocations.
I am sure, my dear confreres, that you have easily understood from what I have been writing how greatly important it is that we should look for vocations within the limits of our assignments and relationships with outsiders.
The true apostles of vocations operate much like the sculptor: before he gives a body to an idea that he has thought out, the sculptor looks for the finest block of marble; then he has it transported into his studio and finally he chisels it with love and art.
The years that I have spent as Rector Major, have allowed me to witness with joy the great youth movement made up of pupils and past pupils of our institutions. From the bottom of my heart I raised a hymn of thanksgiving to the Lord and to our powerful Lady, the Help of Christians, for the marvelous abundance of valiant youths, the world over, who enthusiastically marched behind the banner which carried Don Bosco’s motto: Da mihi animas!
Whenever I visited our houses and found myself surrounded by a cheerful crowd of pupils, when I looked at their good and innocent faces, which clearly expressed the beautiful talents they were endowed with, I spontaneously thought to myself: Very many of these youngsters would have thought about consecrating themselves to the Lord, if they had been properly guided and helped to choose what the Lord called the “Better Part.”
Even when I participated at the unforgettable Congress of Past Pupils and noticed the splendid display of beautiful qualities of mind and heart evidenced by the fully developed life of these youngsters, I also thought that perhaps many, really many of them would have entered into a career dealing apostolically with souls, had they been properly disposed towards it and looked after by their superiors and teachers.
My dear and good confreres, mine are not simple suppositions or only pious wishes .It is a fact that when the ground, even though well tilled and fertilized, does not bring forth fruits, the one to be blamed is the farmer, either because he forgot to plant the seeds or because he did not use the proper seeds or because he failed to see to it that the seeds grew rightly and not be eaten by the birds or stifled by cockle.
Among the crowd of youngsters sent by Divine Providence to our houses, there are many who appear to be a ground good enough to produce the flower of a priestly or religious vocation.
There are youngsters who have all the special qualifications to enter the state of perfection, but as I pointed out early on, they need someone to guide them and direct them in the right way.
This is what we are asked to do, if we want to show that we are the affectionate children of the Church and of our Congregation.
18-The youngsters who feel an attraction for purity.
What would we consider a most suitable ground for a vocation among the young?
My dear confreres, we should put on that kind of an eye which made Don Bosco a specialist in terms of vocations: look for those who are more inclined to be pure!
I am not talking about a negative kind of purity, namely that purity that is only due to a well-balanced and calm temperament or to a providential yet transitory ignorance of certain mysterious facts of life.
I am talking about a positive purity, a purity that an adolescent is fully aware of and wants; the purity of an adolescent who already knows or at least has begun to know or suspects the existence and the nature of those pleasures that his lower instincts might be tempting him to enjoy.
I am talking about the purity of an adolescent who with his reasoning ability, with his heart and soul has come to loathe the pleasures of the flesh and feels the need to keep away from them and protect his eyes, his imagination and his life from their foul and corrupting stench.
The youngsters who feel inclined to be pure, as I have described, when they are about to choose their state of life, will not fail to choose preferably the ecclesiastical state.
These youngsters as a matter of fact will soon come to understand, first of all intuitively and later on, only gradually, by effective proofs, that the ecclesiastical-religious state is the only state that would guarantee for them the keeping of their purity and to the highest degree.
As a matter of fact, in the ecclesiastical-religious state everything exalts purity; everything is almost forcefully geared towards purity:
*The general spirit evidenced by the priests and by religious Congregations; the lessons and examples given by Jesus Christ and by the saints, examples and lessons studied and meditated upon by order of the Church, by priests and religious;
*The solicitous concern of the church, this Divine Mother of souls, for the honorable behavior of its ministers…
Purity is intimately related to a priestly-religious state; it is inseparable from it and almost identified with it.
Somehow, even the youngsters know this intuitively. For this reason, our hopes are high when we deal with youngsters who hunger and thirst for purity.
On the contrary we should not place high hopes, generally, on those who markedly tend to look for the pleasures of life. And it is relatively easy to identify these individuals, only by looking at their temperament and more so by constantly looking at the good and bad inclinations that they display for all to see.
19-Let us foster purity within our youngsters.
Let our efforts and attention be mainly directed to keep and foster purity within the youngsters entrusted to our care. Let us tirelessly insist as our Venerable Don Bosco did: “On the necessity of always keeping busy and always being involved in doing something; on having active recreations; on always keeping hands off; on never walking hand in hand or holding on to a friend’s hand; on never tolerating that the boys lack politeness when they deal with one another; on never allowing them to embrace, not even in jest.
We should insist, as Don Bosco did, rigorously and prudently, on preventing particular friendships, even though they may at first appear not to be dangerous, and we should be inexorable in this matter.
We should not only loathe scurrilous talk but we should also avoid using vulgar words, that may arouse a dishonest feeling or thought.
In our exhortations we should stress purity rather than its vice.
What deals with impurity should always and only be hinted at with prudent and modest terms. We should avoid even mentioning the sins of impurity.
When we talk about impure temptations, let us refer to them as Bad Temptations.
Let us refer to a sin of impurity as a ‘misfortune’, just as Don Bosco did.
For Don Bosco, even the use of the term chastity did not seem suitable enough to impress upon the youngsters minds that immaculate candor he wanted them to be vested with.
Dear confreres, let us appeal to our good Father Don Bosco that we may obtain the grace to be able to instill within the hearts of our youngsters love and enthusiasm for the queen of virtues, so that they may proclaim:
“Blessed indeed those days when a small speck in their morals moved them to tears and led them instantly to kneel before their confessor. Such was the effectiveness produced in those youngsters by our words, when we spoke to them about purity”.
Finally, summing up, let us be continuously vigilant and remove from the eyes and hands of our youngsters anything that might arouse in them any unhealthy curiosity.
Let us also keep fresh in our memory the serious warning that Don Bosco used to give to his early sons: “Remember ‘De Moribus’! That’s all! Save morality! Tolerate anything, passionate, insolence, carelessness, but never tolerate any offense against God and in particular manner the vice contrary to purity. Be well on guard against this sin and keep your entire attention on the young entrusted to your care.”
20-The mission of the Salesian coadjutor brother
Those educational institutions where purity reigns supreme will never be without priestly-religious vocations. And I should also add that these educational institutions would have even more abundant religious vocations because it is within religious life that the white lily of purity can be better and securely kept.
I’d like you, my dear confreres, to consider my words for a particular reason.
Because of the nature of our institutions, we are bound to foster the seed of a religious vocation in those students and artisans who are good and generously willing to enter into a life of perfection and into an apostolate, yet they do not have those qualifications of mind and heart suited for the priesthood, and besides, they do not feel the courage to do it.
In the religious congregations of times gone by, the lay brothers formed some sort of Second Order within the Order or a Second Class and depended on the First Class or on the First Order; the lay brothers also shared to a lesser degree the spiritual goods shared by the First Class.
