Salesian spirituality as we know it today was shaped at different times by four great saints, two men and two women. The men were St Francis de Sales (1567-1622) and Don Bosco (1815-1888) and the women were St Jane de Chantal (1572-1641) and St Mary Mazzarello (1837-1881). It has also been deeply influenced by the courageous and joyful inputs of an increasing number of young people including St Dominic Savio (1842-1857) and Laura Vicuna (1891-1904).
The Salesian tradition has produced many saints over the years since then. It is a spirituality that wants to let Jesus live in every aspect of life, relationships and work, and to do so in ways that are gentle, kind, compassionate, cheerful and reasonable. There is nothing complicated about Salesian spirituality; it is as simple as it is profound. From the start it was intended for everyone regardless of their walk in life. The first book St Francis de Sales wrote on spirituality, what in his day was called devotion, was written for a young married woman with a young family! And Don Bosco wrote books on spirituality for the young.
Ours is a way for anyone looking for a spiritual path rooted in the intentional practice of love, gentleness of heart, poverty of spirit, simplicity of life, kindness and peace, qualities that lead to freedom and are expressed in cheerful good humour regardless of how a day or a situation may be. Why? Because God is lovingly present even in the dark, the cold and the rain. Such qualities are gifts of the Holy Spirit but they are also the roots of Salesian self-discipline and ethical practice. Those on the Salesian path come to know that everything in creation reveals God; everything is God directed; everything bears a trace of God. That was one reason why St Dominic Savio, himself a young teenager, was able to tell a new boy to Don Bosco’s outreach, “Here we make holiness consist in being cheerful.”
Salesian spirituality is above all a spirituality of the heart that reaches out to people in practical life-supporting and life-enhancing ways, especially to the young, and among them those most at risk. It is at once contemplative and active. Salesian spirituality always seeks to recognise and uphold the dignity and respect due to all living beings. Anything less is considered a failure of understanding, a failure of spirit and heart. Tendencies to blame and exclude are recognised for what they are and are put aside in favour of attitudes of welcome and hospitality. Joy, like compassion and a gentle spirit, is intentional. There is no place here for the regressive ways of repression and violence, no place for toxic harshness or the arrogant selfishness of power.
Salesians believe that true spirituality plants seeds of integrity, care, compassion, kindness and happiness in the world and for the world. Ours is a God of love, a loving Creator God who created a cosmos that is itself a breath-taking icon of infinite love. We see ourselves as part of that loving act of creation and we praise and honour God because we see ourselves as the work of God’s hands and grace. Each one of us has been wonderfully restored in Christ. More: we are awesomely and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14) and so is everyone we meet along the way regardless of their condition or state in life. Because we know that we are part of God’s creation our love for God finds practical expression in our active care for the environment in which we live and for all the living beings that share it with us.
Salesians try to live fully in the moment knowing that every moment is full of opportunities to let Jesus live, to serve divine love and bring its touch to the world. This is our call, the call of the heart. The challenge is to engage with the ordinary things of everyday with joyful attention because the traces of God are there. Each moment is an opportunity to express our intimacy with God in prayer and in service. Wherever you are, no matter how busy you are, no matter the situation or the mood, God is there and prayer can be made flesh. Because we are realists we know we meet God in the messiness of life: there is no other place. It is in the messiness we experience the felt presence of the risen Christ. Isn’t that wonderful!
That is why Salesian prayer and meditation tends to be simple and straightforward. Salesian prayer is ever and always the expression of an open heart ready to build bridges of love to God, to honour and praise God in the moment. It is always a matter of heart and the intuitions of compassionate attention that surface in the deep stillness of moments given to God. Salesian prayer is ever ready to reflect on the challenges of life and discern God’s call to compassionate service. It is ever ready to open the scriptures and take them to heart. Salesian prayer loves the Eucharistic presence of Jesus in the world. It is open to Mary as the Help of Christians, open to the faith community and its liturgy, and open to contemplative action in and for the world. Most of all it is open to the young! Jesus says, Learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart (Matthew 11:29-30). Let gentleness confound a violent world! Let Jesus live!