Don Bosco did away with this traditional religious dualism. The members of the Salesian Society enjoy the same rights and privileges.
It is true that the sacred ordination imposes greater duties on priests. However, priests, clerics and coadjutor brothers share equally the same rights.
The coadjutor brothers do not form a ‘second class’, they are true Salesians and carry out among the young the very same apostolic work carried out by the priests, with the exception of those duties strictly carried out only by priestly functions.
Therefore, our coadjutor brothers should make themselves available to teach catechism, to give religious and social talks, to teach in primary and secondary schools, to become principals, to assist the young, day and night, to be the administrators of the community.
They should be able to carry out all the other assignments that are linked with the diversified programs of our apostolate, excluding only what pertains to priestly ministry per se.
Now if the mission of the Salesian coadjutor brother is presented, as it should be, with all its social implications and importance, with all its attractive beauty and various dimensions, to the youngsters referred to early on, I am sure that they would be easily led to want and actually choose this kind of religious life.
The coadjutor brother vocations, my dear confreres, are imperatively demanded by the needs of our Pious Society. Without the coadjutor brothers our society would not be able to respond to the social objectives imposed on it by the times we live in.
On the other hand, Don Bosco’s creation of the Salesian Coadjutor Brother stands as one of the most genial creations prompted by a charity that always wants to render easier for everyone the ways of perfection.
Let us then put a greater effort and foster vocations to the Salesian coadjutor brotherhood.
When we talk about a Salesian vocation, let us try to make the youngsters understand that Salesian life is wholesome and complete, even without the priesthood; that the coadjutors brothers in our society are just the same as the priests enjoy the same social rights and spiritual benefits.
Those teachers, professors, catechists, prefects, directors who might be able to say that they have successfully formed some good coadjutor brother will be entitled to receive a most special grateful recognition within the Salesian Congregation.
However, it is up to the coadjutors themselves who should be the first ones to look for vocations to the lay brotherhood. They should be the ones to foster them and not only in the schools in which they teach or in the shops they work in, where perhaps there is less of an opportunity to do this, but during the recreations they should be involved in, joining the games of the youngsters and their conversations in a friendly way. In the recreation area the coadjutor brothers can be more influential and effective than the clerics and the priests.
As a matter of fact, a cleric, a priest, is able to describe what the life of a coadjutor brother is like, but a coadjutor brother will be able to show a youngster the life that he lives, offer him an example to live by, and, we all know that verba movent, exempla trahunt, if words can move people to do things, examples attract them!
As we talk about the power that examples have, let us remember, my dear confreres, that even our most enterprising initiatives to get good coadjutor vocations would be of no avail, if our pupils were not to see in practice the equality and true brotherliness that should exist between priests and brothers and that we all boast about.
God forbid hat any of us should deserve to hear that serious reproach which was prompted by love and made by Don Rua in the circular letter, dated Nov.1, l906. That complaint just hit the bottom of my heart like a dagger: “There is a complaint that I have heard being made sometimes by the coadjutor brothers themselves, namely, that they are considered more like servants than like brothers.” (Circ. Letters of Don Rua p. 355).
21-Ad majora natus sum: I was born for greater things!
A youngster in order to be considered precious ground for a vocation, should possess another feature, namely a higher way of thinking that loathes what is mediocre, banal and vulgar and aims at reaching higher objectives.
This youngster should show that when faced with earthly goals and honors
is led to say ,with his eyes brilliant with noble pride: Excelsior! Higher! Ad majora natus sum: I was born for greater objectives!
Naturally, the priestly-religious vocation cannot but present a great deal of attractiveness, since even from a merely human perspective, that state is far superior to any other.
But the perception that youngsters have of the loftiness of this state is only at its germinal stages and it is up to us to develop it by means of education.
This is where most of the valiant ability of the Salesian educator and the value of the Preventive System should be made evident.
The Preventive System is our most precious legacy, and if it is rightly interpreted and better applied, it will help us know the various characters of our youngsters; it will show us the best means to render them better; it will show us how to lead to achieve a higher degree of perfection those whom we feel are called to attain higher objectives in life.
Allow me to bring once again to your attention what I have written as I tried to describe how Don Bosco was going to be our model in the education and sanctification of the young.
In that description you will find the norms that we should follow, if we want to mold our youngsters after the pattern of the fatherly example given by Don Bosco.
If we put into practice the Preventive System we will never allow youngsters with a naturally good disposition and good family upbringing to go bad.
But we will be able to achieve this by making sure that the youngsters who are naturally more earth-bound do not drag along the good ones and get them to think as they do, to have the same tastes as they have, to follow their projects for the future, in one word, by making sure that the good ones are not driven to pursue only low and only ordinary objectives, such as to strike it rich, to enjoy comforts, luxury, a well-being, vulgar pleasures, worldly successes and vanity.
Let us instead cleverly lead the youngsters to raise their eyes towards a higher ideal, towards what is good and virtuous, towards those joys that are hard to reach yet are very delightful and spring up from properly discharging one’s duties, from being at peace with one’s conscience, and towards a life that is serious, useful and worthy of living.
Every once in a while, either in the classroom, in community talks or goodnight talks, or even during recreation time, let us talk enthusiastically about these noble ideals.
If at times during a friendly conversation while recreating, a youngster were to express worries prompted by selfishness or self-interest, we should not fail to show our disapproval of them and say: That is kind of low, cheap and banal; it is not worthy of a generous heart.
It is during such conversations that we can find the opportunity to repeat in a thousand guises, the saintly expression: “Sursum Corda-Lift up your hearts!”
If you read the first volume of Don Bosco’s life you will find and read with delight the precious mine of norms and examples for the practical exercise of apostolic work among the young that is miraculously fertile of excellent vocations.
Let us treasure those norms, my dear confreres, and keep them always present in our mind as something that is very important for us to follow.
Don Bosco found that the young rascals, as he used to call them, that is, the kids most restless and lively, were a good ground for a vocation, because they were also warm-hearted and so big-hearted as to feel urged to be unselfish and love and finally sacrifice themselves on behalf of the good of others.
Don Bosco’s best conquests were made among the kids of this type. There are several Salesians still living who can testify that it was really so, and if they were to write down their recollections of their first years with Don Bosco and how their vocations began, you would see what a practical technique Don Bosco used to awaken within the hearts of the youngsters the desire to aim at perfection.
22-We need to give of ourselves and make sacrifices.
Let us carefully study how to look for such youngsters, whose hearts are vibrant and generous: a kind word, a gesture, an act of kindness or of charity on behalf of a companion might be taken as the first signs of a vocation.
And if we use a prudent love to back them up, one day or another, they will confidentially tell us that they feel an initial desire to join the ecclesiastical state.
And this does really happen because they have started to think that they will find happiness in the priestly state, and because they feel that it responds to their need to give of themselves and sacrifice themselves on behalf of others.
I said that we have to back them with ‘a prudent love’, because such vocations depend essentially on our cooperation; we have to help them fight uninterruptedly that selfishness which may be found in them; we have to stifle any of its manifestations; we have to get the youngsters used to perform frequently small and generous deeds of love, showing them even with a simple glance that we are pleased with and that we approve of, what they have done.
Let us urge them to be generous by helping their companions and the poor, but especially let us ask them to give of themselves, to be ready to serve and be entirely willing to perform good deeds.
Let us strive to have them love their studies and their work, and to look on them as the best and sure way to be soon able to do well to others.
Let us begin by giving them small assignments in the various sodalities; by asking them to help in assisting the boys during recreation time, during the games and have them look at those tasks as other ways to do good to their classmates.
Let us ask them to give good advice and even to protest energetically against immoral conversations and spread out their good spirit and piety in all possible ways.
When they will come to know that to give, they also have to deprive themselves of something; that to give of themselves they also have to meet with discomfort and work hard, and that if they want to stand out they also have to overcome their natural shyness and human respect and sometimes be subjected to ridicule and scorn, then their formation will appear to be more secure and even better.
23-The need of a supernatural spirit.
However, our youngsters, even though they love purity, aim at higher ideals, and are endowed with the most generous spirit of self-denial, will never turn out to be a ground suitable for a vocation to blossom and grow, if they do not possess a deep supernatural spirit.
We know that if we follow the example of Don Bosco, our work as educators, is expected to aim at forming Christians of conviction, practicing Christians. And we will never successfully reach this objective, unless we are imbued with a supernatural spirit.
This very supernatural spirit should especially be present in those youngsters whom the Lord has endowed with the qualifications essential to do apostolic work on behalf of the salvation of souls.
We should all, then, be concerned about offering them supernatural ideas, filling their minds with the great truths of our faith, especially those truths that closely and directly deal with our life: God’s greatness; what God can do for us; the many claims that God has on us to demand that we serve him; God’s infinite amiability; the sweetness felt in giving oneself to God; the certainty of death joined to the uncertainty of the hour of our death and God’s judgment, which will determine our happy or unhappy lot for all eternity; the vanity and fragility of earthly things; the capital importance of saving our soul; the infinite malice of sin; the dignity and merits attached to human efforts to reach salvation; the need to follow Jesus as close as possible.
Let us take advantage of any suitable occasion to instill deeply within the minds of our youngsters the supreme truths just mentioned. We have to do it in a natural and persuasive manner and show it more with the way we live our faith than with words.
Let us get them used to do some spiritual reading, every day, to make some kind of meditation as suggested by Don Bosco in the Companion of youth (Giovane Provveduto).
How dear and beautiful are the reflections written by don Bosco during the first years of his apostolic work among the young! How wonderfully does Don Bosco reveal in those reflections the fire of his love for youth and his educative system entirely inspired by and directed to, the supernatural!
When we instill in the minds of our youngsters supernatural truths, we also awaken in them parallel feelings:
*A strong fear of the Lord;(Oh! How effective was Don Bosco’s poster: God sees you!), a fear softened by a filial type of piety; horror for anything that might offend God; the fear of hell; a vibrant desire to reach paradise; contempt for the world, its pleasures, its gaudiness, its maxims and its spirit.
Let us stir up in our youngsters above all a manly and tender love for Jesus Christ, the Jesus of the crib, the Jesus of Calvary, the Jesus of the Eucharist.
Let us lead them to study the life of Jesus as displayed in the Gospels, his sublime and gentle appearance.
Let us lead them to Jesus present in the tabernacle; let us ask them to be united with him frequently and even every day with a sacramental or with a spiritual communion.
Let us lead them to love the church with enthusiasm as soon as their minds come to know about the wonderful glories evidenced by its history, by its outstanding accomplishments and by its saints.
24-The need of supernatural virtues.
Moreover, supernatural ideas and feelings should lead our youngsters to see in them the blossoming of supernatural virtues, to the degree that is compatible with their age. I mean the virtues of charity, of humility, of mortification (the exact observance of the rules offers every day the chance to practice mortification!), self-denial and zeal for souls.
To acquire these virtues and eliminate the defects, which is the indispensable condition for them to grow, we should teach our youngsters how to handle the powerful tools of a general and particular examination of conscience. This is the way to have our youngsters gradually acquire the taste for what is supernatural, a liking for prayer, for the Word of God, for spiritual reading, for church ceremonies. They will love to serve Mass and feel happy about serving it, any time an opportunity is being offered to them.
Dear confreres, please read and read again those precious jewels like biographies of Dominic Savio, Michael Magone, Francis Besucco, Louis Colle and you will find out that Don Bosco followed exactly what I have just mentioned, to have these most fragrant flowers of sanctity blossom around himself at the Oratory.
Besides, you should not think that the task of providing our youngsters with a formation to the supernatural is the task of only the director, of the catechist and confessor. Not really! This is something that everyone has been called to contribute to; it demands cooperation, like the cooperation from teachers and shop-heads. Perhaps at time it is the latter that play the greatest role in this formation, since they deal with the youngsters more than anyone else.
If teachers, professors, shop-heads, really respond to their mission and know how to take advantage of the many opportunities being offered to them, they can better than anyone else instill the supernatural dimension within the minds, hearts and interior life of their pupils.
The Salesian teacher should be deeply convinced about the necessity of giving to his pupils a solid religious instruction.
Classes of literature, of science and mathematics, of geography etc. can offer a teacher the chance, at least indirectly, to hint at some religious truths.
This is one of the most important points of our educative system. If we fail to follow it, we will also fail to get vocations for our institutions.
25-We should all sow the seeds of vocations.
Nevertheless, my dear confreres, if we fully understand our educative mission the way Don Bosco wanted us to understand it, then we are not going to merely content ourselves with preparing the ground suited for the birth of vocations, as we have so far indicated, but we are also expected to plant the seeds of vocations and lovingly attend to them.
First of all we are expected to plant the seed of a vocation: this means that we have to use all the means at our disposal to have the ground ready for a vocation to really blossom forth and take shape.
The means at our disposal to do this are: prayer, exhortations, spiritual reading, and thousands of other devices that have been inventively used by Don Bosco, our incomparable Master.
This is what the mysterious person who appeared in the dream told Don Bosco: “The Salesians will get many vocations with their exemplary conduct.”
Therefore, to have a lot of vocations spring up around us we have to set our conduct, our entire life in such a way as to direct it towards the good of our Pious Society.
The goal of our Salesian Society is that of: “Attaining perfection by being engaged in works of charity, both spiritual and corporal, towards youth, especially the most poor and also in the education of young seminarians.”
Why do you think Don Bosco wanted included right in the first article of our constitutions, dealing with the goals of our Society that its members should also attend to the education of young seminarians?
He did not mean that we had to take care directly of Diocesan Seminaries –for this is forbidden by article #77,unless we have an explicit permission from the Holy See and for every case.
Don Bosco meant that we had to give our utmost attention to those youngsters who might have shown in special manner a praiseworthy leaning towards study and piety, and that we had to help them grow both in their piety and vocation. (Article #5).
If we want to be real sons of Don Bosco, we should always keep in mind this goal of our society, and no matter the kind of assignment that we have been given to take care of, we have to strive in all possible ways to have the greatest amount of vocations spring up wherever Divine Providence has actually assigned us to work.
No Salesian should say that he couldn’t do it. Even those Salesians who take care of assignments that have nothing to do directly with the young, should sow the seeds of vocations and attend to their growing with loving care.
A lot of suggestions have been made both by Don Bosco and Don Rua and some of them fit every Salesian.
Allow me to spell out at least some of these suggestions.
26-Prayer and mortification are useful means to sow the seed of a
Don Bosco had many of the vocations he was attending to depend a great deal on prayer.
If today we fail to get vocations, is it perhaps because we dot pray for them, as we should? We, too, quite often, pray in a perfunctory manner, out of habit, without any reflection. How then can we say that our prayers reach their target? We should then put specific intentions in our prayers, adding to them the greatest fervor possible, and we shall see the powerful effectiveness that our prayers have on God’s heart.
When we say our morning prayers and our consecration to Mary Help of Christians, we should wholeheartedly direct to our Good Mother and Queen these words: “Promote holy vocations; increase the number of sacred ministers; so that the kingdom of Jesus Christ may be kept among us and reach out to the uttermost bounds of the earth; grant us also, Oh Mary Help of Christians, that all of us be gathered under your maternal mantle and that none of us ever forsake you…”
We should also repeat often and fervently during the day the beautiful prayer appeal to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, mentioned early on, at the very beginning of this letter: “Cor Jesu Sacratissimum, ut bonos et dignos operarios Piae Salesianorum Societati mittere et in ea conservare digneris, Te rogamus audi nos!”
Believe me, dearly beloved, these prayers will not be said in vain, if they are properly said.
The Salesian who prays as he should will both transform and sanctify himself, and he will turn out to be a furnace of divine love, such as to warm up souls and open them to grace.
Next to prayers for vocations there, should be a spirit of mortification.
God’s generosity is shown in proportion to our desires and supplications.
The desires that are made up of words cost little and really have less value.
The desires that help us be strong against our natural inclinations, overcome what we loathe, withstand evil inclinations, discharge painful duties, bear with the defects of our neighbor...these are the desires that show to God how true our aspirations are, and strongly move him to graciously hear us.
I do not mean to say that we have to undergo specific penances in order to get vocations. The fact of doing what we are assigned to do, and the fact of keeping our Rules are in themselves no small mortification.
But certainly the good Salesians would perform something truly meritorious and effective if they could do nothing else but imitate Don Bosco’s example, who, when he needed a special grace, would undergo some austere penances and he would be sure to be successful in his undertaking.
People who practiced mortification had always had some extraordinary intercession power over on God’s heart!
Therefore the following statement should cause you to wonder: A Salesian who is humble, unsung, constantly concerned about discharging well his duties, willing at times to courageously undergo some mortifications in order to get vocations for the Salesian Society, this Salesian will turn out to be successful even without being aware of it.”
When I was visiting the houses of South America, as a delegate of Don Rua, of happy memory, I met with some of these confreres who had asked for my permission to undergo mortifications, for the purpose above mentioned.
I granted that permission and I did come to notice that the houses where these Salesians lived produced every year good vocations.
When they were transferred to other houses that had no vocations at all, it was because of these Salesians, because of their prayers and mortifications that the sterility of vocations of those houses suddenly stopped.
27-Next means: personal sanctity!
Prayers and mortifications would have little or no value, if they were joined by the exemplary conduct and personal sanctity of every Salesian..
Beloved confreres, it is an undeniable fact that in religious communities, vocations grow in direct proportion to the growing fervor and sanctity of their members.
Don Bosco’s exhortations always hit this point, and more so, Don Bosco gave us a practical example of his sanctity: this was the source of vocations everywhere, this was what led generous hearts to follow him along the hard trail he had first blazed for them.
In those days, I mean when I was very young, we all considered it a great honor to have been called to become Don Bosco’s sons, and we all had a firm will to consecrate ourselves, entirely and all the way, to the Lord.
We did this not because we were thinking about the temporal advantages that we would get, but because of the gladness of our hearts, for having been called to live a life made up of sacrifices, even though apparently it was an ordinary and common life.
Don Bosco’s sanctity was the effective cause of his sons’ vocations: we wanted to follow him, for he had let out a secret virtue that made our hearts more fervent, our spirits more enlightened, our passions well checked, our life at peace. We all felt spurred on, at the same time, to imitate him in everything.
That secret virtue was brilliantly and habitually evidenced by Don Bosco’s serene look, by his continuous smile, by his entire figure, to the point that we saw him as though interiorly transfigured by God and wholly in possession of that divine peace and super-human courage that Saints really have.
This is why we all innerly desired to be like Don Bosco and with Don Bosco, no matter what sacrifices were asked of us.
Dearly beloved, we too can possess that secret virtue that made a saint out of Don Bosco. We too much like Don Bosco can raise countless vocations around us.
That secret virtue can be achieved by keeping exactly our rules, through the practice of the most solid virtues, by loving our vocation, by sharing our love with our confreres, by displaying a Gospel-like family spirit, by constantly being united with God.
Besides, our way of living should be so attractive as to have the youngsters desire our general way of acting and our unalterable cheerfulness.
Don Bosco wanted us to be always cheerful, even in the midst of the heaviest hardships, even in the midst of worries-loaded setbacks, even in the midst of privations and sacrifices.
Furthermore, we should often speak about our Salesian life: we should indicate the countless advantages that it offers, the variety of tasks that it entails and such as to be suited to every natural aptitude and to the most different characters.
We should mention the number of houses and institutions that we run and show that if someone were not to be able to successfully carry out an assignment in one place, he would easily be transferred to another place where he would be doing something useful.
We should show the beauty of our apostolic work, the gentle spirit that animates it, the modernity and vastness of our undertakings.
I am sure that no Salesian will ever show that he is not satisfied with his vocation or that he is disrespectful in any way towards our Congregation, which allowed him to be counted among its members.
28-We should follow the deliberations of the Superior Council.
So far I have indicated what generally all Salesians should and could do for vocations.
But the members of the Superior Council, the Provincials, the Directors with their respective councils, the teachers, the shop-heads, the assistants and all those who somehow exercise authority over the young, have added duties besides the ones already mentioned above.
Recently, the members of the Superior Council have held meetings dealing specifically with the topic of vocations. They have drawn from the treasury of norms bequeathed to us by our Rector Majors and picked up whatever was thought more suited and appropriate to reach the desired objectives
They all agree that we should intensify our apostolic work on behalf of priestly and religious vocations. Everyone, all Salesians, have the duty to get to work and carry out an apostolic work for vocations according to their own strength. Relying on this common agreement, this is what the Superiors of the Council have decided:
1-We should give preference to those new proposed undertakings that give us more reliable hope that they would provide us with many vocations.
This hope should be based on the good spirit and disposition of the local people, on the facility ready to get candidates of this type, on the easy access to be provided for the visits of superiors, and on the financial assets needed for the upkeep.
2-We should send-when it is proper to do so- some confrere endowed with common sense and prudence to speak about vocations and encourage vocations, in small towns and, if necessary, we should recruit youngsters especially the artisans and house-helpers (famigli). That’s what other congregations are doing.
3-To this end we should ask for the involvement of our Salesian Cooperators and pastors through appropriate circular letters, with articles in the Salesian Bulletin, at the Conferences of St. Francis de sales and Mary Help of Christians, meetings that are held every year.
I myself, to respond to this decision of the General Council, have thought best to address our Salesian Cooperators with a letter dated Jan. l921 and appeal to them to help us recruit new priestly and religious vocations.
This is what I have written to them: “We receive almost daily some new requests to open up new Salesian undertakings, and what grieves me most is exactly that we have to give a negative answer.
And, mind you, the requests that we get are really moving us deeply, and the localities they come from need an extreme and immediate help to save so many poor and abandoned boys. These requests come even from outstanding personalities to whom we should and would like to say yes.
But, even though we have the best of intentions not to back out when confronted with the possibility to work on behalf of youth, I must openly confess that we cannot do more than what we are presently doing.
How can we respond to these needs? By increasing the number of vocations. I am sure that there would be a lot of good boys, who would be happy to dedicate themselves to doing deeds of love and with zeal on behalf of others, within a religious and/or priestly state, if only they were duly encouraged and guided!
This divine duty is first of all assigned to parents and to all those who feel love for God’s glory and the salvation of souls.
Don Bosco used to say that: “We give the church as a gift a wonderful and great treasure, when we provide with it a vocation. No matter whether this vocation is for the diocese or for the missions or for a religious congregation, this vocation still is a great treasure given as a gift to the church of Jesus Christ.”
You will then be performing a saintly task, a task highly important, if this coming year and all the years to come, you will strive to send to the Salesian Society some new vocations.
And you can do this with your advice and with your moral and financial support. I assure you before God that yours will be the best and most dear of all the alms that you might be able to give!
4-The third deliberation made by the General Council was that the Major Superiors should frequently visit the houses and spend all the time needed to animating every Salesian to faithfully keep the rules. This was said mainly because, as I have pointed out early on, Salesian vocations depend on the good behavior of the Salesians.
The Major Superiors should particularly insist with the directors: that they should listen to the monthly manifestations of all the confreres, according to article #73 of our Constitutions; that the directors should call those confreres who do not make it spontaneously; that the directors should give their bi-monthly talk to the community; that they should give much importance to the monthly exercise for a happy death, to be carried out separately from the boys, because otherwise it would not mean much; that the yearly spiritual retreat of the confreres be properly prepared ; that the preachers be chosen on time and urged to speak also on vocations, on the value, importance and duty to persevere in it as well as on the means generally needed to persevere in one’s vocation etc.
29- What should be done by the Provincials.
The Superiors of the General Council will do their best to have the above mentioned norms followed immediately and everywhere, but their efforts to be effective need your cooperation, my dear confreres.
For this reason, I wholeheartedly appeal to you, also out of that love that I have towards you, not to fail to give us your indispensable help.
I appeal in a special manner to you, dear Provincials and Directors. The Provincials are the right arm, or better still, the soul of the General Council, set to keep the Salesian spirit within our houses and to spread far and wide Don Bosco’s work on behalf of poor and abandoned youth.
The Provincials according to article #73 of Our Constitutions exercise their authority on their provinces; they are the representatives of the Rector Major in the houses and as far as the tasks assigned to them.
The Provincials are expected to do in their provinces what the Rector Major with his Council is doing on behalf of the whole Society.
Therefore the Provincials with their councils should deeply study the causes responsible for the lack of vocations and look for the means needed to respond successfully to them.
Every province should have, besides its own novitiate which is indispensable, at least one hospice, a real hospice, namely a house destined to the formation of students and artisans’ vocations, a house financially supported by charitable contributions for this specific purpose and to be as such advertised in special brochures.
The Provincial should make sure that this hospice is not gradually turned into a boarding school.
There should also be a house for the Sons of Mary, possibly modeled after the example provided by the house of Penango.
Our dear Provincials should recall the divine interventions that inspired our good father Don Bosco to establish the Work of Mary Help of Christians on behalf of adult vocations for the ecclesiastical state.
The more the undertakings of Don Bosco were developing, the more was Don Bosco’s mindset on getting vocations.
One evening in l875, while he was in the sacristy of Mary Help of Christians, Don Bosco thought that he was actually in his room and at his desk, with the roll-book of the Oratory students in his hands, and thought he heard a voice telling him: “Do you want to know how to increase the number of priests and in a hurry? Look at the roll-book and from it you will find out what you need to do.”
Don Bosco looked at the roll-book but got nothing out of it. Then, afraid that he might be dreaming, he got up immediately to see who might have spoken to him.
The youngsters, seeing that Don Bosco had gotten up so quickly, thought that he was sick and so they did their best to hold him up. But Don Bosco reassured them that he was all right and kept on hearing confessions.
Once the confessions were over, Don Bosco went to his room. He wanted to obey what that mysterious voice had told him and began to peruse through the roll-book of the house.
Unexpectedly, an idea flashed through his mind: Out of so many youngsters who had been studying for the priesthood hardly 15%, that is 2 out 10 continued on and received their clerical cassock; the other youngsters had quit either because of family concerns, or because of the college entrance exams or simply because they had changed their minds. This was something not unusual at that age.
Instead, Don Bosco noticed that as far as the adults who had entered the Oratory, almost all, that is 98 out of a 100, had donned the clerical cassock and had become priests in a shorter time and with less trouble.
This then is the conclusion that Don Bosco arrived at: “These older youngsters were more stable and easier to be dealt with and achieved their goal in a shorter amount of time: I shall then spend more time on them; I shall open houses expressly for them; I will find people who will take care of them in a special way…”
Possibly, today, the Work of Mary Help of Christians for adult vocations has been somehow neglected and yet its importance has not disappeared at all.
Naturally it is not a question of getting ‘half-priests’, namely priests who have not yet gone through the necessary studies: this would wreak greater havoc for the church and our Society. Besides this cannot happen today, since Canon Law has issued precise dispositions in reference to ecclesiastical studies. But Don Bosco’s idea on adult vocations is a precious secret to get more numerous and solid vocations!
The Provincials then should give their most careful attention to Don Bosco’s work for adult vocations, just as Don Bosco and Don Rua have done in the past and just as the present members of the General Council are doing today.
Another item that has a great impact on vocations is the choice of good directors and the choice of personnel suitable especially from the perspective of religious life. This depends to a great extent on the keen sightedness and prudence of the Provincials.
Besides, the Provincials should see to it that in the Novitiate the coadjutor-novices are given the opportunity to continue their profession or trade training, since the lack of such a possibility may lead some artisans to abandon the idea of going into the novitiate.
Were you to read what I had written earlier on this point, you would better understand how important it is to follow this norm.
It would also be very useful to have houses for the up-dating formation of our coadjutor brothers, where they could learn how to be shop-heads as well as good religious, just as we have houses for the religious an intellectual formation of clerics in temporary vows.
The coadjutor brothers need a solid religious formation just as the clerics do and may be even more, so that by so doing they become good Salesian educators, also because this is demanded by the fact that the coadjutor brothers have more contacts with the outside world, which may be dangerous, as it often is both corrupt and likely to corrupt.
Furthermore, the Provincials, fully aware of the need of that family spirit which Don Bosco wanted to see in all our houses, should use their full authority to prevent that military spirit which is creeping into our houses, a spirit that is the sad fruit of the recent war. Unfortunately, it has already found followers even among the Salesians.
Wherever this military like spirit has already entered, the Provincials should give explicit orders that gymnastics and sports should be practiced with great prudence and only sparingly.
Our houses should not be transformed into army- barracks or army-parade-grounds, into physical exercise gyms or sports-fields: such an abuse is one of the many reasons why we are witnessing a sad decrease in vocations.
It is then my precise will, and not only mine but that of all Superiors of the General Council, that this military-like spirit is yanked out as soon as possible. This applies also to the festive oratories, where the military-like spirit can do no less harm.
Another abuse that needs to be disposed of, an abuse which is unheard of within our educative system, I mean the Reward-Leaves or Reward -vacations during the school year: they should not be granted under any pretext at all! This order is given not out of fear that the number of youngsters might decrease, not because our confreres may not need some free days of leisure (we, just like Don Bosco, shall find our rest ...in Heaven!), not because the youngsters, who get these “Reward-Leaves” belong to higher school grades or because they are only boarders who attend public schools. In the latter case, we should take advantage of those days and intensify the religious formation of these boarders by offering them spiritual retreats and special talks, if we really want to avoid the danger of becoming more like hotel- administrators or mere tutors, like the ones present in some state-boarding schools or institutions.
A far as vacations, the Provincials should make sure to shorten as much as possible the vacation time granted to the recently accepted novices, lest their staying at home may lead them to lose their vocation as unfortunately has frequently happened.
If it is possible, let the Provincials find some kind of an outlet by having the quasi-novices spend some vacation time in some of our houses, that have beautiful surroundings and afford the possibility of beautiful and relaxing hikes.
The Provincials should give their greatest importance to the Spiritual retreats of our youngsters. They should assign preachers chosen from among the best and they should be our own.
We should have recourse to outside preachers only in case of extreme necessity, as it has been already pointed out on other occasions
The Provincials should urge the preachers to speak about vocation; especially the preacher of the Instructions, who might also be an expert director, should do this.
The Provinces where these norms will be put into practice, will never fail to get vocations, and the Salesian activity will blossom marvelously into new and grandiose undertakings.
30- The indispensable work of the Director.
But no matter what kind of efforts might be made by both the members of the General Council and the Provincials to get vocations, these efforts will never be successful in getting these vocations in great numbers and in fostering them they way they should, without the cooperation of the Director, without the cooperation of every house and of every staff member of every house!
It is up to the Director to have every Salesian keep and grow in piety and virtue, according to the teachings and examples of our Founder Don Bosco.
This is what Don Rua wrote to the Directors of South America on August 24,l894: “It is up to the directors of the houses to keep the character that Don Bosco impressed on them, namely the presence of a unanimous, generous and constant effort on the part of the superiors, teachers and assistants to keep sin far away and to have a spontaneous, true and solid piety displayed in practice…Educating and instructing youth without a religious spirit to season them, that is the real plague of this century!
God forbid that our schools should be contaminated by such a plague! The Directors are expected to carry out the greater part of this most important work. And it is from this work by the Directors that the so- longed -for vocations depend.
In order to be able to discharge this duty the best way possible, the Directors should often meditate on what Don Rua wrote in l897: “You will not be surprised if I tell you that I who have been formed at the school of Don Bosco, would not be able to call true zeal, the zeal of a religious or priest who would feel content only for having instructed and educated the youngsters of his school or institution, without trying to direct towards the sanctuary those youngsters who do show the signs of a vocation and happen to be among the best.”
I am sure that the Directors who are fully aware and convinced of what Don Rua wrote, will turn their houses into rich green-houses of vocations!
The Directors, no doubt, should do good on behalf of civil society and shelter those youngsters who otherwise would run the risk of getting into vice and actually staying in the course of vice.
The Directors should practice charity, by giving to these youngsters bread to eat joined to instruction, by making good Christians out of them, as well as honest citizens.
However, besides all this, I repeat that a good director will aim higher, namely, he will make efforts to increase the number of Salesian priests and coadjutor brothers, mindful that without them our Pious Society would turn out to be unable to fulfill its mission and the Salesian apostolate would be maimed, if nothing were to be done especially to proselytize, that is, to look for vocations.
To achieve this, let the Director be truly a father to his dependents, lovingly responding to their needs, even material needs.
This fatherly attitude of the Director will open up their hearts, while his indifference would close them and create discontent and doubts about their vocation.
Writing to the Provincials in l902, Don Rua stated: “The main point to be insisted on with the directors is that they should be concerned about giving the proper direction to their confreres, priests, clerics an coadjutor brothers”.
Indeed the Director’s task is that of safeguarding the vocation of his confreres, with charity, piety and prudence.
The Director is expected to treat well his confreres, and he should especially remember that all the confreres and also the coadjutor bothers are not servants but brothers and sons. This is the reason why they should all be treated with brotherly love, with solicitude and in a trusting manner.
Naturally, the Directors have to teach their confreres about what poverty entails and insist on it and make sure that it is put into practice.
But they should be the first ones to show it as an example to be imitated by all.
At the same time, the Directors should be concerned about not depriving their confreres of what they really need and, in this regard, they should be rather generous.
The Directors have the duty to teach their dependents how to be truly obedient, but they should also make sure not to have obedience weigh down on them, by using kind ways with them and by never exacting from them more than what they can give.
The Directors should insist on and indicate the means needed to be chaste, like avoiding being intemperate, avoiding particular friendships, avoiding looking for comforts, avoiding caresses.
But let the Directors be the first ones to give good example in all of these things.
Let the Directors listen to a confrere who says that he feels he is at risk. The Directors should not leave a confrere in situations that demand more strength than he actually has, to deal with them.
The Directors should place this confrere in a situation that may help him keep his angelic virtue. Confreres who feel insecure in this regard should not be sent out on errands or asked to carry out assignments outside their house.
For the same reason the Directors should do their best to have clerics take care of their studies, regularly, so that they may not complain about the fact that what the Constitutions say in their regard is not being kept and then complain that they turn out to be “half-priests.”
Don Rua, writing to the Provincials in l902, states: “The Directors of various houses should attentively be watchful and use the necessary means to make sure that the 3 years of practical training the clerics are expected to have in the houses, after their philosophical studies, are kept the way they should.
The Directors should also follow what has been established or will be established as far as how the period of practical training should be spent.
It is the Directors’ duty, especially during the 3 years of practical training, to act as fathers towards the young confreres entrusted to their special care: they need more attention than anyone else, since they are not yet fully formed.
Besides all of the above-mentioned duties of the Directors, there is also the duty to give to their confreres appropriate talks on how to foster vocations.
The Directors should also have special talks with those who are assigned to be the confessors of the young and of Salesians and explain to them how they should prudently and safely exercise their ministry in reference to vocations.
The Directors should repeatedly tell the confreres that they should not be afraid to talk to youngsters about vocation and use all available means in this regard, calling especially on the catechists to do so.
Should a zealous missionary pass by, let the Directors invite him to speak to the boys about life in the missions, about vocation and apostolic work.
If done rightly, this event will bring much fruit.
It certainly would not be out of place to say it once again: It is up to the Directors to promote family spirit and cordiality among the confreres, to the point that everyone may wholeheartedly say: “O quam bonum et quam jucundum habitare fratres in unum! How wonderful and joyful for brothers to live together in unity!”
This is what draws the affection of our youngsters towards a Salesian environment and has them think and long for joining our Salesian way of living, for good.
What was it that kept Don Bosco from yielding to his desire to join a Religious Order, right from his very youth?
The Dream that he had and in which he was told: “At the Convent of Peace you will not find peace-Al Convento della pace non troverai pace!” (B.M. vol. 1,p.226).”You are looking for peace, but you will not find it here. See what is going on!”
The Directors should recommend that the greatest amount of charity be used with the young!
As far as admissions to hospices, the Directors should give preference to those youngsters who offer good grounds to hope that they will be good vocation prospects. Instead, they should dismiss those who let our hopes down, and allow others to take their place.
When we are dealing with good kids, who happen to be poor, don’t haggle about tuition!
The Directors should also prevent the use of any luxury items as far as clothes, and food at table, because this does not help at all in getting vocations.
The Directors should urge everyone to go to Confession and Communion frequently. They should back up the sodalities of the Blessed Sacrament and of the Altar boys.
The Directors should make sure that everything in their houses speaks of God and has people think about eternal truths.
To achieve this, they should use posters on the walls of the study hall, classrooms and other suitable places; they should use the bulletin boards and all with maxims and scriptural quotations on them.
The Directors should constantly demand that their dependents add to the mere keeping of discipline, more love and family spirit.
The Directors should often speak of Don Bosco and let the young know how beautiful the life of the Oratory of Valdocco was in its early days, when flowers like Dominic Savio, Michael Magone, Francis Besucco, Camillo Gavio and Fassio were turning the Oratory into a wonderful garden of youthful sanctity.
The Directors should speak to the young about our missions, about our heroic missionaries, who have dedicated their entire life to missionary work.
The Directors should speak to the young about vocation and explain what it really entails; that it was not essential to feel it but rather to be recognized as such by those who have received from God the grace and assignment to pass a judgment on it.
These and similar topics are the ones the Directors should speak about, when they speak to the young, in all our houses, in all our hospices and also, to the young students who are in the upper grades.
Some Directors are supporting financially some youngsters who have a vocation, but they belong to other houses. This is not enough! They have to foster vocations in their own houses; otherwise the good sprit of their houses will wane.
The Directors should appropriately choose the books to be read in church, in the dormitory, in the dining room, or elsewhere.
The Directors are expected to choose the theater performances and movies and follow scrupulously the norms bequeathed to us by Don Bosco himself.
When the grammar school courses are over, the youngsters who graduate from them should be encouraged to enter the high school program, rather than the technical schools program, showing to them the amount of advantages they could draw from it, independently of what profession they might decide to choose later on.
Besides, the Directors should not limit themselves to taking care of those vocations that may come out of the students group. They should actually give greater attention to and foster with love, those young artisans, farmers or house help, who may have expressed the desire to become Salesians.
The Directors should take care of the latter’s education, use financial breaks on their behalf, for this way of acting will give us a solid hope that they will be good vocation stuff!
The Directors should help the above-mentioned youngsters to overcome the difficulties that they may have, and propose as candidates for the novitiate those who show clear signs that they would make it.
When the coadjutor novices profess and become confreres and are sent to work in a house, the Director should in no way believe that the education of these coadjutor brothers is entirely completed; just the opposite, it is then even more than before that the Director should patiently and with loving concern take care of them; it is exactly at the very beginning of their Salesian active life that they have to be cared for, to get them started right and have them persevere in their vocation up to the very end of their Salesian life.(Cr. Cir. Letter of Don Rua #3).
As far as the Sons of Mary, should they find difficulties in their studies, let them be invited to turn coadjutor brothers.
As far as the House Help (famigli), let us accept them conditionally and test them, but in an easy and broadminded way: “Omnes probate-Test them all!” We should use charity and patience with them; we should help them with loving care in their practices of piety. Even among the House Help we can find many vocations.
Finally, the Director should not fail to foster and have others foster vocations in the festive oratories that should be considered among the most outstanding and fertile nurseries of vocations.
Don Rua, writing in l906 to the Salesians, states: “Even within the festive oratories vocations must be fostered.
“We should remember that our father Don Bosco took his first recruits from the festive oratory. The very same thing was done in other provinces: they got their first and good vocations from the festive oratories.”
Generally, a lot of vocation work is being done in our schools, while in the festive oratories hardly a thought is given to this important facet of our mission.
The norms that I have suggested, early on, should be followed and adapted to the particular demands of every single oratory.
The best means to achieve this is the one used by Don Bosco himself, namely, a spiritual retreat for all those who attend the festive oratory.
The second means is to give a special course in a secluded spot to those who, at the festive oratory, seem to be endowed with the gifts and qualifications needed for a good vocation.
Those festive oratories that used the above means produced excellent vocations and still keep on producing them, as though it had become a tradition.
I should also add that those vocations that sprung out of the festive oratories generally project in a more visible way the true feature of the sons of Don Bosco, that is, a passionate love for festive oratories, where they work more successfully.
Since the festive oratory is the training ground of our apostolate, no one will ever fail to see how necessary and important such vocations are.
31-The cooperation of all Salesians is needed!
Nevertheless, the Superiors of the General Council, the Provincials and the Directors will not be able to carry out the vast vocation program that I have sketched out, without the cooperation of the staff of every house.
This is the reason why I have decided to address this letter to all of you, beloved confreres and sons. I also have a well -grounded hope that this letter will spur you on to display your zeal for this apostolic work, on which the entire life of our Pious Society depends.
Every Salesian will be able to find in this letter all that he needs most essentially to achieve this objective.
Our Pious society is expecting vocations from the contributing work of every Salesian: from the prefects of study to all financial administrators, from the catechists and principals of academic and technical schools, from the teachers and shop-heads, from the assistants and, from all of our houses big or small.
No one should consider himself dispensed from doing his own part, but everyone should strive in such a way that the number of vocations may increase from year to year.
In l920 we had 487 novices in our novitiates: one novice per house as an average, since the number of our houses at the present time is 433.
Would it be difficult to have 2 novices per house? Were we all be willing, we would really have them, I believe.
Were our Congregation to have every year not 400 but 800 novices, what gigantic strides it would make!
As I am about to end this letter, kindly allow me to express once again a thought expressed at other times yet not enough meditated upon.
Teachers, shop-heads, assistants and staff of all our festive oratories and schools should first of all remove from the youngsters entrusted to their care by Divine Providence, all those defects that constitute the main obstacles for the blossoming of priestly and religious vocations, that is, just to mention some: the corruption of morals early on in their lives, the weakening of their Christian spirit, the excessive softening of their characters and, worldliness.
These are defects that we can easily remove and imperceptibly so, with the constant practice of the Preventive System on which Don Bosco founded the Salesian educative system.
But, mind you, the removal of defects is only a negative work and will not of itself help reach our objective. At the same time, we have to develop in these youngsters those features, all those inclinations, and all those supernatural and natural tastes that might spur them on and attract them to religious and priestly life
The Lord will then use this or that attractive device that we have used, so that the hearts of the young might see how they can serve him.
When a young man tells you that he has heard the divine call, try to find out from him how or through what devices he has come to hear that call and you will find out firsthand, that the call came through one of those doors that you have opened for him, when you tried to develop the better inclinations of his spirit.
A youngster, more mature spiritually, might say that it was the beauty and grandeur of being a Salesian priest and religious that hit him.
Another youngster, moved by an interior feeling of compassion, might say: “Why do I want to become a Salesian, a priest? Because Salesian priests do good to poor people and that is exactly what I want to do.”
A third youngster moved by an interior sense of piety and by his love fore Jesus, might look at his desire to join from a different perspective, that is, for the fact that he feels strongly driven to be more closely united with the Lord.
This happens to be the reason most frequently expressed.
One day a saintly educator asked a 12-year-old boy how he attended Mass. As he was going through all the parts of the Mass, when he got to the part of the Consecration, the educator asked the boy what he was going to do at that point. That youngster bowed down towards his spiritual director and in a moved and timid way, yet fully decided to take advantage of that occasion to reveal the holy ambition that he had never before dared to express, said: “At that point, when I see the priest holding Jesus in his hands, I beg the Lord to grant me one day that same happiness.”
What a delightful revelation did that boy’s answer contain!
32-Had I only known in my early stage of my life…
To appease the conscience of every person, St. Thomas Aquinas expressly declares that ”those who spur others on to enter religious life, not only do they not commit sin, but they are actually making themselves thereby worthy of a great reward, so long as they do not use violence, simony or fraud.”(Summa Th.2a, 2,e Q.189, art #9).
Suarez, the learned Dominican theologian, writes that it is good to lead someone to do good.
“We should help those who have received a first inspiration from the Holy Spirit-both in order that they may keep up that resolution and respond to it, and that they may at least not resist against that inspiration, but rather pray and perform good deeds, so that the Spirit may offer them a more effective inspiration. After all, it is an excellent action to lead someone to fear God, to avoid the occasions of sin and, at the same time, make some one aware of the benefits that come from, and the excellence of, religious life.”
Sorin once wrote: “One of the greatest services that we can render to young people is to help them choose a state of life. It is a fact that it is ordinarily at a young age that God makes his will known, as far as what state of life they might like to enter into.
It is also a fact that most youngsters do not know what religious profession is all about; it is quite important to make known to them the advantages and security provided by religious life, and should God call them to provide them also with the means to defend themselves against the love of worldly things, of pleasures, and against the allurements of this earth that often prevents a great deal of people from following God’s call.”
It is then for us an excellent thing to do, that is, to awaken in a soul the desire to become priest and religious, as long as this desire is accompanied by the qualifications we have mentioned above.
Most youngsters do not even suspect that they have the qualifications to enter the state of perfection. And this is due to the fact that they are scatter-brained, that they are thoughtless and possibly due to their faults which prevent them from seeing their qualifications to enter a religious and/or priestly life.
For this reason, on many occasions, teachers, shop-heads and assistants should use an ounce of prevention when they are dealing with youngsters, and try to get, prudently, their attention on the fact that they have potentials and qualifications such as one day to be able to do a lot of good, if they only got involved in apostolic work by choosing to enter into a life that is, under every aspect, a better kind of life.
I know of many adults who have said: “If when I was young someone had had the bright idea to open my mind and had spoken about vocation, I would have wholeheartedly become a religious, a priest.”
We should then give this matter a delicate approach and the seriousness that it deserves, while at the same time we should avoid the opposite excess, namely our letting go of excellent vocations, due to an excessive and inappropriate prudence on our part.
Come on then! Let us all get to work! (As Don Rua said) Let us get to work indefatigably, in order to get an increased number of evangelical workers. Acting this way, the range of our activity on behalf of the church and of society will get wider.
Meanwhile, let us strive to better respond to the grace of our vocation; and as we try with all that we have to save our neighbor, let us avoid any deliberate fault in ourselves.
Let us make our won the warning of the Holy Spirit: “Recupera proximum secundum virtutem tuam et attende tibi ne incidas.” (Eccl.27: 29) - “Come to your neighbor’s help as far as you can, but take care not to fall into the same plight.”(Jer. B. trans)
As I urge you, beloved confreres, to vie with one another to make greater strides in the life of perfection, I am also begging you to keep me in your prayers. I feel more and more the need of God’s grace and your support, so that the heavy weight that God wanted to place on my shoulders may become lighter. On my part I will not stop begging the Lord to bless you, as I want to be
Yours affectionately in the Heart of Jesus,
Father Paul Albera.